3 Proven Strategies For Supporting English Language Learners In Reading

Chances are, you or someone you know is an English Language Learner (ELL). After all, there are over 5 million ELL students across the country¹, and by 2025 an estimated 25 percent of all public school students will be ELLs². Although these students do not learn differently than their native English-speaking peers, they do benefit from differentiated intervention and strategies. The strategies listed below are derived from the latest research on supporting English Language Learners.

Strategy 1: Embrace The Home Language

Whether your student speaks Spanish, Arabic or Chinese, research shows, “that educational programs that systematically incorporate use of ELLs' home language result in levels of academic success, including achievement in literacy and other academic subjects, that are as high as and often better than that of ELLs in English-only programs”³. In practice, this looks like:

  • Allowing students to read passages in their native language (check out how Readlee does that here).
  • Affording opportunities for students to discover synonyms and definitions for English words in their home language (see how Readlee enables this strategy).
  • Learning phrases and questions in the home language of your student. 
  • Incorporate the home language into different facets of your lesson plan and units of study.

Strategy 2: Model The Text

Reading in a new language can feel daunting. In this respect, teacher modeling can act as a lifeline for English Learners because of the clarity it provides. In a study of K-12 classrooms, researchers found that the strategy of “modeling is consistently underutilized despite being an easy, high-leverage strategy”⁴. To better support ELL reading, you can embrace these quick wins:

  • Model the first line or paragraph of the reading; ELL students especially benefit from hearing the prosody, tone and pacing of their teacher (see how you can easily do this with Readlee).
  • Preview the text and model specific vocabulary you think might be challenging for your students. Pairing this word-by-word modeling with definitions is also beneficial. 
  • Model specific elements of reading. Knowing that the three tenets of reading fluency are accuracy, pace and prosody, you might surface any one of these by specifically asking your students to pay close attention to the “pace” or “cadence” of your voice. 

Strategy 3: Select Culturally Relevant Literature

According to research, “In order to empower students as readers, teachers need to provide them with culturally relevant literature that they can see themselves in”⁵. This rings especially true for English Language Learners who benefit from the additional support that comes through engagement with texts that connect to their cultural backgrounds. To discover more culturally relevant literature, you can visit the Readlee Library. While reading these texts, you may want to ask the following questions to deepen student comprehension:

  • Are the characters in the story like you and your family?
  • Have you ever had an experience like one described in this story?
  • Have you lived in or visited places like those in the story?
  • Do the characters talk like you and your family do?


2: NYU

3: F. Genesee

4: Edutopia

5: St. John Fisher College

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