• Instructional Strategies for ELLs


    Accountable Conversation Questions

    What to say instead of: “I Don’t Know”

     • May I please have some more information?

    • May I have some time to think?

    • Would you please repeat the question?

    • Where could I find information about that?

     Please speak in complete sentences.                           

    Model for the students how to use the questions when they are unsure what to say when called on by a teacher (Seidlitz & Perryman, 2008).

    Explain that they are called on for a response, they can either respond, or ask for help and then respond. Newcomer English learners should not be pressured to speak in front of the class if they have not yet begun to show early production levels of speech proficiency. Students should be encouraged, but not forced to speak when in the silent period of language development (Krashen, 1982).




    The acronym APPARTS provides students with prompts that gives them a format for dissecting and analyzing primary sources. Once students are comfortable using this strategy they will have a valuable analytical tool.

    Author: Who created the source? What do you know about the author? What is the author's point of view?

    Place and time: Where and when was the source produced? How might this affect the meaning of the source?

    Prior knowledge: Beyond information about the author and the context of its creation, what do you know that would help you further understand the primary source? For example, do you recognize any symbols and recall what they represent?

    Audience: For whom was the source created and how might this affect the reliability of the source?

    Reason: Why was this source produced, and how might this affect the reliability of the source?

    The main idea: What point is the source is trying to convey?

    Significance: Why is this source important? Ask yourself "So what?" in relation to the question asked.

    Backwards Book Walk

    Students scan a non-fiction text briefly looking at headings, illustrations, captions, keywords, and other text features. After the scan, students discuss what they believe they will learn from the text. (Echevarria & Vogt, 2008).

    Brick and Mortar Cards

    Students are given five “brick” cards with academic vocabulary (content area terms) and are instructed to organize them however they think makes sense. Afterward, they have to link the cards together using language. They write the language they are using on “mortar” cards that they then use to tie the concepts together. Students may need lists of sentence terms and connecting words to facilitate the process. (Zwiers, 2008).

    Carousel Writing*

    While Carousel Writing, students will rotate topics in a small group, for a designated amount of time.  With each topic, students will activate their prior knowledge of different topics or different aspects of a single topic through jotting down ideas, until eventually the original topic is back to the original owner, who will summarize the thinking into 1-2 sentences. Prior knowledge will be activated, providing scaffolding for new information to be learned in the proceeding lesson activity.

    Choose the Words

    Students select words from a word wall or word list to use in a conversation or in writing.

    Concept Mapping

    A technique for making a visual diagram of the relationship between concepts. Concept maps begin with a single concept which is written in a square or circle. New concepts are listed and connected with lines and shapes creating a web showing the relationship between the ideas. (Novak, J.D., 1995)

    Cooperative Learning Strategies*

    Students work in heterogeneous groups to create projects that require multiple abilities so that every student can contribute.

    Cornell Notes*



    Costa’s Levels of Questions Activities*

    Level 1: Basic Input / Gathering Information













    Level 2: Processing Information









    Analyze Synthesize

    Make Analogies

    Level 3: Creating Your Own Ideas











    Apply the Principle

    Creating Analogies

    Generating comparisons using the frame: ______ is to ______ as ______ is to ______. (Marzano, R., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J. 2001)

    Critical Thinking Activity*

    Students work with thought-provoking resources to discuss critical thinking questions among themselves.

    Direct Teach of Vocabulary*

    Specific vocabulary instruction using various research-based vocabulary strategies.

    Discussion Starter Cards

    Small cards containing sentence starters for students to use when beginning an academic conversation, or seeking ways to extend a conversation. For example: In my opinion …, I think …, another possibility is …, etc. (Thornburry, 2005)

    Exit Ticket*

    Before students leave for the day or switch classes, they must complete an exit ticket that prompts them to answer a question targeting the big idea of the lesson.


    Determine what question to pose on the exit ticket.

    Ask yourself: “If I’ve taught this lesson to my students well, what one question should they be able to answer to prove to me they got the big idea?” Once the big idea of the lesson has been identified, the question can be determined. When creating the question, remember that both students and teacher will benefit most from a question that requires a synthesis of newly and previously learned information and an application of new knowledge in relation to themselves. Enter the question on the Exit Ticket template. At the beginning of class, distribute the Exit Ticket. Take a moment to describe the directions and expectations for the Exit Ticket. Distributing this at the beginning of the lesson will help students focus on the most important ideas. Give students time at the end of the lesson to complete their exit ticket. Have the students line up at the end of the period and turn in their exit ticket on the way out. Now, students can congregate at the door with a purpose! Review the tickets and allow the data to inform future instruction.

