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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

English-Language Learners Opinion

Four Educator-Recommended Approaches for Teaching English-Language Learners

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 28, 2021 13 min read
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(This is the second post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is the single most effective instructional strategy you have used to teach English-language learners?

In Part One, Valentina Gonzalez, Denita Harris, Cindy Garcia, and Deedy Camarena offered their responses.

Today, Jenny Vo, Laura Ascenzi-Moreno, Cecilia Espinosa, Blanca Huertas, and Vivian Micolta Simmons finish up the series.

Sentence Stems & Frames

Jenny Vo earned her B.A. in English from Rice University and her M.Ed. in educational leadership from Lamar University. She has worked with English-learners during all of her 24 years in education and is currently an ESL ISST in Katy ISD in Katy, Texas. Jenny is the president-elect of TexTESOL IV and works to advocate for all ELs:

In my 24 years of working with English-language learners, I’ve used many instructional strategies to facilitate the students’ acquisition of the English language and their understanding of content subject matter. Some of my favorite strategies are providing wait time, preteaching vocabulary, activating background knowledge, providing pictures, and using gestures and movement. The single most effective instructional strategy that I have used is providing sentence stems and frames for speaking and writing.

Sentence stems are sentence starters that the teacher provides to students to help get them started in their oral responses or their writing assignments. When asking students to respond to a question, the teacher provides a sentence stem that rephrases the question into an answer statement. Sentence stems are open-ended, allowing students to fill in the blanks. Sentence stems also give the students a model of how to phrase a response so that it is in a complete sentence. I love using this strategy to facilitate conversation and help our emergent English-learners to actively engage with the whole class or in small groups. Having the sentence stems provided lowers the students’ affective filter because they only have to think about the second part of the sentence. Some examples of sentence stems are:

  • The main idea of the story is _______________.
  • A character trait to describe _____ is __________.
  • I agree/disagree with you because ____________.
  • I solved the problem by ____________________.
  • The data from the experiment shows __________.

Sentence frames are a little different from sentence stems. Whereas sentence stems come at the beginning of the sentence, sentence frames provide most of the words, and the students only add in the words that fit in the blanks. This type of scaffold is great for your students who are at the beginning level of English proficiency. They can also serve as models for academic writing for students of all proficiency levels when you want them to take it from simple sentences to paragraphs and essay papers. Some examples of sentence frames are:

  • My name is ______. I am in ____ grade.
  • Three examples of energy are ______, ______, and _______.
  • An acute angle has _________ than 90 degrees.

Sentence stems and sentence frames are very effective scaffolds to help our English-learners to learn to communicate effectively, developing both their speaking and writing skills.



Laura Ascenzi-Moreno is an associate professor and the bilingual program coordinator at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. Previously, Laura was a bilingual teacher and coach in the New York City public schools, and she now works in higher education with preservice and in-service teachers to develop critical thinking and practice about literacies for emergent bilinguals.

Cecilia M. Espinosa is an associate professor at Lehman College, City University of New York. Cecilia was a bilingual multiage teacher and director of a dual-language program in Phoenix. She currently works with bilingual teachers at the early-childhood and childhood levels and teaches courses on biliteracy.

Laura and Cecilia are the co-authors of the professional book Rooted in Strength: Translanguaging and the Power of Multilingualism:

If you were to step into Ms. Mather’s class during her read-aloud of New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019), you’ll notice all of her students are engaged. If you take a closer look, you will also hear that during one of the “turn and talks,” students speak to each other in languages other than English, such as Spanish and Mandarin. Ms. Mather’s emergent bilinguals—or students who use two or more languages in their daily lives—are engaging in translanguaging.

Translanguaging is a powerful theoretical and pedagogical stance that centers on students’ linguistic and social resources. Teachers who use translanguaging pedagogy in their classrooms make space for students to use their entire linguistic repertoire to construct meaning. In other words, translanguaging in classrooms supports and builds upon the multilingual language practices of students.

We believe that embracing translanguaging pedagogies is the single most important instructional shift that teachers can make when working with emergent bilinguals. A translanguaging stance is reflected in the intentional ways that teachers ensure that the whole child, her family, and community are honored and respected—including her language practices, cultural understandings, and social-emotional ways of being (García, Johnson & Seltzer, 2017).

Translanguaging pedagogy starts with students’ strengths. Teachers recognize the language and social resources that students possess; indeed, teachers welcome their students’ multilingual abilities. Therefore, while multilingual students are often referred to as English-language learners (ELLs), we prefer the term emergent bilinguals, coined by García, Kleifgen, and Falchi (2008), for students who use two or more languages in their daily lives. We build on our emergent bilingual students’ strengths as accomplished language learners rather than focus on their lack of English (a deficit perspective).

Translanguaging pedagogy requires that teachers stop privileging monolingualism as the norm and embrace bilingualism as a resource to capitalize upon and sustain. We intentionally and actively invite students’ full linguistic repertoire into all instructional spaces and plan for it in our curriculum. We suggest these starting points:

  • Assess and understand, from day one, the linguistic repertoires of the students in your classroom and their families.
  • Create a culture from the start that sends the message that translanguaging in your classroom is the norm. Make this part of the classroom-community conversation.
  • Plan intentionally for translanguaging. This can include creating spaces for children to express themselves in their home language (writing, reading, and oral), asking for someone to translate a response from a child in their home language, pairing students up intentionally with others who speak the same home language (turn and talk), creating charts using the children’s home languages, offering a version of the book you are reading as a class in the students’ home languages, and inviting them to read and write in their home language. For example, you might ask them to write for an authentic audience and gather their thinking using the gist strategy, where students write, in English or their home language, a summary of the main point(s) of a passage they read.
  • Use mentor texts (children’s/adolescent literature) that use translanguaging. Create mini lessons to illustrate how these authors use translanguaging as a craft in their writing (i.e., dialogue, names of places and things, sayings, descriptions, etc.).
  • Decenter teaching by positioning yourself as a learner of the children’s linguistic repertoires. Invite the children and their families to share their knowledge of their languages with you.

