A How-To Guide to Assessing Reading Proficiency with ELLs

DRA, LRP, Benchmark Books, and running records all work to assess reading proficiency.  But, what many of us wonder is…am I doing this right?  There are quite a few steps!   Maybe you haven’t had the chance to see one of these assessments in action.  Maybe you just want to double check or see one given to an ELL student.  Whatever your reason, we hope you’ll find the resources here helpful in giving and examining DRAs, LRPs, and Bench Mark Books to ELL students!

If you are interested in learning more about looking at these assessments in terms of Language Acquisition, please check out this link to Language Acquisition Considerations when Assessing ELL’s Reading Proficiency to find out more!


Click here to listen to an ELL student reading (audio only)

Click here for an example of administering and scoring a DRA  (if you have difficulty, try Firefox or Safari as your browser)

Click here for the Comprehension Questions and Retelling assessment     AND  Click here to listen to an ELL student’s responses (audio only)

“Testing Guidelines” resource to answer some frequently asked questions and share the marking conventions for DRAs created by the LPS Literacy Teacher Leaders

DRA-LRP-Benchmark Book Correlation Chart

Reading Assessment Log — Word version to type notes into

Reading Assessment Log — PDF version to print hard copies


Using Wonders Digital Resources to Promote Language Acquisition

ELL teachers have a multitude of resources to help support language acquisition in their instruction. The important thing to remember, with any resource, is that it is a vehicle for teaching language. Digital resources can play an important role in supporting 21st century learning skills and also creating interactive opportunities for students to speak, listen, read and write in English. We recently had a professional development session that highlighted useful strategies for teachers to use when planning with Wonders digital resources while keeping language acquisition at the forefront. Some of the keywords that we highlighted are illustrated in this wordle:

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 3.07.04 PM

  Retrieved from: Wordle http://www.wordle.net/

Planning for ELL students and utilizing a multitude of materials is a little like telling a story. Teachers need to begin by understanding where their students are at in their learning both with receptive and productive language processes. They also need to know what is happening in the general education classroom and then make educated decisions about where their students are and where they want them to go in learning. The benefit of using the digital resources from Wonders is that if problem and solution is being taught in the third grade classroom, this skill can still be taught in ELL but adjustment in text complexity and instructional approaches may be modified to help provide access to students at Emerging language proficiency. As a result, using digital resources, you may be able to teach problem and solution but instead of using the 3rd grade text, teachers may find that a second grade text is more appropriate. They will have access to all of this through the digital site. Here is a road map for planning that we discussed. It highlights one example of how teachers need to utilize planning materials and digital resources to create access to learning for students.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 8.39.06 AM

To see the complete powerpoint that explains this process more in depth, click here.

To download a copy of a lesson plan checklist for using Wonders digital resources, click here.

For directions on how to download leveled readers from Wonders, click here.

To access the weekly planning guides for K-2 and 3-5 as well as the language continuum support guides, click here to get to our McGraw-Hill Reading Site.

We hope these are helpful resources to support teachers. It is always important to remember that materials are a support. The impact of the materials depend on the scaffolding, differentiation and intentionality of language instruction that is provided by the teacher.  Happy planning everyone!

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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 3.10.10 PM


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/

Secondary Curriculum Reading Assessments (Target Objectives)

Reading Target Objective Schedule 2014-15

Level 1 Class A (Inside Materials)

  • Quarter 1 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 4 Text Structures (T.O. 3)

Level 1 Class B (Reading Focus)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 3 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 4 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)

Level 1 Class C (Content Focus)

  • Quarter 1 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 2 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 3 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 4 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)

Level 2 Class A (Inside Materials-Middle School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 3 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 4 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)

Level 2 Class A (Edge Materials-High School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 4 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)

Level 2 Class B (Reading/Content Focus)

  • Quarter 1 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2) and Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 2 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 3 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 4 Text Structures (T.O. 3)

Level 3 Class A (Inside Materials-Middle School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 4 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)

Level 3 Class A (Edge Materials-High School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 4 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2) and Text Structures (T.O. 3)

Level 3 Class B (Reading/Writing Focus)

  • Quarter 1 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 2 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 3 Persuasive Writing
  • Quarter 4 Expository Writing

Level 4 Class (Inside Materials-Middle School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Persuasive Writing
  • Quarter 4 Expository Writing

Level 4 Class (Edge Materials-High School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Persuasive Writing
  • Quarter 4 Expository Writing

Planning for ELLs with SWRRL

When we’re asked into classrooms to support ELL students, we often start by asking teachers to plan with three guiding questions in mind…

1)  What is the content my students are learning?  (Content Objective)

2)  What is the language students need to know in order to complete the task?  (Language Objective)

3)  How will I provide rehearsal ?  (What will the content/language objective look like in action?)

We ask teachers to remember the acronym SWRRL as they think about how to provide rehearsal.  It stands for:

441461168_f7daebf28a_oSay it

Write it

Read it

Repeat it

to Learn it

ELLs need multiple opportunities to rehearse or practice language in order to “own the language” or truly make it part of their vocabulary.  Give ELLs plenty of chances to do SWRRL with new language!

Say It:  Callbacks, turn and talks, say it like a lion, say it like robot, read a response to a question aloud to a partner

Write it:  Use sentence frames, write as a whole group, write in partners, write individually

Read it:  Read aloud, read sentence frames aloud, read what students have written, read text to a partner, read chorally in whole group

Repeat it:  Use cooperative learning structures to give students opportunities for repeated chances to say, write or read the new language.


Want more info on how to incorporate more opportunities for SWRRL in you classroom?  Contact your ELL Instructional Coach!  We love to help!

