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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.

Teaching Opinion

Seven Ways to Support ELLs in Online Content Classes

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 03, 2020 4 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series.)

Today’s question is:

What are the best ways to differentiate online instruction?

Differentiation is a big challenge to all of us in the physical classroom, and it’s an even bigger one when we’re pushed into an online learning environment.

This two-part series will share specific strategies teachers can use.

Today, I’ll discuss some additional specific ideas content teachers can apply in supporting English-language learners. Many content teachers find it challenging to scaffold instruction for English- language learners when they’re in a physical classroom, much less in a brand-new distance-learning situation.

You might also be interested in previous posts appearing here on Differentiating Instruction. and on Teaching English-Language Learners.

“Try putting yourself in their shoes”

Here are a few suggestions (with links for accessing free additional resources) content teachers might want to keep in mind when differentiating instruction for ELLs during remote teach (and remember, good teaching for ELLs is good teaching for everybody!):

1. Providing simple graphic organizers to accompany assignments can help ELLs organize thinking and writing tasks. I’m emphasizing the word “simple” because I have seen quite a few graphic organizers that even I can’t understand. And, please, don’t put too many circles in your Venn Diagrams!

2. Model, model, model! Almost every lesson I’ve ever done that has flopped (and, believe me, I’ve done many!) can be traced back to me not taking enough time to model or provide models of how to accomplish tasks or of providing examples of what completed tasks should look like. Those examples don’t necessarily have to be ones of the exact assignment if you’re concerned students will just copy it but can be from similar ones.

3. Use closed-captioning to support compehension, whether you’re showing videos, using a video-conferencing tool for a live class, or using Google Slides. All—or, at least, most—provide free closed captioning (admittedly, however, they can be flawed).

4. If you need to communicate directly with a Newcomer ELL in your class, I really like Microsoft Translater. It lets you easily “chat” with students who speak most other languages.

5. “Engineer the text” of your materials by providing white space, headings in bold, vocabulary definitions at the bottom, etc., to make it more accessible to students.

6. Use sentence starters, writing frames, and writing structures to support students doing assignments. Sentence starters are short fill-in-the-blanks (“The most important idea in this passage is ___________”), writing frames are basically longer sentence starters, and writing structures provide more limited guidance.

7. In addition to looking for opportunities for ELLs to access and highlight their background knowledge (for example, in math class, encourage ELLs to share the numbering systems from their home countries), provide background knowledge that will help them access your upcoming lessons. For example, when I plan a U.S. history lesson, I will often find a chapter from another textbook online that has a summary available to download in a student’s home language and give it to him/her a week ahead of time. Or a math teacher can do the same with a Khan Academy video in their language or a Brainpop one in Spanish. Find similar resources for all subjects here.

These seven are just a drop-in-the-bucket in terms of ways to support ELLs—and all students—access lessons.

Try putting yourself in their shoes to think of more!

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.

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