Supporting English Language Learners

We’ve talked about the reading comprehension issues our children face today (here and here). Now imagine if English isn’t your first language; those challenges only compound. These students have to navigate unfamiliar vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, sentence structure, idioms…. And this is no small cohort—roughly 5 million kids in the U.S. public school system are English Language Learners (ELLs). That’s why ReadWorks is developing a program dedicated to ELL learning—and your donations will help make a difference.

Because over 75% of the aforementioned ELL students are Spanish speakers, the nonprofit is targeting that language first with the launch of the Authentic Spanish Texts Project next fall. And after that? “With continued or new funding from our generous donors, we would love to expand to additional languages,” says Nathalie Karimian, Ed.D., Content and Curricular Supports Developer at ReadWorks.

Here, Karimian gives us a preview of what’s to come and shares tips for parents on how to support ELLs at home.


What sorts of opportunities and obstacles do ELLs face?

Reading research shows the skills students gain in one language are transferable to other languages. Therefore, developing reading skills in Spanish, or whatever the student’s home language is, means those skills can also be applied to the English language. However, both ELL students and their teachers face many challenges: enough instructional time, access to quality resources and teacher training.

How will ReadWorks’ new initiative help?

In addition to the impact of reading skills from a student’s home language, reading research also shows that increased background knowledge about a topic helps students better understand what they are reading, even when the material is above their reading level. This means that developing students’ knowledge in the home language before reading an English-language passage can help them better understand the reading. Our ELL initiative accounts for all of these things in one.

How so?

We will have sets of paired passages, one in Spanish and the other in English. For example, a Spanish passage about bees and pollination will be paired with an English passage about the role of different bees in a hive. ELL students will read the Spanish-language passage first and use their home language skills to develop background knowledge for the English-language passage. The Spanish-language passage will also use the same key vocabulary words that are in the English-language passage. Reading the Spanish-language passage before the English-language one will give students familiarity with the topic and vocabulary, in turn making the content and language of the English-language passage easier for them to understand.

These reading resources will also help all teachers bring ELL students into classroom conversations without taking additional time out of their lessons or planning a separate lesson for them. Our high-quality and free resources are built-in; therefore, they do not require a teacher to have specific training in how to teach ELLs.

What can parents do to better support their ELL child?

To learn any language, you must have a need to use the language and access to rich interaction in the language. For ELLs in the U.S., the need to use the English language is inherent. As for rich interaction, there is plenty that parents can do. Our paired Spanish and English passages are a great place to start. They can be used by parents at home to learn alongside their children about all kinds of interesting topics. Additionally, one of the best ways to teach is by modeling. Parents can model for their children that they are also working on developing their own English language skills by practicing reading our passages with their child and speaking about them in English.

Authentic Spanish Texts Project launches Fall 2024. To get updates on the release, follow @readworks.

From now to the end of September, we will donate a portion of proceeds from every single order to
 ReadWorks, which is committed to solving America’s reading comprehension crisis and student achievement gap. #VBGIVESBACK