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FAQ for Teachers

FAQ for Teachers

How am I going to teach if I don't speak their language?

Posted by: Dan Falk
Communication is not solely limited to the use of language.  In fact, much of language relies on non-verbals such as, facial expressions, body language, and gesturing.  In addition language is communicated through tone, volume, intonation, and inflection of the voice.  You do not need to be bilingual to teach language, you simply need to understand the basics of Second Language Acquisition.  I highly recommend reading the article: "On Teaching Strategies in Second Language Acquisition" (Yang, 2008).  Once you have this understanding of how language develops, you can begin to plan lessons based on the English Language Proficiency (ELP) level of your students.  If you expect to teach ELs the same way you teach general education students, then you should expect to be dissatisfied with their progress.  If you use language appropriate for their ELP level, are cognizant of their abilities, and teach to those abilities then you are likely to have greater success.

How do we teach EL students who don't understand English if no one is there to translate?

Posted by: Dan Falk
Teaching ELs without knowing their native language is challenging, but not impossible.  Various strategies can be used to make content comprehensible (see methods and strategies question below).  Translation of all content should be used judiciously to help the students understand the lesson.  But don’t let it become a crutch.  The student may depend on a translator to comprehend content.  Allow students with the same first language to discuss the learning materials in their native language if necessary.  Often higher proficiency students can help new arrivals.

What are some easy things I can do to help support EL's linguistic development?

Posted by: Dan Falk
Familiarize yourself with the Ohio English Language Proficiency Standards and make sure you bundle these with your normal content standards.  Understand your students’ level of English proficiency in all four domains of English (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) and differentiate your instructional and assessment practices.  

In writing it is important to understand that ELs have trouble self-editing as they don’t know recognize their errors.  They develop writing skills through explicit instruction and practice.  Direct instruction along with interactive approaches or grouping the ELs with more competent writers will produce significant gains.  This approach includes peer-learning and cooperative learning and allows the EL to learn from the models of others.   In time the EL and members of the cooperative learning group can engage in shared writing experiences and project-based activities.


ELs can often decode well, but have difficulty comprehending what they read.  Some tools that support reading comprehension are using sticky notes to flag pages that may answer questions that they have, working in small groups to connect with the text, using graphic organizers such as Venn Diagrams to support understanding, using question bookmarks as a tool to pose questions about the text, and using a Story Retelling Matrix to scaffold the skill of retelling the basic facts and leading into the skill of making inferences in the story.  The teacher will need to know the student well in order to select the appropriate reading comprehension strategy.

What exactly is our philosophy/program for meeting their needs?

Posted by: Dan Falk
The Lorain City School District's EL program strives to assist English Learners in acquiring the English language to the level of proficiency while providing them with their grade level instructional curriculum.

Goals of the EL Program:

Provide exposure and interaction with academic English language models through interactions within the school community.
Provide transition opportunities and support for EL students who are ready to participate in the general education program.
Use student’s first language as a vehicle to accelerate in a developmentally appropriate way their English acquisition as early as possible.

The Ohio Department of Education gives school districts the flexibility of deciding which educational approach best suits the needs of their ELs.  Those programs include: bilingual education, the immersion approach, pull-out English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, in-class or inclusion instruction, and individual tutoring.  The approach we utilize at GJW is the in-class or inclusion instruction mixed with pull-out ESL classes in the form of Wilson Reading groups.  Each building has different needs and therefore has a different program in place to best serve their EL population.

Why aren't there aids for the struggling students?

Posted by: Dan Falk
In addition to the ELL teacher in your building, there are bilingual paraprofessionals available to assist students.  However, there are anywhere from  10-150 ELs in any given building who also need support.  If you feel that a student is having particular difficulties accessing content, despite your efforts to differentiate instructional practices and assessments, please let the ELL teacher know.  They can tutor students individually, assist in creating lessons appropriate for ELs, model SIOP best practices, or help demonstrate how to make content comprehensible.

How can I communicate with ELs more clearly to help them?

Posted by: Dan Falk
Depending on the student’s level, you need to speak slowly and in short sentences, avoid idioms and slang.  Do not ask, “Do you understand?”  Rather, ask the student to show that they understand.

Why does the label "EL" keep changing?

Posted by: Dan Falk
The term "English Learner" (EL) and "English Language Learner" (ELL) are essentially interchangeable.  There are even more acronyms and labels beyond these two.  However, the Ohio Department of Education prefers the use of "EL."  An explanation of the term can be further explored at "The Glossary of Education Reform."

What supports are needed for ELs and how much?

Posted by: Dan Falk
Generally speaking, the lower a student's English proficiency level, the more supports they need.  Especially for Beginners and low intermediate students, you will need to determine the essential learning of this topic.   Then find materials at the EL’s level.  The ELL teacher can help you find or create resources.  Modify instruction and assessment and allow the EL to show their understanding through pictures, labeling, using a word bank or having fewer questions.  Encourage use of a bilingual dictionary in class work and assessments.

