How to make your class welcoming for ELLs

As the new school year in Ontario begins in a month I know that I am thinking about week 1 activities.  As I don’t have my class list yet I don’t know the needs of my students.  However, I remember that it is very important to plan inclusive lessons for all of our students especially our ELLs.  These students can so easily be left out or excluded from these fun and important activities. Some of my guiding questions that I keep in mind when planning activities for week one is:

 How To Make Your Class Welcoming for ELLs

I believe that a welcoming environment is created when all students feel engaged, included and accepted. Traditional welcoming activities often include getting to know you activities and games, journal entries about summer experiences, games etc.  Here are some suggestions for how to include ELLs in your 1st week.

    • Interview Triads: Students in groups of three will interview each other. Two students interview and the third records.  The class then shares what they learned about their new classmate. This works with ELL students when you have proficient speakers with the same first language as the ELL.
    • Interview Through Pictures – The whole class in groups of two interviews each other by drawing about their interests.  Each student draws a picture in response to a series of questions.  For the ELL student they can be paired with a lead students who can modify the interview with the guide.  I like…….. you like……..  With the help of a dual language dictionary the student can have some prompts for this activity.
    • Self Portrait  This activity can be great for ELL students as there is little language needed.  All of your students can participate.  Make sure that the expectations are modeled for your students as this will help the ELL understand the expectations.  Provide the ELL with a picture dictionary to help them with ideas to include in their picture.
    • Label the Classroom Treasure Hunt – Don’t label your classroom areas until after the students arrive.  Pre-make your labels, or have the students make them, including pictures, and space for first languages if necessary.  Provide students with a ‘treasure map’ with riddles that will help them to find the correct area to label in the classroom.  This will also help them to learn where everything is in your room.  You could even include the rules into the riddles. This will help the ELL learn the names of the different materials in the classroom as well as helping them to learn where everything is.  It is especially important that pictures are included on these labels as this will help the ELL make connections between their first language and English.
    • Summertime Journal – For this activity students can write a journal about their summertime experiences.  Allow the ELL to write a journal in their first language.  If the student is unable to write in their first language assist them by giving them some sentence frames to complete.  I played… I ate…..  I see….. etc.
    • Read Aloud – Using a great read aloud with your class provides a rich opportunity for the ELLs in your class to be immersed in the language.  As with every read aloud it is important to pre-teach important vocabulary and review character names.  It may be helpful to provide ELLs with copy of some of the key pages (2-3) or page from the book.  Choose one which will allow the ELL to correctly label the main characters from the story.  The level of language proficiency of the ELL will determine how much of the book will be understood.  For many beginning ELLs it is important to know the broad strokes of the story such as Main Characters, Gist, or Lesson.  Some great books that I plan on using are

Miss Nelson Is Missing!Kissing HandChrysanthemumThe Important BookNo, David!

I will use some of these strategies as I finalize my plans for the beginning week of school.  As teachers it is so important that we remember to plan activities that include instead of mistakenly exclude ELL students.
How do you plan on including ELLs into your plans? How do you make your classroom a welcoming place?

Who are ELL students?

When I say ELL who do you think of?  Is your first thought to those students who have arrived to your classroom from another country.  Students who were born in another country, and speak a language other than English.  It is true these students are ELLs but so is the student in your classroom who was born down the street from the school to an immigrant family.  The student who learned another language before starting school and learning English.  These students are also ELL students. They are also know as LTELs (long term English learners).

Research by Dr. Jim Cummins tells us that it takes up to 7 years to learn a new language.  7 Years for an ELL student to catch up to their English only peers.  These born here students are falling through the cracks. Many of these students have good oral communication skills.  Where the gaps are pronounced are in the areas of academic language as well as reading and writing.

“Schools are not providing the instruction these students (LTELs) need. Programs have
not developed the first languages of the long-term learners. They speak English
quite well but do not have the underlying base in their first languages to
transfer the knowledge they need for academic success. The general public, and
in fact, most educators believe that more English equals more English, when the
truth is the opposite. More first-language knowledge equals more English.”

 Freeman and Freeman, 2009.

How do we as teachers help them?