The Reading Continuum–Part 2: Close Reading and Constructed Responses in the ELL Classroom

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 12.58.39 PMThis session discussed the strategy of Close Reading, composing Text Dependent Questions from that close reading experience and formulating Constructed Responses to demonstrate comprehension through writing.  We also shared Tools for Readers Who Struggle and reviewed some of the supports available in that collection.

Close Reading is the reading strategy which includes reading with a pencil to underline key points, circle key words or words that are unknown or confusing, and writing summaries in the margins of text.  This lends itself well to the ELL classroom as a way for students to boost comprehension with a strategy they can take with them as they transition out of ELL.

Composing and responding to Text Dependent Questions with Constructed Responses is another key skill our students must be working on as they progress through ELL, as it requires students to be able to demonstrate reading comprehension through writing.

The Tools for Readers Who Struggle collection contains numerous supports and resources to help students access reading skills.  Several tools also provide a language acquisition perspective to common areas where readers struggle, such as fluency.

Please examine the resources below for more information shared in this session:

Presentation from the session

Composing Text Dependent Questions

ELL Oral Rate and Retelling Flow Chart


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.


Secondary ELL Resources

There are many resources available for secondary ELL teachers to support them in all of the different classes at each language level. Teachers can access the latest draft of the scope and sequence for each class at each language level in Docushare. To access the different classes in level 1, click here. For the classes in level 2, click here. For the classes in level 3, click here. For level 4, click here.

In addition to the scope and sequence for each class, there is also folder in Googledocs containing various resources. Teachers can find a comparison chart for the different reading leveling systems and lists of texts that could be used at each language level. To access this folder, click here.

As we continue to work and improve the reading and writing skills of our ELL students, we have resources to support guided reading groups in secondary ELL classrooms and writer’s workshop in all ELL classrooms. To find more information about guided reading, click here. To find more information about writer’s workshop, click here.

Perspectives on Reading Comprehension and Retelling

As an ELL Instructional Coach, I am called in to provide perspectives on English Language Learning when there is a question or concern about a student.As students work through the arduous task of acquiring language in order to access academic content in the classroom, a common concern among educators is how to help students comprehend what they are reading.

When a conversation begins about a student with, “They can’t comprehend.” My first question is, “Are you sure?” There are a variety of variables that affect reading comprehension. For English Language Learners, the variables become more complex as they strive to take a new language, translate it into something familiar and then make connections to translate it back into English again.  Consider your students and think about the texts that you are asking them to read.

  • Do they have prior knowledge to access the text or do they need opportunities for building background in order to create meaning?
  • What is the content vocabulary and the academic vocabulary required in order for students to comprehend the text?
  • What are the language structures of the text and does the student use them in their oral language or will it require explicit teaching in order for them to have access to the content?

One final perspective to consider is the purpose for comprehension. Every time you ask a student to apply a specific comprehension skill or strategy, it changes the way students not only look at a text but also talk about a text to show you what they know. Think about finding the main idea and key details in a text. Would it look and sound the same as visualizing to create meaning? What I will often ask teachers to do is to slow things down in order to speed things up. If you are finding that you have English Language Learners in your classroom who are struggling with comprehension, have them do a quick retelling! Are they really not comprehending or are they just not comprehending they way we are asking them to?

There are many supports available to help students with retelling a story. To see an example of a story retelling rubric that could be made into both a formative assessment and a student self assessment, click here.

If you would like copies of story retelling cards that students can use to articulate a cohesive retelling to show you what they know, click here.

You can also go to Reading Rockets, and read the article entitled Promoting Reading Comprehension. You may find some helpful strategies to amplify language and help students to show you what they know.

Academic Language and English Language Learners

Students learning English as an additional language need supports in all of their academic courses. According to Lydia Breiseth (2013), “Many students, including English language learners (ELLs), have difficulty mastering the kinds of academic language needed to succeed in school, especially if they have never been explicitly taught how to use it.”

Academic language is the language of school. Although learning both social and academic language are demanding, students need to have academic language to be successful in school. Students may be at different levels of English language proficiency and the following descriptions may help teachers as they work with English learners.

Beginning stage

ELLs at the beginning stage demonstrate comprehension of simplified language, speak a few English words, answer simple questions, and use common social greetings and repetitive phrases. They make regular mistakes.

Intermediate stage

ELLs at the intermediate stage speak using standard grammar and pronunciation, but some rules are still missing. Their level of comprehension is high and they can ask or answer instructional questions. They can actively participate in conversations, retell stories, and use expanded vocabulary and paraphrasing.

Advanced stage

ELLs at the advanced stage use consistent standard English vocabulary, grammar, idioms, and oral/written strategies similar to those of English-speaking peers. They have good pronunciation and intonation. Advanced ELLs initiate social conversations. They use idiomatic expressions and appropriate ways of speaking according to their audience.

There are also language structures checklists that ELL teachers in LPS use to measure students’ progress in the grammatical structures in their English language development.

In addition to grammatical structures and content vocabulary, academic language also refers to the words and phrases that connect ideas and communicate concepts. Dr. Cindy Lundgren (2013) explains the idea that students need key words but they also need the language such as signal words and phrases that connect them.

Teachers can support their ELL students by being aware of the academic language they need and by providing language objectives as well as content objectives. For more information about language objectives, click here. According to Breiseth (2013), “The most important thing you can do is to provide examples and model the kinds of language you expect students to use on a regular basis. By doing so, you will help familiarize students with the kinds of academic language needed to succeed in your classroom, as well as the purpose of the language they are using.”


What Is the Difference Between Social and Academic English? Colorín Colorado (2007). Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/educators/background/academic/

Academic Language and ELLs: What Teachers Need to Know, Lydia Breiseth (2013). Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/60055/