    Experiential Exercise/Simulation

    Through the use of movement and introspection, students capture a moment or feeling that is central to understanding a particular concept or historical event. Experiential exercises bring to life key concepts so that students experience them physically and emotionally.  Whether students are working on an assembly line, being taxed against their will, or creating a web of global trade, these memorable simulations make abstract concepts concrete and meaningful.  Experiential exercises should be used selectively. 


    A simulation involving two students. One student takes on the role of an expert and the other a novice in a particular situation. The expert responds to questions asked by the novice. The procedure can be used for lower level cognitive activities such as having students introduce one another to classroom procedures, and higher level activities such as explaining content area concepts at greater degrees of depth. The procedure can also be used to model the difference between formal and informal English, with the expert speaking formally and the novice informally. (Seidlitz & Perryman, 2008)


    This is a protocol in which several students sit in an inner circle and the rest of the class is watching their discussion from the outside. The inner circle is referred to as the "fishbowl" because of the way they are being observed. A specific topic would be addressed with specific rules about how the students are to conduct their conversation. The rest of the class is asked to give their observations at a specified point for the fishbowl to consider as they continue their discussion.

    Four-Corner Discussion

    1. Write a controversial statement on the board for all students to see.
    2. Then have them write on a piece of paper whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement and why. No consulting with their neighbors on this one - just their opinion.
    3. Once they have done this, have them go to corners of the room based on their responses (in other words, all the strongly agrees to one corner, the agrees to another, etc.).
    4. Give them some time to talk with others of the same feeling, to choose a spokesperson and to devise a case to present to their classmates in the interests of winning people over to their corner. In their conversation, they usually end up rereading the text for evidence, using a dictionary to look up words, and making a list of reasons why they are right.
    5. Once they are ready, each spokesperson presents the group's case to the class while they listen quietly.
    6. Then give them time at the end to ask questions or challenge other groups.
    7. Finally, close by asking them to think about what they have heard and then move to a new corner if they were swayed by another group's presentation. This activity really gets them involved and interested. Plus it lends itself to close reading.

    Frayer Model – Vocabulary Squares*

    Purpose:  To promote vocabulary development and student thinking

    Description: Using the Frayer Model, students will activate their prior knowledge of a topic, organize knowledge into categories, and apply their new knowledge to the compartmentalized structure.


    1.   Brainstorm a list of ideas related to your topic.

    2.   Have students read a selection or participate in an activity related to your topic.

    3.   Pass out a blank copy of the Frayer Four-Square Model.

    4.   Using their brainstormed words and new knowledge of a topic, students will group their words into one of four categories: Essential Characteristics, Non-essential Characteristics, Examples, and Non-examples.

    5.   Have students add additional words to the Frayer Model until all four categories are substantially represented.

    Gallery Walk

    Students examine different postings around the room for a pre-determined purpose.


    Look for games that align with instruction, not just fun

    Group Formative Assessments


    Group Presentations

    Use a presentation rubric that combines presentation elements with content elements

    Group Projects


    Inside/Outside Circle


    Instructional Scaffolding

    A model of teaching where students achieve increasing levels of independence following the pattern: teach, model, practice, and apply. (Echevarria, Vogt & Short, 2008).

    Interactive Notebook

    1. Make sure students have appropriate materials.
    To create Interactive Student Notebooks, students must bring their materials to class each day.

    2. Have students record class notes on the right side of the notebook.
    The right side of the notebook—the “input” side—is used for recording class notes, discussion notes, and reading notes. Typically, all “testable” information is found here. Historical information can be organized in the form of traditional outline notes. However, the right side of the notebook is also an excellent place for the teacher to model how to think graphically by using illustrated outlines, flow charts, annotated slides, T-charts, and other graphic organizers. There are many visual ways to organize historical information that enhance understanding. The right side of the notebook is where the teacher organizes a common set of information that all students must know.

    3. Have students process information on the left side of the notebook.
    The left side—the “output” side—is primarily used for processing new ideas. Students work out an understanding of new material by using illustrations, diagrams, flow charts, poetry, colors, matrices, cartoons, and the like. Students explore their opinions and clarify their values on controversial issues, wonder about “what if ” hypothetical situations, and ask questions about new ideas. And they review what they have learned and preview what they will learn. By doing so, students are encouraged to see how individual lessons fit into the larger context of a unit and to work with and process the information in ways that help them better understand history. The left side of the notebook stresses that writing down lecture notes does not mean students have learned the information. They must actively do something with the information before they internalize it.

