Engaging ELL Students in the ECE Classroom


Engaging ELL Students in the

  ECE Classroom



  Our Beliefs... 

Through our coursework and field experiences here at Miami University, we have learned about and been exposed to English Language Learners in today's schools. As we will soon be early childhood educators, we feel as if it is crucial to be aware of the best practices and resources to ensure that our students who are learning English are able to be the most successful they can be in and out of the classroom. As our society continues to become more diverse we strongly feel that this is an issue that will only continue to be present and, thus, cannot be avoided. We focus on our attention to the Early Childhood classroom because this is our expertise, and we have strong feelings that Early Childhood is the foundation of all learning that is to come. In order to provide the best education to our students we want to keep up to date with the best practices and resources there are to incorporate in our classroom. Finding successful ways to engage students who are learning English is crucial because there is already a gap in communication, which could have an affect on their learning. We hope that our findings come to be valuable to other educators, families, or anyone else who works with English Language Learners.


Ten Things To Do Today

1. Enunciate clearly. Use gestures, point directly to objects, or draw pictures.

2. Write clearly and legibly.

3. Develop and maintain routines.

4. Repeat information and review frequently. Check often for understanding by asking students to demonstrate their learning.

5. Avoid using idioms, slang, and unnecessarily complex language.

6. Present new information in the context of known information.

7. Announce the lesson's objectives and activities, and list instructions step-by-step.

8. Present information in a variety of ways.

9. Provide frequent summaries of key points and emphasize key vocabulary.

10. Recognize student success frequently, but also be aware that in some cultures individual praise is considered inappropriate and can therefore be embarrassing to the student.

Adapted from: NWREL (2003). General prinicples for teaching ELL students. Retrieved from: http://www.nwrel.org/request/2003may/general.html  



  •  ELLs comprise 10.5 percent of the nation's K-12 enrollment, up from 5 percent in 1990.
  • ELLs have varied levels of language proficiency, socio-economic standing, expectations of schooling, content knowledge, and immigration status.
  • Today, almost all states have populations of ELLs. States in the Midwest and Intermountain West have seen increases in the number of ELL students. 

Retrieved from: James R. Squire Office of Policy Research. (n.d.). English language learners: A policy research brief. (2008). National Council of Teachers of English.



 Level 1: Basic

Students have very limited or no understanding of English. They rarely use English for communcation. They can respond non-verbally to commands, statements, and questions in simple form.

Level 2: Low Intermediate

Students can understand short conversations on topics that are simple. They use repetition, gestures, and non-verbal cues to be able to communicate. They rely on visual cues to aid in comprehension while reading.

Level 3: High Intermediate

Students can understand standard speech with some repetition and rewording. They can communicate orally in most settings. They still require support in understanding academic text.

Level 4: Proficient

Students have adequate language skills for day-to-day conversations. They may have difficulty with idiomatic expressions and words with multiple meanings.

Level 5: Advanced Proficient

Students at this level have demonstrated English proficiency as determined by state assessment instruments. Students are expected to participate fully with peers in grade level content area classes.                                                          



  Difference Between "ELL" and "ESL"

  • ELL (English Language Learner): an active learner of the English language who may benefit from various types of language support programs. This term is used mainly in the U.S. to describe K-12 students.
  • ESL (English as a Second Language): formerly used to designate ELL students; this term increasingly refers to a program of instruction designed to support the ELL. It is still used to refer to multilingual students in higer education.

Retrieved from: James R. Squire Office of Policy Research. (n.d.). English language learners: A policy research brief. (2008). National Council of Teachers of English.  


Activities and Strategies to Use in the ECE Classroom

This website provides users with interactive vocabulary quizzes for English Language Learners. The quizzes include pictures and words, and are categorized based on English parts of speech. Useful for both ELLs and English-speaking students. 



This interactive website provides ELL students, and their teachers, with a multitude of activities which will help develop their language skills. These include: video tutorials, PowerPoint’s, interactive games and quizzes, printable worksheets, and flashcards. All of these resources provide in-depth practice with the English language. In order to access all of the content this site provides, you must purchase a membership (3 months: $29, 6 months: $39, 1 year: $59). However, there are still many free high-quality samples from each category of the site!



