Strategies for Helping ELLs that were Born in the US

Strategies for Helping ELLs that were Born in the US

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English Language Learners come from a diverse set of backgrounds. There is a large segment of ELLs that were born in the United States. US-born ELLs come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some of them are the children of recent immigrants, some grow up in poverty, some quickly acquire bilingual literacy skills.

The linguistic, cultural, and economic background of an ELL impacts how quickly they acquire English. One misconception is that those that are bilingual have equal proficiency in both languages. In fact, in the majority of cases, a language learner does not have equal proficiency if both languages. Many students will have different strengths in the language domains. They may have strong listening skills in their native language but more reading and writing skills in English. They might have more social language skills in their native language and more academic language skills in English (Klingner, Hoover, and Baca 2008).

Some US-born ELLs can become resistant to receiving ESOL services. This is particularly true as they progress into upper elementary school. Students might be unsure why they are receiving this support when their social English sounds like that of their peers.

Here are some strategies for helping US-born ELLs be successful:

Self Reflection and Goal Setting

Show students how they are progressing in acquiring English proficiency. For some students, it is reassuring to see that they do have a high level of English skills in multiple domains but there are one or two areas that they need to work on.  You can use in-class assessments, the results of WIDA ACCESS testing, and rubrics to help students reflect and goal set. I have additional tips on a post about Goal Setting with English Language Learners.

Increase Exposure to Tier 2 Academic Vocabulary

US-born ELLs typically know basic vocabulary terms and may speak similar to a native English speaker. They often struggle with academic language.  Tier 2 academic language is particularly important for students to learn because it is seen across multiple subject areas. It can be confusing though since that same word can have a slightly different meaning in different contexts.

The more exposure students have to academic language, the better the chances are that they will acquire new words.

  • One strategy is to use academic language when speaking to students, but include synonyms that explain the meaning of the word.
  • Use sentence frames with academic language. Tell students the specific words that they are focusing on.

Encourage Reading and Storytelling at Home

Encourage families to read with their children at home. If they are most fluent in their native language then the stories can be told in that language. Children can then talk about the story either in their home language or in English. If parents are not literate it is still beneficial for them to orally tell stories. This helps to strengthen their child’s listening comprehension skills. Again the child can talk about the story either in their home language or in English. Finally, children can read aloud books that they bring home from school. They can then talk with their families about the story either in English or in their home language.

How do you support ELLs that are born in the United States? Do you notice any differences between these students and students the receive some of their education abroad?


*Klingner, J. K., Hoover, J. J., & Baca, L. (2008). Why do English language learners struggle with reading?: distinguishing language acquisition from learning disabilities. London: SAGE.

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