In summary, translanguaging requires that we embrace a paradigm shift in how we view bilingual students, their bilingualism, and the spaces we create for everyone to fully construct meaning (Ascenzi-Moreno & Espinosa, 2018). Translanguaging ensures that those students, whose voices have been silenced for too long, have new spaces in which to more freely engage.



Reading Groups

Blanca Huertas is an ELL teacher in Dickinson, Texas. This is her fifth year working with English-language learners in Texas. She previously worked as an ESL teacher in Puerto Rico for eight years:

Rotating reading groups is a small, differentiated group strategy that I use in my Newcomer ELL class to target language and content grade-level skills for language learners at their level of language proficiency. I use this strategy in a secondary level in my 7th and 8th grade Newcomer classrooms. This has become one of the most successful strategies to use in my Newcomer class because it helps me work in small groups with students as they work at their language-proficiency level.

I started using small, differentiated rotating groups three years ago but fully implemented this strategy when I found myself in a class two years ago, where I had students with a large gap between proficiency levels. One half of the class was at a higher intermediate level in language proficiency and strong academic background, and the other half of my class was SLIFE (Students with limited interrupted formal education) and at a beginner level in their English. It was hard to give whole-class instruction because I was either trying to reach one half of the class or the other.

Even though I used every other language strategy in the book, I felt that one group or the other was lacking in instruction. Because my SLIFE students really needed small-group intervention, I thought this would be a good place to start in the implementation of strategy. I was scared at first since I was going to work in stations and small groups at a secondary level, but it has really worked.

Where I intensely work with the station rotations is with reading. A reading rotating group will look as follows:

Before Instruction:

  • In the planning stage, it is important that the teacher group students according to their language-proficiency levels. If you have an in-between student, think of where you feel they would benefit more.
  • What are the skills you are trying to target that students need to strengthen?
  • Next, decide on how many rotations you want to provide. I recommend 3-4 (all stations should be connected).
    • Vocabulary
    • Listening station (Audio book) with computers
    • Small group with teacher: reading of text together and development of skill
    • Optional station: Independent reading using target skills or application station of skill work
  • Find what texts you are assigning to each level. I enjoy using saddleback books because they already have the audiobooks that come with them. For higher-level options and Spanish options, I have used Common lit, and they also have a read-to-me option. For nonfiction, my go to is Newsela.
  • Develop the work for each station according to the skills you are focusing on.

During Instruction:

Step #1: Provide students with the clear objective of what they will be working on. Each station should have their own objective. Because you will probably be working on this the rest of the week, you might be going back to each objective daily as each group works through it.

Step #2: Explain what will be happening in each station and how students will be working on each task. Let them know how the rotations will work. This is where you will set up your rules and explain the timer and how each person will work in teams.

Step # 3: Students will work on their assigned task. Depending on how long your class is, they might go through two or three stations. On the next day, before you start, review what students were working on. Review objectives of each station.

Step #4: When students finish their task, have them all discuss with the class their story and you can have them develop a story map to present to the class about their text or a book talk.

After Instruction:

I analyze anything that I probably could have adjusted and things that could have gone better. We know our students, and as students work, we should do informal assessments, especially when they are working in our station to interpret how students are understanding the tasks provided for them.

My biggest takeaway from this strategy is that I can have one-on-one time with my students, and this can help me focus on the areas that they truly need the most help on. When I work in small groups with them, I can identify strengths and needs so that I can adjust instruction to support my students better. This strategy has taken my students and my classes into new levels.



Vivian Micolta Simmons was born in Colombia and has been in the U.S. for seven years. She has been a teacher for 14 years and is currently working as a ESL/DLI lead teacher for the Iredell-Statesville schools in N.C.:

My single most effective strategy is CONSISTENCY.

As a former EFL teacher in Colombia and a former DLI teacher in N.C., I was always looking for different activities and strategies to incorporate in the classroom. There was a time when I was led to think that “more was best” when the reality is “with consistency, less is more.”

Let me explain: I have been in the ESL department since 2018 (hence my Twitter handle ESLteacher2018). I believe this has been the single, most meaningful experience I have had in my teaching career. I have learned a lot more about language learners and their learning process, and their ups and downs in this strenuous but rewarding process.

I have found that consistency is the way to go when teaching language learners. For example, in a lesson plan of mine, you will always find previewing the vocabulary, listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities as the go-to strategies per every unit. And I try to keep it consistent (if time allows) where my students can find this in my classes every day. There is no need to do 10,000 things in a class if you forget about activities that include the four language domains, especially speaking and orality, which will set great foundations for reading and writing. Include four language-skills strategies in your daily lessons (even as short as 3 minutes), and you will keep your learning experiences consistent and your students on track.


Thanks to Jenny, Laura, Cecila, Blanca, and Vivian for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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