Whether you are virtually teaching, or teaching ESL in distance learning, it is important to differentiate for ELLs just as you would in the classroom setting.
Without the face to face interaction of an ELL student, teacher, and their classmates, learning English in authentic ways can be much more challenging. It is important that we keep this in mind in our expectations for where ELLs should be at in their English acquisition throughout the school year.
Getting creative with ELL supports and modifications is key in supporting their English acquisition in virtual teaching. Below are some ways we can differentiate and make information accessible to ELLs:
1. PROVIDE LOWER LEVEL READING MATERIAL:
If you are reading text-heavy passages with your students on a topic, give your ELLs access to reading material on the same content information at a lower reading level. These are some of my favorite websites to look for nonfiction passages with great visuals for ELLs (I am not affiliated with any of these websites):
- ReadWorks: This is a HUGE collection of nonfiction and fiction reading passages, including a collection specifically for ELLs. There is a search option to find articles on tons of topics that you could be studying in class, and you can search by Lexile or standard. Students can play audio that reads the article aloud to them. Highlighted words can be clicked on for a student friendly definition in English, as well as a Spanish or Chinese translation for the word. Students will need to sign up with an e-mail address in order to access the free reading passages.
- National Geographic Kids: Tons of great free videos and nonfiction reading passages for kids that are very high interest with beautiful visuals. They are especially great for researching specific animals.
- Highlights Kids: Fiction stories and short nonfiction texts with visuals. The website is geared to younger kids and could be appropriate for ELLs up to around 6th grade.
- Scholastic News: If you scroll past the paid magazine subscription, there are free articles that change periodically. These are great because they have helpful visuals and nonfiction text features, as well as a text-to-speech option. You can even select reading level “on level” or “lower level” as an added level of differentiation. There is also an option to “open magazine view” in Spanish or English.
- Scholastic Student Activities: Search by grade level and resource type (games, listen and read, etc.) to see different topics currently available for kids. The “Listen and Read” passages are great, because they are read aloud and presented as a book displaying a small amount of text with a visual on each page.
- CommonLit: Reading passages for 3rd-12th grade. You can search by grade level, Lexile, genre and standards. They also have reading passages available in Spanish. Many of the passages can be read without a login, but to access the read aloud or translation features you do need to create a login with an e-mail address.
- Smithsonian Kids: Nonfiction texts and games on tons of topics in history, social studies, and current events.
- DOGO News: These are high interest, current events articles that would be helpful for middle level to advanced ELLs. Students can click on vocabulary words to see their meanings. In the paid version they can have the articles translated to Spanish or read aloud to them.
- Newsela: These articles cover a wide range of topics including sports, arts, science, economics, etc. The passages can be read aloud, and there’s a feature where you can change the Lexile on a specific article to make the same content more accessible to lower level readers. Although they do offer some articles without a login, you need to create a free login to access all of the articles with your e-mail address.
2. PREVIEW INFORMATION AND VOCABULARY:
Previewing upcoming information with students and families does require planning ahead, but it is a great way to make lessons accessible for ELLs. This is especially true in a virtual teaching setting.
If you know you are going to be working on a specific thematic unit or topic in the upcoming days, you can give your students vocabulary to preview or lower level texts to read ahead of time. This way, when it comes time to do the work with the rest of the class, they are that much more prepared.
3. GIVE ACCESS TO ONLINE SUPPORTS:
These are some great tools for students to use in order to access the same material as their classmates.
- Wiktionary: This is a “basic English” searchable dictionary. Many words include a visual or audio, so when students search for a word they can click “play” to hear it aloud.
- Simple English Wikipedia: This is a “basic English” version of Wikipedia. Even in this version, the pages can be text heavy so it is more appropriate for middle level to advanced ELLs.
- Google Translate: Translate literally any word into pretty much any language. It is really important to teach students not to rely on this tool too much for their writing assignments though – especially in a virtual learning setting where that could more easily happen.
- Read & Write: This is a helpful software toolbar with tons of literacy supports for students to use with any online text on any device. The toolbar includes features like translation, text-to-speech, picture dictionary, highlighting, and a dictionary.
4. UTILIZE ELL SUPPORT STAFF:
Figuring out ways to support ELLs virtually can be very overwhelming. Involving other teachers that specialize in specific supports for ELLs is key. Lynn from LMB Literacy, an ELA teacher with ELL students, adds her ESL teacher to her Google Classroom to help modify assignments. The ELL teacher further instructs students that need extra help, just like in the classroom.
5. AUDIO SUPPORTS IN GOOGLE SLIDES:
You can create an audio file of yourself introducing a topic, giving verbal directions, etc. Then, insert into any Google Slides activities you assign to ELLs. It does need to be inserted as a .wav or .mp3 file type.
6. SCREEN RECORDINGS:
Similar to a screen shot, a screen recording is a helpful visual support for all students, including ELLs. Recording your own screen showing how to do a task is a great way to show exactly what students need to do to complete a task. You can insert this screen recording as a video to any Google Slides task.
7. CREATE A UNIQUE ELL GOOGLE CLASSROOM:
Creating an extra Google Classroom just for your ELLs is an effective way to organize all ELL supports and modified assignments into one place (idea from LMB Literacy).
8. PROVIDE SUPPORTS FOR WRITING:
Use graphic organizers to support students in any writing task or response to reading. Graphic organizers break down skills into more manageable parts. This can make a response to reading, or a writing task, much more accessible to your ELLs.
Need more resources for virtual teaching with ELLs? Check out my TpT shop for ESL Resources, Differentiated Reading Passages, and Digital/Printable Graphic Organizers!