Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Instruction for ELL Students

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WF1569351 Shaped 2022 Blog Post Differentiated Instruction Strategies for English Language Learners Hero1

Making students feel at home in their classrooms is always on a teacher’s mind, but for English language learners (ELL) this may take on even more importance. A small gesture, like learning how to say a student’s name in their native tongue, can go a long way with a student facing the challenges of a new environment.

It's worth noting that we use the common phrase English language learner, along with the acronym ELL, but we also recognize that this is imperfect. Students who are learning English do not fit neatly into a single label. They are navigating not only rigorous academics, but a new language that could potentially cause barriers to their education. Identifying and implementing differentiated instruction for ELL students is an important topic for teachers looking to reach these students. There are so many opportunities ahead for your ELL students, too, and connecting them to their learning experience is a meaningful job.

ELL Differentiation Strategies for Your Classroom

You can help prepare students with support resources, like HMH Into Reading and HMH Into Literature, that benefit your multilingual learners, but also all of your students. Find a support tool that can help you implement these strategies to better work with your ELL students.

Make Targeted Assignments

Assign appropriate tasks to individuals, groups, or the whole class. For example, practice oral fluency in a small group. You might suggest students incorporate a specified vocabulary list that will vary in difficulty by group.

Group Students Appropriately

Sometimes, you’ll want to group students struggling with the same skill or with the text so that you can give them extra attention while others work more independently. At other times, create mixed groups so that students who have already mastered the skill can provide guidance to those who don’t quite get it yet. HMH Into Literature is designed to help with grouping your students to get the most benefit from your classroom work.

Incorporate Visual Aids

Using visual guides, like anchor charts, can help students who are learning English when they might struggle with the text. Introduce new lessons using graphic organizers, like timelines, to help reinforce concepts in your curriculum.

Use School-Wide Resources

Work in partnership with the students’ extended teams, including their grade-level team and their reading coach or other support staff. What struggles transcend your class? What are areas of strength that the students can build from? How can you coordinate your efforts?

Limit Homework Assignments

Be mindful that students who struggle will likely not best be helped by additional homework and may not have English language speakers at home to assist. If you do give practice to be done at home, set clear expectations about time limitations, and keep it under 30 minutes a day.

Build Background and Make Connections

When planning your lessons, make sure to keep your students background and experiences in mind. According to Dr. Elena Izquierdo the HMH Author, “When you have material that is relevant to a [student's] background and a program that incorporates building background, it makes all the difference in the world to engagement.”

How to Prepare to Differentiate Instruction for ELL Students

You can prepare for teaching ELL students by putting these tips below into practice. Keep these in mind as you plan your curriculum.

  • Review any data you have available about the language proficiency level of the students coming into your classroom.
  • Determine an approach with any push-in or pull-out teachers who will be available for additional support.
  • Make connections with families and consider whether there are any resources that you can use to translate materials you might send home to parents or guardians to keep them informed.
  • Use tools that will benefits your students, such as a multilingual glossary.
  • Consider setting up some one-on-one conferences early on to get to know students and create space for them to communicate any issues they are having. Don’t assume they will come to you!
  • It can be beneficial to invite students’ experience into the classroom, but it’s important not to push them or put them on the spot. Gauge their comfort level in one-on-one conversations.

With these new practices in place, your students will feel more prepared to learn and grow in your classroom!

Sentence Frames in the Classroom

Sentence frames are a helpful tool to support English learners. They allow students to think about what they want to say without the distraction of how to phrase their response. Here are some sentence frames you might use to help multilingual learners analyze and appreciate different genres.


• The story takes place in ______

• The story is told from the point of view of the ______

• Three words that describe the main character are ______

• The main problem in the story is ______

• The author communicates an important message about ______

• I would/would not recommend this story to a friend because ______


• The main idea is ______

• Three details that support the main idea are ______

• In this paragraph, the author is saying ______

• The author includes this section because ______

• I agree/disagree with the author about ______ because ______


• The poem is mostly about ______

• One thing I noticed about the speaker of the poem is ______

• Three words or phrases that stand out to me are ______

• One tool the poet uses is ______ to communicate ______

• The poem communicates an important message about ______ using these details: ______

Differentiation for ELL students is an important practice to meet students where they are in their academic instruction. It’s especially important when students are learning a new language on top of new lessons! Implement strategies in your ELL classroom to support your students on their academic journey.


Find solutions that provide scaffolding and best learning practices for ELLs on HMH's K-12 Into Reading and Into Literature programs.

Watch our webinar Reading and Writing Strategies for Multilingual Learners to learn how to accelerate academic language for multilingual learners in Grades 4–12 through high-interest content, consistent instructional routines, and daily practice opportunities.

Address the range of English learners' needs with our English language development programs.

Get our free guide to differentiated instruction.

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