  1. Recognize that these students have language needs.
  2. Always support the use of students first language at home.  Do not suggest that students speak English at home.  Parents should speak to their children in the language or languages that the parents are strongest in.
  3. Carefully look at assessment data are lower scores related to language needs.
  4. Understand that in the fist 7 years small gaps in reading and writing are normal
  5. Pre-teach vocabulary in your lessons
  6. Scaffold support for students in reading and writing tasks. Using graphic organizers are a great way to do this.
  7. Conference with these students regularly providing extra time and support for their language needs.
  8. Allow them more time to answer’
  9. Build background knowledge for students.
How to Modify for ELL students

How to Modify for ELL students

When you have a beginner ELL student you may ask yourself how do I modify what I am doing for this student.  When teachers know that their new student can not handle the regular grade level expectations due to language barriers and have tried first to accommodate these students need to modify. But these expectations are sometimes difficult to do correctly, especially if you do not have support of a regular ELL teacher.

As teachers we use our curriculum expectations to guide our planning and teaching.  We know what we are teaching and why we are teaching it before we begin our units.  This also needs to be done for ELL students as well.  Teachers must avoid modifying expectations after the ELL student has failed to meet regular expectations.  Teachers should use their knowledge of the students level of language proficiency to modify curriculum expectations at the same time as they are planning the unit.  This step however can be daunting if you don’t know how to do it or where to start.  With the assistance of some colleagues I created this document for the teachers at my school board.  I wanted to also share the resource with you on my TPT site.  Here are some sample pages



Teaching Biographies

Teaching Biographies

One great way to include multicultural materials into your language program is by teaching biographies.  Biographies can celebrate heroes from various cultures.  When the biographies are choose carefully it can provide examples of various positive role models from many different backgrounds.  Students can connect to the person and story.  Also biographies can help students learn to tell their own story.  This is important for ALL students especially ELLs.  Telling our own stories allows us to find commonalities with others where we may not have seen these similarities before.

Here is my Unit for teaching biographies.  Included in this unit is

  • 4 sample shared reading biographies
  • Bump It Up bulletin planner
  • 6 week lesson cycle
  • Learning goals and success criteria Anchor Charts
  • Success Criteria Checklist for self and peer assessments
Do you need ideas on books that would be good for this unit.  Click on these book covers to read more


For more biography books click here and here


STEPs for Ontario ELLs

STEPs for Ontario ELLs

Changes have happened for Educating ELL students in Ontario. Last year before I left on my maternity leave we assessed ELL students according to stages of language acquisition. Teachers were getting used to what stage their student were in and how that affected the student in the classroom. Well folks it’s changed. Really it is for the better, but of course there will be growing pains. Four stages have been replace by 6 STEPs.

The STEPs for Ontario ELLs

These steps help explain for teachers the large changes that occur in a student between the beginning of stage 1 to the end of stage 2. This period is now covered by about 3 of the 6 steps. Additionally these steps are better aligned with the language curriculum and growing success document. Ideally this will help classroom teachers with understanding how the goals of the curriculum and the goals of language acquisition fit together. Check out the indicators for each step and grade level. (Step Continua).

So maybe you don’t teach in Ontario, well this continua is still a great way to understand the progression of language development in relation to your own curriculum standards.

Hear Dr. Jang explain the continua below


How to Help ELLs Make Connections

How to Help ELLs Make Connections

Learn how to help ELLs make connections in your classroom. Making connections is so important for reading comprehension and life skills! graphic organizer | activities | worksheet | lesson | reading | teaching | middle school

Pictures on a graphic organizer help ELL students learn to make connections.  Making connections is an important reading comprehension strategy.  For ELL students it is important to be able to participate in and learn this necessary reading skill.  One key accommodation for ELL students is to include pictures to cue them to what task they are supposed to complete.  I have made a graphic organizer and some supplementary materials that include the key graphics.

How to use the Graphic Organizer

This organizer can be used with your whole class to provide a scaffold for students who are learning how to make quality connections.  Use this at the beginning of your unit as part of your modelled and shared lessons.  This organizer has three parts “The text says”, “This is similar to…”, “This connection helps me understand the text”.  The organizer can also be scaffolded further by having students only complete the first two sections with pictures.

Additional Materials: Choose your own Connection

This expands on the graphic organizer by allowing students choose their own type of connection based on what they read independently.  After the students are familiar with the graphic organizer above it it time for independent work.  After students finish their independent reading activity they choose the appropriate connection cards (there is space for 2 connections per page). They fill out each card and then glue it on to the template to hand in.  In this package there is also an anchor chart with exemplar answers and some connection bookmarks.  Each connection card page can also be use independently to focus on one type of connection at a time.

Get the Additional Materials Package on my TPT store here or participate in the giveaway below!!