Modifications for ELL Students in Language Arts

Instructor: Jennifer Garcia O'Neill

Jennifer has taught ELL classes more than 10 years and has her Master's of Education in ESL.

Looking for ways to help English language learners (ELLs) succeed in your classroom? In this lesson, you will learn about a variety of modifications for ELL students that can be used in language arts and examples of how to implement them.

Overview of Modifications

Modifications are changes teachers can make to their instruction to ensure that all students can access the material. These are effective strategies that help ELL as well as other students in your classroom. When choosing a modification, be sure to consider the English language ability of the student. Beginning level ELL students will benefit from different types of modifications than those used with intermediate or advanced ELL students.

Instructional Modifications

Prior Knowledge

Before you start teaching a new concept it is important to help students activate their prior knowledge. This means that students discuss their connections with the topic before learning about it. If students have no prior knowledge they can develop knowledge by listening to others' experiences.

Some simple ways to implement this strategy include:

  • starting a whole class discussion
  • having students write a short reflection
  • completing a KWL chart

A KWL chart is a graphic organizer with three columns titled ''know'', ''want to know'' and ''learned.'' Students complete it throughout the course of the learning activity.

Reading Comprehension Modifications

Differentiated Texts

When possible, provide a differentiated version of the text. In a differentiated text, the content remains the same but the sentence structure and vocabulary have been changed, depending on the reader's ability level. Differentiated texts can make the content easier to understand. Some texts have versions specifically for ELL students while other texts may be available at different Lexile levels. Lexile levels indicate the difficulty of a text.

If it is not possible to provide a differentiated text another option is to modify the length of the text. Only assign the most important part to an ELL student. This could range from a couple of sentences to pages or a few chapters, depending on the length of the original text and ability of the student.

Vocabulary Development Modifications

Content & Vocabulary Instruction

In addition to explicitly teaching the key vocabulary and academic terms, identify any idioms that may be present in the text. Idioms are phrases that cannot be understood literally - such as it's raining cats and dogs - and can be very confusing for ELL students.

Vocabulary graphic organizers help students develop a deeper understanding of a word or phrase. A 4-square vocabulary chart is extremely easy to implement. All students have to do is fold a blank sheet of paper into four squares and complete a component in each box. The four components are:

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