Opportunity to Support Middle School ELL students

ELL students from Culler, Goodrich, and Park attended UNL in the spring of 2015 to participate in a Digital Festival. UNL education majors facilitated the event with various activities throughout the day. ELL students got a tour of the campus, participated in icebreaker activities, and ate lunch in the cafeteria. This was a great experience for all involved. The UNL students got an opportunity to interact with students from many different countries who speak various languages. The ELL students got an opportunity to see the University and start to envision their future as a college student.

We are asking for help to fund this project again this spring. Here is the link to our Fund-A-Need proposal.


Cultural Patterns in Writing

In the article ELL writing skills: Cultural patterns stand out, Douglas Magrath illustrates how patterns in writing differ across cultures and how those patterns may influence an ELL student’s production in writing and speaking.  You can read his article in the September edition of the TESOL Multibrief.

Magrath, D., (September 9, 2015). ELL writing skills: Cultural patterns stand out, Retrieved from http://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/ell-writing-skills-cultural-patterns-stand-out/education


Supporting Home Language

Supporting Home Language is crucial for ELL families!  Students need a chance to develop a complete first language, meaning a language that includes speaking and listening skills, good vocabulary development, and  pre-literacy or early literacy skills before they begin kindergarten. This means parents should be using their BEST language with their kids, which for our ELL families is almost always their home language.   Students who have academic language and skills in first language have an easier time transferring those concepts to English.  And good news!  You can help parents work on just that using some tools we’ve developed.  Check out the resources below and share with parents!

Supporting Home Language information for parents (translated information sheet about why supporting home language is so valuable!)

Story Retelling Cards (translated copies for parents to use as they read with their children)



Selective Mutisum

Many questions arise about young learners who are acquiring English along with academic content.  As educators, we are anxious to make sure we are attending to all our students needs.  Considering the process of how second language learners acquire language is critical in identifying what those needs may be.

Consider this typical pattern for a young language learner:

  • The child will continue to use their first language for a short time period.
  • The child will realize the first language is ineffective and begin a “silent period” sometimes lasting as long as six months.
  • Third, the child’s receptive language abilities will continue to grow and the child will being to test out the new language by using one or two-word phrases.
  • Finally, the child will be conversing with others in the second language.

The “silent period” is what often gives us trouble.  We sometimes have trouble distinguishing it from selective mutism.  Consider pursuing more assessment and intervention for selective mutism if the following is true:

  • The child will not speak in either first or second language when presented with the opportunity to do so in a particular setting (with another student who shares the same first language or a bilingual liaison).
  • The “silent period” has lasted for more than six months.
  • The student is exhibiting selective mutism in both languages in several unfamiliar settings, and for significant periods of time.

If you have concerns about one of your students and selective mutism, start asking more questions about what their language is like at home and present opportunities for the student to use their first language within your classroom.  And call us anytime!  We’re happy to help!



Mayworm, A., Dowdy, E., Knights, K., Rebelez, J.  (2014).  Assessment and Treatment of Selective Mutism with English Language Learners.  Contemporary School Psychology.  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs40688-014-0035-5#page-1

New ELL Arrivals to LPS

They walk through the door, and we welcome them.

We also need to take them where they are.


This is where they are:

They have just left their home country.

They have just walked days without food or water.

They have just left the fear that a soldier might kill them or someone they love.

They have just left a place where they witnessed a loved one die.

They have just left a place where school was not in session because of war.

They have just left a place where they couldn’t be outside alone.

They have just left a place where soldiers raped and terrorized them.

They have just left terror and death.


Lincoln Public Schools has recently experienced high numbers of new refugees from the Middle East. These families are coming from horrible situations and are now trying to adjust to life in the United States. There are many children who have not been in school or who have not been able to experience any sense of normalcy.

These families have been granted refugee status and have been given an opportunity to live their lives in safety and with freedom in Lincoln, Nebraska. We are fortunate in Lincoln to have quality housing, good employment opportunities, and an excellent school system.

So, how do we respond?

*It isn’t perfect timing, they’ve missed some of our instruction…..we take them where they are and we welcome them.

*Our classes are already full and we have everything in place……we take them where they are and we welcome them.

*I’m not sure how to communicate with them…. we SMILE and take them where they are and welcome them!

Lincoln High Staff Meetings November 12, 2014

As part of the cultural proficiency journey, teachers at Lincoln High attended period staff meetings throughout the day on November 12, 2014. One focus was second language acquisition and how to support the ELL students (levels 1-5)  and the students who have a home language other than English. We discussed input (receptive language) and output (productive language) and how to support students at any given proficiency level. We shared some ideas of strategies to support these students and allowable accommodations. To see the presentation, click here.

Strategies and Accommodations Shared by Staff

illustrated directions-many photos of process

directions given orally and on the board

speak slower and check for understanding

enunciate clearly

demonstrations (modeling)

show videos to promote understanding

use nonverbal cues, gestures

word walls

word banks

notes with visuals and drawing options

small groups, pairs (sometimes with same language, sometimes with English-speaking peer models), preferential seating

provide extra help, one-on-one support

extended time

shorten assignments, provide alternative assignments and assessments

have students translate words in their language

use bilingual/picture dictionaries, Google Translate (for vocabulary and simple phrases), dictionary phone apps

encourage students to access resources online

text on tape, listen to reading

use sentence starters/frames

use graphic organizers

use rewordify.com

have students present a speech in their native language, followed by English (grade the presentation -Native, the content -English)

use cooperative learning strategies

encourage self-advocacy skills

contact bilingual liaisons-make sure that I make the first phone call home

learn about the different cultures




Homework Support for Parents

One of the biggest themes that often emerge when talking with parents is homework: Why do students have homework? Why don’t students have more homework? I don’t know how to help my child with homework.