    Interview Grids

    A grid used to get students to record other student’s responses to various questions. Students wander around the room and search for their partners who will respond to their questions. (Zwiers, 2008)


    1.       Break kids into groups of five or six. Assign each student a number within the group. Pre-assign groups if necessary.

    2.       Each group is responsible for learning about a specific part of the information to be learned. They will learn as much as they can in as great of detail as they can in the allotted time.

    3.       Each group will determine what is to be shared with the rest of the class, keeping in mind the learning goals.

    4.       The teacher will designate areas in the room where the ones will meet, the two’s will meet, etc.

    5.       Students go to the area where their numbers are assigned.

    6.       Each student shares with his/her new group what the original group researched. 

    7.       Each student should now possess all the same information as the other students.

    Jigsaw Activities

    Jigsaw is a cooperative learning structure for introducing new content.    Students are divided into home teams, small groups of 3-4 students. Students within a home team share in the responsibility of learning content information. The teacher divides the information into smaller parts. Each home team member becomes an expert who teaches the content of the individual part to the whole group.




    Many teachers think they know how to use a KWL chart, but instead, often misuse this powerful learning tool. Used correctly, it helps students make connections between their prior knowledge or initial understandings and new information they will be learning. It allows students to generate questions that interest them within the boundaries dictated by the curriculum and/or the teacher.

    Kagan Strategies

    Structured cooperative learning – see www.kagaononline.com for more info

    Keep, Delete, Substitute, Select

    A strategy for summarizing developed by Brown, Campoine, and Day (1981) discussed in Classroom Instruction That Works (Marzano, R., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J., 2001). Students keep important information, delete unnecessary and redundant material, substitute general terms for specific terms (e.g. birds for robins, crows, etc.) and select or invent a topic sentence. For ELLs, Hill and Flynn (2006) recommend using gestures to represent each phase of the process and clearly explain the difference with high frequency and low frequency terms.

    Learning Logs


    Literary Circles

    This is a collaborative and student-centered reading strategy. Students begin by selecting a book together then are introduced to the four jobs in the Literature Circles: Discussion Director, Literary Luminary, Vocabulary Enricher, and Checker. The teacher and student volunteers model the task for each of the four roles, and then students practice the strategies. The process demonstrates the different roles and allows students to practice the techniques before they are responsible for completing the tasks on their own. After this introduction, students are ready to use the strategy independently, rotating the roles through four-person groups as they read the books they have chosen. The lesson can then be followed with a more extensive literature circle project.


    A document is anything written or printed that provides facts or information, such as a map, a letter, or a photograph. A document-based question

    (DBQ) is a question that is about one or more of these written or printed source materials. Some document based questions ask for specific information and can be answered in one or two sentences. Others require the students to take information from several documents and use it in an extended piece of writing or essay. These questions may ask the student to analyze, evaluate, or compare the points of view of two or more documents. The question most often expects the student to use knowledge of history as well as the documents to answer an open-ended question about the subject of the documents. Generally, the more documents used to support an answer, the stronger an essay will be.

    Nonlinguistic Representations

    Nonverbal means of representing knowledge including illustrations, graphic organizers, physical models, and kinesthetic activities (Marzano, R., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J., 2001). Hill, J. and Flynn, K (2006) advocate integrating Total Physical Response (Asher, J., 1967) as a means of integrating nonlinguistic representations because of its unique way of engaging learners especially those in the early stages of language development.

    Numbered Heads Together

    A strategy for having all students in a group share with the whole class over time. Each student in a group is assigned a number (1, 2, 3 and 4). When asking a question, the teacher will ask all the ones to speak first, and then open up the discussion to the rest of the class. For the next question the teacher will ask the two’s to speak, then the threes, and finally the fours. The teacher can also randomize which number will speak in which order. When doing numbered heads together with English learners, teachers should provide sentence starters for the students. (Kagan, 1992)


    OPTIC:  It’s an organized approach for teaching students how to read visual or graphic text closely. As noted in How to Study in College (2001) by Walter Pauk, the five letters in the word OPTIC provide a mnemonic device to remember the five key elements in analyzing a visual.

