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

Instructional Supports: Planning with Language Acquisition in Mind

These supports and resources can be used with any Early Childhood lesson.  The resources are especially applicable to Second Steps lessons, including content and lesson objectives and sentence frames for each Second Steps skill and theme.

Presentation including developing Content and Language Objectives and other instructional supports

LPS SIOP Lesson Planning—Early Childhood:  PDF Version to send to print shop for hard copies

LPS SIOP Lesson Planning—Early Childhood:  word version to type directly onto

Langauge Objective Worksheet

Language Objectives Guide:  list of action words/verbs to use for content and language objectives

Engaging Learners, Igniting Minds

The topic of engagement is a hot one, and many ELL teachers recently gathered to explore ways to motivate students. We began the session considering the question, “What is engagement?” Afterward, participants visualized two memories they had of themselves as students – one memory as an engaged learner and one as a compliant one. We then discussed observable differences between engaged versus compliant behavior in ourselves and in students.

The rest of the presentation was framed by four keys of engagement as proposed by researcher and educational consultant, Robyn Jackson. Ms. Jackson asserts that if educators want their students to be truly engaged, teachers need to use strategies that address the keys – clarity, context, culture, and challenge. Accompanying each of these keys are four questions which Ms. Jackson claims are on every student’s mind. They are as follows.

  • Clarity – What am I aiming for?
  • Context – Why should I care?
  • Culture – Who is invested in my success?
  • Challenge – How is it working for me?

As a next step, we discussed guiding questions educators can ask themselves as they plan to address students’ needs.

  • Clarity – What am I asking students to do?
  • Context – Why is this important to students?
  • Culture – How do I show my support?
  • Challenge – How do I balance challenge and skill for this student?

Finally, teachers participated in self-directed learning experiences to further explore one of the key questions and an accompanying teaching strategy.

To see the full presentation, click here.

To learn more about each of the four keys and accompanying teaching strategies, click here.


Jackson, R. (2014). 4 (Secret) keys to student engagement. Educational Leadership, 72(1), 19-24.

Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2011). The highly engaged learner. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory.

Pink, D. (2014). Motivated to learn: A conversation with Daniel Pink. Educational Leadership, 72(1), 12-17.



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.

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




Digital Resources for ELL

In this session we discussed the importance of digital citizenship and we shared resources to promote language acquisition for ELLs. We shared resources available through Wonders, the LPS Library Media Center Digital Resources, Edmodo, and GoogleDocs. Teachers had the opportunity to explore these resources and create their own lesson plans. To view the Docushare collection, click here.