How to Help ell Students in Reading

4 Simple Ways to Support English Learners’ Comprehension

When working with English language learners (ELs), the first step in overcoming challenges is to adopt an empathic mindset. These students frequently report feeling overlooked, excluded, and confused when interacting with others at school. They can get a sense of whether or not you care from your tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Once you’ve established that environment, you can support these students in their language acquisition with a few simple strategies. Creating a welcoming environment provides a foundation for learning, and once you’ve established that environment, you can do so.


1. It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. A picture can be understood by someone who speaks any language. If a student is learning English and the instructor is speaking too quickly or too complicatedly, an illustration can help clarify the meaning and encourage comprehension.

When teaching new words, it’s helpful to have a visual to go along with each significant noun or verb. When I taught Romeo and Juliet, for instance, I provided my English Learners with a handout that included five to six vocabulary words that they would find in each scene that we were analysing. The handout provided students with a word in English, a picture, and a space for them to write the word’s translation in their own language. I also showed the pictures and words projected onto the board and went over each one individually. After we had finished reading the scene, I took printouts of each word and added it to a word wall along with the corresponding picture.

ELs may find it difficult to comprehend lengthy or complex texts. The inclusion of images has been shown to improve both comprehension and stamina. You might want to think about adding images to any printed directions for activities or assessments.

2. Make frequent checks for comprehension: Many times, ELs won’t tell you when they don’t understand something because they don’t want their classmates to know. Checking for comprehension is important because of this. It is possible to determine which areas of instruction require more time through the use of rapid formative assessments.

When asked to speak in front of the whole class, ELs frequently experience feelings of anxiety. Turn and Talk is an effective strategy because it helps reduce the intensity of those feelings. It is possible to adapt the Turn and Talk activity for English Language Learners by either giving them a sentence starter or requiring them to write down their response before discussing it with a peer. The evaluation of student comprehension can be improved by simply watching the students as they participate in a Turn and Talk activity.

Short written activities called exit tickets are typically handed out at the conclusion of a lesson as a comprehension check for the students. Making learning more accessible to ELs can be accomplished in a straightforward manner by including a picture support or sentence starter on an exit ticket.

It is essential to perform frequent checks in order to determine the level of student comprehension. After providing the ELs with the instructions for an activity, it is important to check in with them and restate the expectations if necessary. If it seems as though the instructions are not sufficient, you can demonstrate how to complete the task. Students who are still working on developing their English proficiency benefit from repeated language practise provided by activities such as checking for comprehension and providing clarification.

3. Make use of sentence and paragraph frames Many of the English Language Learners (ELs) in my classroom, particularly the less proficient learners, are uncomfortable with the idea of speaking in front of their peers. In addition to this, they have difficulty formulating responses to questions that are grammatically correct. During the time we spend discussing this topic in class, I will periodically provide sentence frames.

When students are asked to give evidence, for instance, you can use the sentence frame “I know this because the text says _____,” as an example.

If you want your students to discuss the factors that led to a particular historical event, you could use the following sentence structure as a prompt: “One cause of (the event) is _____” or “(Event) occurred because .”

When it comes to writing activities, sentence frames can also be helpful. Because of the rigorous linguistic requirements of academic writing, English language learners frequently find that writing activities are intimidating. It’s possible that offering a syntactical model could help reduce anxiety.

For instance, if you want your students to compare and contrast two different characters or events, you could use a paragraph frame similar to the one that follows:

Both ____ and ____ are the same in some ways while also being distinct in other ways. Both of them were . Additionally, both of them are . They are distinct from one another due to _____, but . One more distinction is that . However, .

Recently, I worked with English Language Learners (ELs) using a cause-and-effect paragraph frame. The students were responsible for deducing, based on the signal words, whether they should write a cause or an effect. As a form of scaffolding, we highlighted signal words, but ultimately it was the students’ responsibility to correctly identify the causes and effects of a destroyed house. This paragraph frame offered the necessary assistance to students who were unable to independently compose a cause-and-effect paragraph, allowing those students to effectively communicate both causes and effects.

4. Texts broken up into chunks Reading academic texts can be difficult for English Language Learners (ELs) due to the difficult academic vocabulary, complicated syntax, and density of the text. One tactic is to divide difficult passages into more manageable chunks of shorter sentences.

Choose two or three important vocabulary words for each passage, and provide visual representations of those words’ meanings. Give ELs the opportunity to do a word-for-word translation into their mother tongue if they are unsure of the meaning of the terms. Ask students who are learning English to write a summary of each section of the text using the vocabulary words from that section at the end of each chunk of text. After that, proceed to the following part of the text.

High school English learners found Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech difficult to understand when I taught it to them. I divided the speech into five parts, and we spent one period on each part, concentrating on the vocabulary that was used and the message that was conveyed. Every day, we collaborated to identify the most significant quote from the previous section, then rewrote the quote using more accessible language and illustrated it.

After a week, I gave each student a card sort that included our five quotes, five paraphrased quotes, and five images, and I asked them to pair the different components. After that, they were tasked with writing a synopsis of the entire speech. The ELs were able to build their content knowledge more quickly after the longer text was broken up into smaller sections.