What resources are available for instructing ELs?

Posted by: Dan Falk

First, and foremost, the most important resource available for instructing ELs is the ELL teacher in your school.  In addition to their expertise, the Ohio Department of Education has two valuable resources for teachers to reference when planning for ELs:

  1. Instructional Resources for Teachers - This provides resources for all students.
  2. Instructional Guidelines and Resources for English Language Learners - Based on the Ohio ELP Standards, contains model lessons and vignettes.  

Other resources include:

  • Colorín Colorado! - A website serving educators and families of English learners in Grades PreK-12.  Colorín Colorado provides free research-based information, activities, and advice to parents, schools, and communities.
  • Center for Applied Linguistics - A private, nonprofit organization promoting access, equity and mutual understanding for linguistically and culturally diverse people around the world.
  • Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) Model - A research-based and validated instructional model that has proven effective in addressing the academic needs of English learners throughout the United States.

Is culture important when considering instructional practices?

Posted by: Dan Falk
Absolutely!  The school is sometimes an EL's first introduction to U.S. culture.  This can be either a positive or negative experience for some.  Culture shock manifests itself in four stages: the honeymoon stage, the frustration stage, the adjustment stage, and the acceptance stage.  Trying to learn words or phrases in their native language also demonstrates that you are interested in them and their culture.  Learning to say "hello" in a student's native language shows them that you are making an effort to meet them in the linguistic middle.  Ask the ELL Teacher or read about the student’s culture.  Celebrate that culture with stories and artifacts.  Literacy is biographical in terms of how the child was introduced to reading as a toddler.   It is very important for the teacher to know what the child has been exposed to in terms of literacy in the home. For some of our ELs there has been little exposure to literacy; in other cultures rich literacy exists.   A teacher may have an EL share a favorite book from their home country.  This demonstrates a respect for the student’s culture.

What methods or strategies should be used with ELs?

Posted by: Dan Falk

Short of being SIOP trained, there are many strategies that can be implemented by content teachers:

  • Incorporate language objectives into your instruction along with content objectives.   
  • Use movement, songs, rhymes, and finger plays.
  • Bring in realia – real items and models that students can touch and can talk about.
  • Graphic organizers help students see relationships.
  • Use Visuals – a picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Build background knowledge. E.g. Students might not know about the tooth fairy or lemonade stands.  American history will be a challenge.
  • Make connections to their home culture when possible.
  • Model your thinking through “think-alouds” for determining a word meaning, finding main ideas, making inferences, doing a math problem and so on.
  • When reading a book, stop to make predictions, connections and clear up confusions. This is also a great strategy to figure out unknown vocabulary and to improve reading comprehension. Teachers who model the Think-aloud Strategy strengthen inferring, summarizing, predicting, questioning and connecting…all effective reading strategies.
  • Encourage and teach dictionary use. Teach about multiple meanings.
  • Allow ample wait time for ELs to answer a question.
  • Use cooperative learning groups in different ways. Sometimes group students with the same language together. Other times group students with different languages together so that English is the “common denominator.”
  • Give directions orally and in writing.

How to get more support for an EL in class?

Posted by: Dan Falk
Ask.  If you feel that a student needs more support from a TESOL staff member, contact your building ELL teacher, bilingual paraprofessiona,l or the ELL Supervisor Susanne Silva 440-830-4040.

How do we reach English Learners?

Posted by: Dan Falk
Reaching ELs begins with meeting them at their level, understanding their culture, realizing their struggles, and familiarizing yourself with their interests.  For many ELs the most impactful aspect of their education is the relationship they have with their teachers and peers.  Not only are ELs navigating a brand new school, but they are also learning a new language, and trying to understand and adapt to a new culture.  The simplest thing you can do is learning their name and how to correctly pronounce it.  

Another way to reach them would be familiarizing yourself with their culture: know what music they like, what kind of sports they enjoy, what type of holidays they celebrate, and what activities they participated in before arriving in the U.S.  Some students come to us with issues beyond the scope of the classroom.  Reaching out to ELs frequently shows them that you care not only about their academic success, but also about their personal well-being.

How can I help EL students better?

Posted by: Dan Falk
One of the best ways you can help an EL is simply being empathetic.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Think about what kind of help you would need if you were attending school in another country--immersed in a different language and culture.  Empathy aside, you can first familiarize yourself with the 10 Ohio English Language Proficiency Standards and incorporate them into your lessons.  These standards are assessed annually on the Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment (OELPA).  Secondly, you should be aware of each individual EL’s English Proficiency Level.  This level is determined by the results of the OELPA, EL teachers, and/or classroom teachers.  The OELPA assesses students’ proficiency in the four domains of language (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) and assigns each domain into one of five proficiency levels: (1) Pre-functional, (2) Beginning, (3) Intermediate, (4) Advanced, and (5) Proficient.  Knowing their proficiency level in each domain of language allows teachers to better plan for instruction.
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