Save 10% today on your lessons using the code GIVEME10


Supporting IEP and ESL Students in the English Language Arts Classroom

Learn some ideas for supporting IEP and ESL students in the middle school classroom.

Learn some ideas for supporting IEP and ESL students in the middle school classroom.

Here are my top 5 strategies for working with English Language Learners:

  1. ​Teach them the essential phrases first and give them a map of the school. Students immediately need to know where places are located and how to ask permission to access places such as the bathrooms, office/nurse, library and where their classes are located.  
  2. Ideally, pair your new ELL students up with another student who speaks their first language to give them a school tour and help translate the map of the school.
  3. Download and use the Google Translate app on your phone and any school device. Encourage all your students to download this app so they can communicate with their new classmates.
  4. Allow students to work in their first language. Where possible I use Google Translate which is automatically available in the Tools sections of Google Docs to translate my lessons into my student’s first language. I also encourage students to use the Google Translate app which can hover over any text and instantly translate it in real-time. Students can write their responses in their first language, then one of us will translate it to English for me to read.
  5. Use videos in your classroom that are automatically captioned in different languages. I love Ted Talks for their captions in other languages and Khan Academy because they provide the user with the option to scroll to the bottom of the page and change their language preferences.

During one of our weekly #2ndaryELA Twitter chats, we focused on strategies for teaching students who are English Language Learners as well as students who are on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Teachers shared their best ideas and resources for making their lessons successful for all learners. Read the recap to gain ideas you can use in your classroom.

Q1: How are ESL and IEP students integrated into your school? 

  • A1: ELL students and students with IEPs are all put into the regular classroom with consultative support from the Special Education or ESL teacher. If the student has very high needs they may qualify for some pull-out instruction (1-2 times per week).
  • A1: Ss with special needs are in regular classes all day everyday. ESL Ss have sheltered ELA classes, but are in all other reg. classes.
  • A1: Our students are mainstreamed into co-taught classrooms.
  • A1: It’s called an inclusion model, but beyond being grouped together in a class, I’m not sure I’m doing it right/it’s working. Any advice is welcome.
  • A1: No ESL. IEP students are included in the regular classroom as much as possible. Limited pull out.
  • A1: I was an ELL (English Language Learner) student in elementary school and a part of middle school, and ELL only took up part of my time in the day. Otherwise I was in regular classes with other students
  • A1. We have co-taught inclusion classes and study skills classes for EC students and support staff for ELL students. Students are taught in regular classes with support.
  • A1: Inclusion with a co-teacher.

Q2: How does your school communicate a student’s possible needs? Or do you do a needs assessment on your own? 

  • A2: Students with needs have an IEP that is co-developed between classroom teachers and the special education teacher. ELL students are assessed using the STEP (Steps to English Proficiency) Assessment which is completed by the classroom teacher with ESL teacher support if needed. When students arrive in my classroom, I gather baseline data on their strengths and next steps to help guide my instruction.
  • A2: Needs are on the IEP for Ss with special needs. ESL Ss are different – They take the WIDA.
  • A2: Liaisons & ELL coordinators communicate the most. I survey families at the beginning of the year & Ss throughout the year.
  • A2: When I went to observe at a local high school last year, I saw that the ESL teacher was in the history class to help the ESL student to understand the teacher’s instructions – so necessary! I know from experience
  • A2: After IEP meetings, teachers are given modifications to use. Usually, this comes through email.
  • A2: IEP teachers meet with classroom teachers once every 6 day cycle to discuss needs and possible support
  • A2: We do not have ESL teachers. I am an ESL teacher and an ELA teacher.
  • A2: We have needs assessments that we do on our own. We work with guidance counsellors, EC teachers and parents to provide support and ensure that proper strategies are targeting needs.

Q3: What have been your biggest challenges with creating successful lessons for all students? 

