Supporting English Learners’ Academic and Language Development

With an ever-growing number of English Language Learners in schools all across our school district, many are eager to learn how they can support students’ academic growth. According to Bresser, Melanese, and Sphar, “Every part of learning is mediated through language – from the arousal of a curiosity, to the teacher’s explanation of a concept, to the formation of an understanding of that concept, to the verbalization or written expression of that understanding.” (2009, p.  1). This being the case, we need to intentionally plan our instruction and assessment taking into account the language students will need to first access the content we are teaching and to later demonstrate their understanding of this content.

A critical component of our planning process is knowing what to expect of ELL students at each stage of language proficiency. The five stages of language acquisition are preproduction, early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency, and advanced fluency. These stages do not directly correspond to the five ELL levels to which students are assigned in the state of Nebraska. See below.

  • Level 1 – preproduction, early production, speech emergence
  • Level 2 – speech emergence
  • Level 3 – intermediate fluency
  • Level 4 – intermediate fluency
  • Level 5 – advanced fluency

To learn specifics about what one can expect students to be able to understand and do at each of these levels, click here.

To learn about strategies for supporting student growth, click here.

If you have questions or would like support in implementing any of these strategies, please do not hesitate to contact your building’s ELL Instructional Coach.


Bresser, R., Melanese, K., & Sphar, C. (2009). Supporting English language learners in math class, grades 3-5. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications.

Gottlieb, M. (2006). Assesing English language learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hill, J., & Miller, K. (2013). Classroom instruction that works with English language learners (2nd ed.). Denver, CO: McREL.

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