Materials categorized by proficiency level make this site an excellent resource for educators looking to differentiate instruction for ELL students. The site includes reading, listening, speaking, and writing materials for online and classroom use. Because the materials are organized based on the five proficiency levels of ELLs, it allows teachers to efficiently find appropriate activities for each student. The site also provides users with tips on how to use the materials and suggestions for where to begin with new learners.



Lesson Plans

This site provides 41 content-based lesson plans based on ELL students’ proficiency levels. The “Teaching Tips” page includes 73 in-service ideas and strategies for both ELL educators. There is also a “Resource” page which provides several links for other resources and materials for classroom teachers. 



This site includes high quality PDF lesson plans, including thorough teacher notes. All lesson plans can also be accessed as a 1000 page e-book. Users have access to a variety of materials and resources such as hundreds of grammar and vocabulary flashcards and MP3s. Resources are organized based on English proficiency level. Users must have a 6 month, 12 month, or lifetime membership to access the full site, but many free samples are of equal quality to the rest of the materials. 



Links for a variety of topics concerning English Language Learners can be found at this site. There are many sites strictly providing lesson plans, but there are also hundreds of links for topics ranging from reading, pronunciation, and idioms to ELL schools and "Kids' ELL" (sites and activities for engaging ELL children). 




Information on differentiating instruction based on students English proficiency levels can be found below in attachments labeled "Differentiation 1-3". 



The following interview questions were answered by a 1st grade teacher with a Master’s Degree in Differentiated Instruction. Each year, her school places the “ELL Cluster” of students in her classroom. This means that she teaches the ELL students who are in need of the most support upon entering 1st grade. During any given year, this teacher has had at least 1, and a maximum of 10, ELL students in her class.

Q: What do you do on a daily basis to engage and support ELL students?

A: I use a lot of repeating and picture clues. I also think it is important to expose ELLs and all students really, to as much text as possible so I include labels on all my picture clues and various places around the room. Using gestures or signing helps students more than you would think. And to really keep them engaged, I implement movement from the students in my lessons. I ask students to stand-up and act out their responses, and also utilize role play in order to help them understand situations, academic and social.

Q: What strategies or activities work best?

A: Picture clues are very helpful, especially at the beginning of the year, when helping students learn classroom routines and rules. For each activity, I put pictures on the board for directions so students would know for sure what to do: first they color, then they cut, then they glue, and should be using a level 1 voice (whisper). This really helps them become aware of routines and feel more comfortable.

For students who are in the early stages of English development, individual picture schedules are a great resource. I make these schedules on laminated folders for students to keep at their desks. Inside the folders, I Velcro pictures for common phrases such as “yes,” “no,” “drink,” and so on. Then students can use those pictures as a resource for communicating when they are struggling to verbalize their thoughts. 

Q: How do you modify assessments for ELL students?

A: I read tests to them and point to words as I read them. I make sure to enunciate very clearly when giving spelling tests. Sometimes, there is an ELL tutor available to take these students out of the room to complete assessments in a small-group setting.

Q: How do you interact with parents of ELLs?

A: It is difficult. We are lucky in this district to have Mario, our translator, and I utilize him frequently. For on-the-spot meetings, we can call Mario and have a conversation with parents over speaker-phone. For planned conferences, we can arrange to have Mario present. Other than that, I have sent class Newsletters home in various languages when needed. Any notes that need to be sent home, I try to send in the dominant language of the students’ families. Even though it’s not the best, Microsoft Word has a translator and I use that sometimes. It is mostly important to keep notes and any other communication with parents of ELLs as simple as possible.

Q: How do you involve parents of ELLs in order to help with their students’ engagement and/or success?

A: It is difficult because a lot of times, parents speak little-to-no English. I encourage them to help mostly with math at home because this is something they can understand despite their language. Numbers are numbers. They can also help somewhat with spelling homework because even if they can’t read the words, they can check to see if their student is spelling them correctly. The best thing to do is to provide directions for homework in the language spoken at home. If parents just cannot help their students with homework, I make time to do homework with these students during the school day.


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