As we work through clarifying these questions and trying to problem solve with parents, we begin by sharing the importance of homework.

  • Review and Practice
  • Extend Learning Beyond the School
  • Develop Good Study Habits
  • Critical Thinking

It is also important to affirm to parents that even if they feel they cannot help with the actual homework itself, there are many things that parents can do to support homework at home:

  • Setting routines
  • Providing an appropriate place to study.
  • Removing distractions like t.v and video games and providing supplies.
  • Provide Praise

Sometimes parents may need extra support in beginning the process of setting up healthy routines and positive support for partnerships in homework. Here are some examples of prompt cards that can be provided to parents to help them facilitate problem solving at home for reading, math and overall homework routines.

Translated homework prompt cards

Translated math prompt bookmarks

Translated reading prompt bookmarks

Translated retelling cards

Information about the importance of supporting academic talk in home languages

We have had the opportunity to present to family literacy programs throughout LPS. One group of parents developed a T-chart that highlighted some of the roles and responsibilities that parents and children have in completing homework at home.

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Colorin Colorado. (2010). Homework Tips for Parents of ELLs. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/39272/

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). Helping your Child with Homework. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/20468/

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). How to Help: Show that You think Education and Homework are Important. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/20473/

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). Checklist for Helping Your Child with Homework. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/20476/

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). Homework: The Basics. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/20469/

Using NebraskAccess to Find Professional Journal Articles

It is important for us, as educators, to keep current on the variety of issues that impact our students and their learning. ELL students are one group of students with diverse cultural and linguistic needs. These students are in more and more classes every year and one way to learn about them and how to meet their needs is to read professional journals. Here’s how to access these articles using NebraskAccess through LPS.


Making Family Conferences Successful

Conferences are a time for school communities and families to connect and share important information regarding the details of the daily learning lives of students.  One foundational need in order to support this partnership is making sure that both teachers and parents have an opportunity to not only access the information shared, but also to be able to ask questions to provide clarity. If a family speaks a language other than English, it is important that we ensure that the educational rights of students are carried out through the use of an interpreter to create a bridge between home and school.

Whether you have worked with an interpreter many times or the next round of conferences will be your first opportunity, it is important to understand the roles and responsibilities between teacher, parent and interpreter prior to beginning a conversation.  We have created a chart highlighting some of the roles and responsibilities that are important to remember. Below you will see some of the big ideas from the list.  To see a complete list of ideas for how roles in partnerships during conferences could look, please click here.

If you are a teacher, it is important to remember:

  • The teacher is in charge of the conference.
    • Educators will typically arrive at a conference with information regarding academic performance of students and a list of agenda items to cover. Although these items are important, sometimes more pressing issues may arise as conversations with parents occur. Providing flexibility on what is covered during a conference is important and also allows for parent voice and a more meaningful, relevant discussion for families.
  • Speak directly to the parent and presume positive intentions.
  • Use short simple sentences and allow time for the interpreter to share.
    • Many phrases and sayings do not have literal translations. Stay away from figurative language and teacher jargon.
  • After every idea, stop and allow for a parent to respond.
    • Instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?” say “What do you think about this?” You will have a better chance of eliciting a response from parents and keeping the conversation meaningful and relevant.

If you are an interpreter, it is important to remember:

  • Communicate exact ideas intended for both parents and teachers.
  • Each assignment will  be confidential and approached with impartiality, putting all personal opinions aside.

If you are a parent, it is important to remember:

  • Be present at the conference and advocate for your child through questioning and clarifying content of the conference to the extent comfortable.
  • Learn about the role of parents in education in the US schooling system.

Our hope is that these ideas will create a stronger partnership between learning communities and families.


Reading and ELL Flex Session, November 7, 2012

This session addressed many of the challenges faced by English learners. It is helpful for teachers to understand these challenges so that they can provide support and teach students effective strategies. All students use three cueing systems as they learn to read. Those cueing systems include graphophonics, semantics, and syntax. ELL students have additional needs. Building background knowledge and vocabulary are two areas needed by English learners. Teachers can use various strategies such as mental images, visualization, kinesthetics, graphic organizers, and physical representations to help students. A third area of need is in learning language patterns. David and Yvonne Freeman have presented five syntactic challenges for English learners. They are modals, passive voice, comparatives and logical connectors, verbs with prepositional phrases, and relative clauses. There are many things teachers can do to help ELL students with these challenges. Some examples are scaffolding instruction, using graphic organizers, using hands-on activities, promoting oral language development, and providing opportunities for practice and feedback.

To access the powerpoint presentation, click here.

To access the bookmark, click here.


Freeman and Freeman (2009). Essential Linguistics, What You Need to Know to Teach Reading, ESL, Spelling, Phonics, Grammar. Heinemann Publishers.