Favorite Resources for Teaching English Language Learners

Many teachers have "tried and true" resources that they pull from year after year. I've been an elementary ESL teacher since 2005 working with grades 1-6. During this time I have used a ton of resources with my students; and my favorites have stuck with me. Even though my "classroom" can change year to year, from pushing-in, co-teaching, to predominantly working with small pull-out groups, these tried and true resources are ones that I wouldn't want to do without. Here's a look at a few of my top favorites...

Graphic Organizers

This resource is #1 for a reason!  I almost always use graphic organizers to teach reading comprehension. I find them to be highly effective because they are not text heavy. Students read with a purpose, then complete an activity that supports that specific reading skill/strategy. No matter my students' level of reading or language proficiency, a simple graphic organizer is what I need to reinforce that skill or strategy!

 Graphic Organizers

I keep these graphic organizers on my desktop, and when I'm planning my lessons I can quickly pull up the organizers I need, then print and go!

Tip: When I print, I reduce the setting to 80% and then trim the sides. Students glue the graphic organizer into their reading notebooks which makes for a great collection of student work and visual reference of student progress and effort.

Leveled Books for Reading Instruction

I have been very lucky to work in schools that have had awesome book rooms full of guided reading sets. I hope that you have the same access to books in your school. Finding books on my students' levels is one thing, but finding relevant books, especially for my upper elementary beginning ELs, is another. It's a challenge, for sure, but with a good book room I know that I can almost always find what I need.
Click here for a free modified guided reading lesson plan template!

Don't have a stocked book room?  I also order several grade levels of the Scholastic News Magazines. (I think 10 magazines per grade level is the minimum order; that's what I get.) I mostly use grades 1, 2 & 3 with my ELs. With your order, you also have access to the online magazines, which is awesome! You can project to an interactive whiteboard, or have students read on an iPad or computer.

These various grade levels make it easy to differentiate text levels. Since I use the magazines for reading instruction, students do not take them home. I keep the magazines organized by grade level and time of year, then I reuse the ones I love, year after year.

Reading instruction is a big part of my day, so having access to leveled reading materials is a must!

Visual Reading Word Wall Cards

I love this resource because of the visuals. and the versatility.

 Visual Reading Word Wall Cards

When introducing a reading concept, such as "making predictions" or "plot," to beginning or intermediate English learners, a meaningful visual is definitely worth a thousand words!

These reading word wall cards provide my students with the visual supports they need as they are learning new concepts in English. I use these cards at my reading table, as a word wall, in anchor charts, as sorting headers, and in my learning objectives that I post on the board.

Guided Reading Table

Anchor Chart

Lesson Objectives

Words Their Way for Word Study

For ELLs, learning spelling patterns in English is important. I especially like this resource because I can differentiate it according to the needs of my students.

First, I assess what my students already know, as far as consonants, short and long vowels, word families, digraphs, etc., then start from there. We systematically work through the sorts building their knowledge of sounds and spelling patterns.

A bonus with this resource is that it's another exposure to new vocabulary! Each Monday my students receive their list of words, and each day of the week they have various independent activities to do with their words. Then on Fridays, we finish up with a quick spelling quiz.
Click for a free download of Weekly Word Study Activities

To start, I set up their notebooks with their weekly Word Study Activities. We do this together the first week or two, so that I know that they understand what's expected.

This is a word sort that my newcomers might be working on.

And this is a sort that my intermediate ELLs might be working on. After I copy the page, I'll cut the page so that they have about 15 new words per week. My advanced ELLs might have 18 to 20 words.

Once my students understand their weekly activities, these Word Study Activities become independent activities during the week while in Reader's Workshop. Students are responsible for completing the weekly work and learning their words. I set them up on Monday with their new words, then quiz them on Friday. It's up to them to do the work Tuesday through Thursday.

Vocabulary Mini Office

This is a MUST have for my newcomers! When they arrive, this is the first resource I give them. It's basic vocabulary that students use everyday. The Vocabulary Mini Office is kept at their desk to use during independent work time. Whether during Writer's Workshop, Reading or Vocabulary practice, it provides them with access to everyday vocabulary.  

 Vocabulary Mini Office

My newcomers love this resource and they use it often.  For my older newcomers I put the pages inside their reading folder. When they practice their writing, they can easily find the vocabulary they need.

Daily Language Review

I often use this resource as a warm-up activity. With my beginner and intermediate students, this is a group activity we do together. I want them to get used to the format of the questions so I do a lot of guided practice and modeling with this resource. My advanced kiddos do this as a quick independent warm up and then we go over it together. It takes about 5 minutes.  

Depending on the language level of my groups, I pull pages from either the first, second or third grade book. It also provides a great jumping off point. I can see in which areas of grammar my students need direct instruction, such as contractions, sentence structure, mechanics, etc. It's just a quick warm-up. My students like it and I get good information about them from it.

As a teacher of English Language Learners, these are some of my must have resources. When I plan my lessons, these are many of the first resources I grab. They make my instruction consistent, effective and meaningful. Yes, there are other resources that I would not want to do without, and perhaps that would make for a follow up post, but if I were to pick my top resources, these would be them!

I'd love to know what some of your favorite resources are!

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  1. Thank you for sharing these! I love your blog. I am an ESOl teacher and am so glad to have found your resources. Thank you for posting and sharing!

  2. Thank you, Elizabeth, I really appreciate your kind words. From one ESOL teacher to another;)

  3. Hi, I love your work. It is so good. Just one question...I notice you have their journals organized and divided with word work and some other tabs. What other skills do you tab their notebooks by? Is it a vocabulary section?

  4. Hi! That's a great question. Short answer, it depends on my focus with a particular group. The categories I typically have are Word Work, Reading, Vocabulary, but then I also use Writing and Grammar. If I have a group whose main focus was writing, then I'd use the last two. If my students are levels 1-3, then most likely the first three. Thanks for asking! :)