    O is for Overview

    • Conduct a brief overview of the main subject of the visual.

    P is for Parts

    • Scrutinize the parts of the visual.

    • Note any elements or details that seem important.

    T is for Title

    • Read the title or caption of the visual (if present) for added information.

    I is for Interrelationships

       • Use the words in the title or caption and the individual parts of the visual to    determine connections and relationships within the graphic.

    C is for conclusion

    • Draw a conclusion about the meaning of the visual as a whole.

    • Summarize the message in one or two sentences.


    OPTIC can be used with any visual or graphic text, including photographs, diagrams, charts, and fine art.

    Oral Scaffolding

    The process of:

    • explicitly teaching academic language

    • modeling academic language

    • providing opportunities in structured ways for students to use language orally

    • write using the language they have already seen modeled and have used. (Adapted from Gibbons, 2002)

    Peer Editing*

    Students review one another’s work using a rubric. Research shows that English learners benefit from peer editing when trained on specific strategies for participating in peer response to writing. (Berg, C., 1999)

    Philosophical Chairs Debate

    1.       Read the philosophical statement and decide if you agree or disagree.

    2.       Sit facing each other across the center of the room depending on your response to the statement.

    3.       If undecided, sit in the neutral zone so that you can see both sides.

    4.       Students address each other by their first names.

    5.       Briefly summarize the previous speaker’s points before stating his/her own comments.

    6.       Think before you speak and organize your thoughts (I have three points to make….first….).

    7.       After speaking, wait until at least two students speak before speaking again.

    8.       One speaker at a time, others are listeners.

    9.       Address the ideas, not the person.

    10.    Students sitting in the neutral zone must take notes on both sides. If his/her position changes, she may move to the appropriate side and then must state why he/she came to this conclusion.

    Posted Phrases and Stems

    Sentence frames posted in clearly visible locations in the classroom to enable students to have easy access to functional language during a task. For example, during a lab the teacher might post the stems: How do I record… Can you help me gather, mix, measure, identify, list… Can you explain what you mean by…? Frames should be posted in English but can be written in the native language as well.

    Problem-Based Learning*

    www.bie.org for more information

    Question, Signal, Stem, Share, Assess

    A strategy to get students to use new academic language during student-student interactions. The teacher asks a question and then asks students to show a signal when they are ready to respond to the question with a particular sentence stem provided by the teacher. When all students are ready to share, they share their answers. Students are then assessed either through random calling on individual students after the conversation or through writing assignments that follow the conversation (Seidlitz, J., & Perryman B., 2008)

    Quick Writes – Discussion*

    Using a focused, open-ended prompt

    Response/Edit/Revision Groups



    Repeating an English learner’s incorrect statement or question correctly without changing the meaning in a low risk environment where the learner feels comfortable during the interaction. Recasts have been shown to have a positive impact on second language acquisition (Leeman, J., 2003).

    Responsive Writing*

    Prompts challenge students to clarify ideas, organize information, and express what they have learned.

    Same Scene Twice

    Students perform a skit involving individuals discussing a topic. The first time through, the individuals are novices who use informal language to discuss the topic. The second time through they are experts who discuss the topic using correct academic terminology and academic English (adapted from Wilhelm, J., 2002).

    Segmental Practice

    Listening/Discrimination activities that help learners listen for and practice pronouncing individual combinations of syllables. There are several ways to engage in segmental native language pronunciations can help English learners practice English pronunciation. The activity “syllable, storm, say” involves students brainstorming syllables that begin with a particular sound for example: pat pen pal pas pon pem, etc. Long and short vowel sounds can be used as well as diphthongs. Students then practice in partners pronouncing the terms. (Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. & Goodwin, J., 1996).

    Sentence Stems

    Incomplete sentences provided for students to help scaffold the development of specific language structures and to facilitate entry into conversation and writing. For example “In my opinion …” and “One characteristic of annelids is…”


    SOAPSTone can be used as an introductory strategy for primary source analysis. It can be used to build fundamental skills for AP work: developing arguments; analyzing points of view, context, and bias; and assessing issues of change and continuity over time. The elements include:

    Speaker: Who or what delivers the message of the passage?

    (N.B.: This may not always be the author.)

    Occasion: Where and when was the passage produced?

    What was happening there at that time?

    Audience: For whom was the document produced?

    Purpose: Why was the document produced?

    Subject: What is the main topic of the document?

    Tone: What feeling or attitude does the document express?

