Supporting English Language Learners With Technology

By Juliette Heinze
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

This year, seven out of the 20 students in Jennifer Monroe´s first-grade class in Harlem, New York, are English Language Learners (ELL). Although Monroe speaks Spanish, she has never received training to support these students. "They are in need of vocabulary that I don´t have time to give them," she says.

Her situation is typical in schools and libraries today. ELL students are the fastest-growing K–12 population in the country, yet professional development for educators has not yet caught up. Fortunately, technology offers some easy ways to help these students build vocabulary, achieve reading fluency, improve comprehension, access curriculum content, and strengthen their home-school connections.

Image Galleries

To assist students who are learning English, preview each of your lessons and support the text you are reading with suitable images from the Internet. Images will provide contextual clues and help ELL students determine meaning. Google's image searches, for example, allow you to search via key words for photographs and illustrations, which can be easily downloaded and printed. For students needing additional vocabulary support, picture dictionaries are available at Enchanted Learning.

Multilingual Books

Research shows that if students have literacy in their primary language, they are able to transfer those skills to reading in English (Snow, Burns, Griffin, 1998). But locating multilingual books can be a challenge - and buying them can be very expensive. Instead, invite students to publish their own multilingual books using Microsoft Word, as in the Toronto-based Thornwood Public Schools' Dual Language Showcase. Students in this district — which is home to 40 languages — create their own books and post them online. These ELL students also receive kits with corresponding multilingual books and audio tapes to share with their families. Another option for building fluency: one of the many integrated audio and software programs available.

Multimedia Projects

In the upper-elementary and middle-school grades, students study content areas in greater depth and are exposed to more complex vocabulary and complicated concepts. With just a textbook, ELL students may experience enormous difficulty. Multimedia projects offer students hands-on, engaging ways to explore the scientific content and concepts presented. For example, the Jason Project guides students through an experience-based science curriculum with video, live satellite broadcasts, and online activities including digital labs and electronic journals.

Juliette Heinze, a former bilingual teacher, is a research associate at the Center for Children and Technology. This article was originally published in the November/December 2004 issue of Instructor.


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