  • A3: Finding grade and age level appropriate content that meets the needs of my learners. They all want to look like they are doing the same work like everyone else. Choice boards or choice on assignments helps because not everyone is doing the same task so no one feels left out.
  • A3: Finding ways to differentiate that are truly helpful and not just a band-aid.
  • A3: I am teaching my non-English speakers to write a text-based essay as our state writing test is March 6th…So I have been using a “fill in the blank” essay format.
  • A3: Time constraints are the biggest issue for me.
  • A3: Sometimes motivation is the challenge.
  • A3: I get so tired of hearing “I can’t” when I know the student hasn’t even tried.
  • A3: Scaffolding is a wonderful tool if the Ss knows what you’re talking about in the first place- so hard with ELLs!

Q4: What extra support does your school provide for students beyond what you have in the classroom?

  • A4: Consulting with the Special Education or ESL teacher if they are available. Most of the support comes from the classroom teacher.
  • A4: I get a Portuguese-speaking paraprofessional about 3 times per week. And one Special Needs facilitator that works with two specific Ss.
  • A4: Students meet with special ed. teacher based on IEP needs for a certain amount of time each day/week. I support students, mostly in class, who do not have IEPs but are still struggling
  • A4: We have built in study time during the day. Teachers are available for students to work one-on-one if needed or students can work with peers.
  • A4: We offer book talks and lots of tutoring. Our study skills classes enriching class material. Our EC co-teachers are also certified in the subject area they serve students in. It is helpful because that means there are two subject area teachers in the room.
  • A4: Speaking from experience again – individual teachers’ understanding help in the classroom are so valuable for ESL students!
  • A4: Students meet with special ed. teacher based on IEP needs for a certain amount of time each day/week. I support students, mostly in class, who do not have IEPs but are still struggling

Q5: What’s the best activity, project, or method of differentiation you’ve found works with your ESL or IEP students? 

  • A5: I try to pair up my ELL students with students who speak the same first language so they can work together in either English or their first language to complete the task.
  • A5: ELLs need patience and for work broken down into very small pieces. Hard when they speak very little English. I was always tempted to speak to mine in Spanish.
  • A5: One thing that has helped a lot is a form of notes I invented called #Pixanotes – a blend of traditional notes with interactive notebooks.
  • A5: I really like bingo-type projects where the students choose how they will show learning. They choose 3 activities in a row, diagonal or horizontal line. That way they pick.
  • A5: Definitely love Bingo! My Ss asked if they could give ideas for writing bingo, so I created a Google form for them to submit ideas. I’m working on getting it together for them!
  • A5: Also, I like to make videos of concepts so Ss can watch them as many times as they need. Here’s one:
  • A5: My classroom is built around independent reading. Students are allowed to self-select, so they are able to read based on levels and interests.
  • A5: Chunking large assignments into smaller parts, sentence starters for writing, reading guides with comprehension questions for class readings
  • A5: My students have enjoyed following along to stories via YouTube or audiobooks. For ELL, I work with them to build “cheat sheets” and get them to work together to figure out new words
  • A5: Each student creates their personal writing goals every six weeks. They are free to experiment with their writing in their writer’s notebook and practice skills we learn in class. I posted about it on my blog. I’ve changed it quite a bit since then, but here it is if you’d like to check it out. Writing Goals for the Classroom
  • A5: I’ll use some Spanish with my ELL students to reinforce some basics (I’m not fluent) like pronouns. Today I gave them the Spanish pronoun, and they had to say the English out loud. All other instructions if possible are in English.
  • A5: I often would “trade” with them. They would teach me a little Spanish, and then I would teach them the same in English. They liked to teach me. It broke through some barriers.
  • A5: Find resources like the Article of the Week Bundle that offers two different levels of the same reading. Find this resource on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD

Supporting IEP and ESL Students

Special Education Resources

English as a Second Language Resources


Related Posts


This FREE persuasive writing unit is

By using highly-engaging rants, your students won’t even realize you’ve channeled their daily rants and complaints into high-quality, writing!

FREE persuasive writing unit is