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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

The Best Ways to Make Content More Accessible to English-Learners

By Larry Ferlazzo — October 16, 2023 7 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
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I’ve invited educators to share the three most important—AND most likely to be used—strategies that general education teachers can use to make their content more accessible to ELLs (and everyone else).

I want to emphasize the “most likely to be used” part. I’m talking about strategies that would not require THAT much effort by teachers to use. Many, though not necessarily all, could also benefit non-ELL students, too.

My three choices would be (not in order of importance)

  • Rate of speech—just speak slower and clearer.
  • Sentence starters and longer writing frames, as well as less-scaffolded writing structures (like ABC paragraphs: Answer the question. Back it up with evidence. Comment on how your evidence supports your answer).
  • Have an ELL sit next to and/or be in a small group with a “buddy,” someone who the teacher has asked (not pressured) to help him/her out and who ideally (though not necessarily a prerequisite) speaks the same home language as the ELL.
  • A “bonus” fourth one: In high school, have “peer tutors” (generally seniors) work with ELLs in classes. Read more about how this type of program works here.

Here are suggestions from other experienced ELL teachers:

‘Frame the Lesson’

Carol Salva is a Seidlitz Education consultant:

1) Teach all kids what to say when they don’t know what to say. Newly arrived students can work on “May I ask a friend for help?” Students with more language can use a variety of options. And we do all of it with an “Instead of I Don’t Know” poster and making it a matter of practice. Students are expected to use one of the sentences instead of saying “I Don’t Know” when called upon.

2) Frame the lesson with objectives that are posted. Decide on an exit ticket, turn that into a sentence starter, and go over that at the beginning of the class (not a bad language objective). Use this opportunity to choral read that one sentence starter, tracking the print with your finger. There are so many benefits to framing the lesson. This is not just for our ELs.

3) Plan one structured conversation with the above exit ticket, so we’re giving all students an opportunity to talk in a structured way with something that links to our objectives. I would strongly recommend QSSSA for this.


‘Adding Simple Visuals’

Julie Keaney is an ESOL teacher at Coles Elementary School in Prince William County, Va.:

1) Make sure your students see your overall encouragement and joy in all that you do. They need to feel valued in class and know that you enjoy having them as a student …and they need to know and feel that they belong there and that they can and will be able to learn in your class. Start this off successfully from day 1! This will happen naturally if you follow Carol Sierra Salva’s advice above because you’ll feel less stressed out about teaching since your students will be doing a lot more meaningful learning.

2. Add simple visuals. Think of when you get step-by-step directions to put together furniture and imagine it’s in a totally unknown-to-you language with no visuals. Could you do it? Then think of IKEA furniture directions, which are so visual. Even though it may still be a productive struggle putting together IKEA furniture, it’s still able to be done—while a bunch of step-by-step instructions in an unknown language to you is not and won’t lead to anything productive. Apply this to your instruction. You don’t have to be fancy, either. Google image, copy and paste. Quick sketch. Use symbols and stick figures. Get your students to quick draw something to an existing anchor chart if you’re artistically challenged. Adding anything visual adds so much more meaning!

3. Kahoot: individual Kahoot, team Kahoot, students create questions for a Kahoot. Selfie Kahoot. Anything Kahoot. Everything Kahoot! It increases engagement, is visual, interactive, and the students love it. You can even post Kahoot challenges for your students on Canvas to work on in their own time for extra practice. There are premade Kahoots, and you can make your own. Kahoot is a game changer!


Comprehensible Instruction

Carlota Juana Holder is the director of academic language for the Neighborhood Charter Network. She created this graphic offering her advice:


‘Being More Direct’

Cris Howard is an ELL teacher and adjunct professor for the Indiana University Southeast English as a new language program, as well as a freelance educational consultant:

1) Reduce teacher-talk time by being more direct and precise with instructions and explanations. Use simpler sentences. (I think this goes along with slowing down the rate of speech.)

2) Anchoring - Display the written form of new words as you go over them

3) Active Listening - Students have to follow along a lecture or explanation by doing something as they listen. I think this one is less “doable” in terms of prep time for teachers if lots of visuals are used, but it could be made simpler depending on what the topic is.


‘A Slight Shift’

Alexandra Hoyt is a TESOL teacher from Connecticut:

I think that these are most likely to be used because they require just a slight shift in what teachers are already doing (minimum prep/training to implement) and are effective across all grade levels:

-Be mindful of rate of speech.

-Incorporate visuals/gestures into all lessons.

-Lower the affective filter by creating a safe and welcoming classroom environment.


Thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts!

This is the first post in a two-part series.

The new question of the week is:

What would you say are the three most important—AND most likely to be used—strategies that general education teachers can use to make their content more accessible to ELLs (and everyone else)?

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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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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