How to Support Long-Term English Learners Across the Curriculum
LTEL students need opportunities to develop high-level reading, speaking, and writing skills.
Literacy is key to language acquisition. To master a language, students must be able to engage in conversation with their peers; they must also be able to comprehend complex texts and effectively express their ideas through writing.
For students learning English, it’s critical to help them continuously develop reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. No matter if a student is new to learning English, is a Long-term English Learner (LTEL), or has recently acquired bilingual fluency, all multilingual students can benefit from ongoing literacy instruction.
In California, the focus on high-level reading and writing skills for LTEL students is clear. The state administers a summative assessment, the ELPAC, to students whose primary language is not English. The annual assessment includes tasks that focus on comprehension of informational and literary texts.
The Writing Domain of the ELPAC requires students in grades 3-12 to:
- Write About Academic Information: “Interpret academic information from a graphic organizer created for a group project and answer two questions about it”
- Justify an Opinion: “Write an essay providing his/her position and appropriate supporting reasons about a school related topic”
The Reading Domain of the ELPAC includes tasks that require students in grades 3-12 to:
- Read a Literary Passage: “Read a literary passage and answer multiple-choice questions concerning comprehension, language use, and word choice”
- Read an Informational Passage: “Read an informational passage and answer multiple-choice questions concerning comprehension, language use, and word choice”
To be successful in life after school, students must be able to demonstrate the skills they develop through writing: communicating their ideas; thinking critically; and conveying their points of view effectively. LTEL students, in particular, need opportunities to study meaningful topics for an extended period of time, using multiple texts and media to build their confidence and language skills.
When students receive the appropriate supports to engage and challenge them in the writing process, they gain the critical and long-lasting writing skills to express their ideas effectively.
5 Ways to Support LTEL Students in Math, ELA, Social Studies, and Science
1. Provide Vocabulary Support
Frontload new and key terms for a lesson with vocabulary lists to build background knowledge. Vocabulary development is not just about memorizing the definitions of words – often, it is about the conceptual knowledge that words can carry.
2. Have Students Read with Audio Support
Provide audio support for students to pre-read or re-read a text. Listening to fluent and expressive audio (while reading at their own pace) gives students who are developing bilingual fluency an entry point into complex texts.
3. Engage in Socratic Discussion and Debate
Encourage more discussion in the classroom to help students practice their speaking, listening, and critical thinking skills. Socratic discussions and debates can also set up a structured conversation using clear sentence frames.
4. Provide Frequent Writing Opportunities
Make sure students learning English have bountiful opportunities to practice writing. Provide writing supports through the use of graphic organizers, sentence frames, and guiding questions. To introduce writing across content areas, start by asking students to write an evidence-based claim in each core subject.
5. Provide Feedback on Writing
For all students, it’s important to provide authentic, immediate feedback. For students learning English, make sure you provide feedback that is not only about grammar and spelling, but that also covers the concepts that students are writing about. This will support their continued growth as writers.
Writing is more important than ever for students learning English. In order to help students at all levels of language acquisition hone their reading, speaking, listening, and writing skills, it's essential to provide them with the literacy supports to practice and refine these skills across the curriculum.
ThinkCERCA’s Writing Lessons were developed with features to support students learning English in all core subjects. Lesson features include:
- Definitions and parts of speech for Tier 2 (cross-content) and Tier 3 (content-specific) words
- A topic overview to help students build background knowledge and make connections to concepts and themes of a lesson
- Audio-assisted reading to help students comprehend complex texts
- Sentence frames to provide students with the structure for writing academic language
- Interactive graphic organizers to help students organize their thinking, develop conceptual understanding, and facilitate comprehension
Download our research-based instructional resources, from Spanish-language graphic organizers to classroom routines, designed to support developing bilingual students.
A former special education and English teacher, school administrator, and district leader for Boston Public Schools, Kavita is an expert on teacher training, Universal Design for Learning, and bilingual language learners. In addition to her work at ThinkCERCA, Kavita is a Cadre member at the Center for Applied Special Technology, where she teaches courses on UDL and provides training to districts and universities across the U.S.