    This strategy can be used to analyze political cartoons, posters, photos, artistic representations, or almost any other primary source.

    Socratic Seminar*

    Socratic seminars typically consist of 50-80 minute periods. In groups of 25 or fewer, students prepare for the seminar by reading a common text (e.g., a novel, poem, essay, or document) or viewing a work of art. The teacher poses questions requiring students to evaluate options and make decisions. In Socratic seminars, students must respond with a variety of thoughtful explanations: they must give evidence, make generalizations, and tell how the information is represented for them. In other words, they must engage in active learning. When they develop knowledge, understanding, and ethical attitudes and behaviors, they are more apt to retain these attributes than if they had received them passively.


    This is a method of tackling a reading assignment for students of all levels of experience. The SQ3R method suggests a plan for surveying a given assignment, questioning the author’s purpose, reading the assignment in its entirety, reciting the lesson in some note-taking format, and reviewing the assignment for understanding. Suggested steps of this method include:

    • Before you read: SURVEY THE READING

    • While you are surveying: QUESTION THE PURPOSE

    • When you begin the assignment: READ STRAIGHT THROUGH

    • After you have read: RECITE THE LESSON

    • An ongoing process: REVIEW THE LESSON

    If all of the materials from a reading assignment have been organized, regular review of your study materials will eliminate the need to “cram” before a test. When preparing for a cumulative test, review of all of your previous study materials will assist in seeing broad relationships, overarching themes, and change over time.

    SS Matters Questioning Cards

    To better understand context, bias, and point of view for any concept

    Student Group Centers

    Each station has a focused activity around a concept.

    Structured Conversation

    Students-student interaction where the language and content are planned. Students are given sentence frames to begin the conversation and specific questions and sentence starters to extend the conversation.


    When reading aloud, you can stop from time to time and orally complete sentences like these:

    ·         So far, I've learned...

    ·         This made me think of...

    ·         That didn't make sense.

    ·         I think ___ will happen next.

    ·         I reread that part because...

    ·         I was confused by...

    ·         I think the most important part was...

    ·         That is interesting because...

    ·         I wonder why...

    ·         I just thought of...

    The teacher models the thought process. Then you can have students turn to each other and practice thinking aloud.

    Thinking Map to Writing*

    Extend the learning of Thinking Maps by asking students to do a writing activity with the information from the map (consider levels of Blooms when structuring the writing)


    Partner-sharing protocol.

    Total Response Signals

    (Also called Active Response Signals): Active responses by students such as thumbs up/down, white boards, and response cards. Response signals enable teachers to instantly check for understanding and allow students to self-assess current levels of understanding

    Visual Discovery

    Students view, touch, analyze, and act out images projected.  As the teacher asks a series of inquiry questions, students discover key social studies concepts. 


    The key to a successful Visual Discovery activity is using a few powerful images that represent key concepts of the lesson.  The right image will stay in students’ minds for months or even years and will serve as a powerful visual referent to help them recall key social studies concepts.


    Characteristics of images that that will grab students’ attention:

          Images that clearly convey the key concepts you are trying to teach.

          Images that show emotion, drama, or human interaction.

          Images with abundant details that are connected to the reading.

          Variety of images.

    Word Sorts

    Sorting words based on structure and spelling to improve orthography (Bear, D. & Invernizzi, M., 2004).

    Word Walls*

    Word walls are collections of words. These can be alphabetized, and can be posted in various areas of the classroom. The word wall can be used as a reference when children read and write or engage in word study. There are many types of word walls: high frequency words, content area word walls with vocabulary from any of the content areas; and literature word walls. Word study word walls might focus on words with the same beginning, ending, vowel pattern, rime, or similar meanings. They may look like words posted on the wall, words displayed in a pocket chart, or word lists on paper or a bulletin board. Word walls can be developed from the beginning of the year and should change frequently during the year as words are introduced, learned, and mastered.



    Writing Process*

    These are the steps of the writing process: 

    • Pre-Write

    • Draft

    • Revising

    • Editing

    • Final Draft


    (Adapted from Navigating the ELPS, 2008). This list is to be used by teachers as they plan lessons and by administrators as a conversational tool when discussing lessons with teachers. This is not to be used as a checklist during walkthroughs. Please keep in mind it is very important to know the English Proficiency Level of the student when selecting an appropriate strategy. The strategies on this list are all research-based.


    *Denotes a WICR Strategy

Last Modified on October 20, 2017