Strategies that Work!: Supporting MLLs/ELLs (Part 1)

By Gissel Burgos

Teaching remotely during the pandemic sucked. It was only my second year of teaching and I found myself overwhelmed with converting my in-person lessons to remote, synchronous lessons and dealing with a peculiar new set of classroom management issues like students refusing to turn on their cameras. For 10 months, it felt like I was staring at black screens and talking to myself on a Zoom call. Aside from these challenges, it was also my first year working with an Entering English Language Learner (ELL) from the Dominican Republic that knew absolutely no English. Although I did have the advantage of being fluent in Spanish and could easily communicate with this student, the real challenge was making the content accessible to this student without speaking only in Spanish. Luckily, during this time I was enrolled in the Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL) program at Hunter College and could apply the English as a New Language (ENL) strategies I was learning right away with my students. I was still overwhelmed, and it took many trials and errors, but ultimately, I was able to implement effective strategies for supporting my students who were just beginning to develop their English proficiency. If you find yourself in a similar situation where you aren’t sure where to start in supporting your newcomer students, I hope you can learn from my experience! Below I share with you strategies that have worked for me and my students.

Sentence Frames

A colorful classroom activity sheet titled “Do Now”. It features a decorative border with peaches and a notebook. The sheet includes personal reflection questions about the student’s name, such as “What does your name mean, and how did your parents choose it? Do you like your name?” There are prompts for students to fill in their responses.

One of my professors in the TESOL program always pointed out when my lesson plans didn’t include sentence frames. She stressed that I should provide students with a sentence frame each time I posed a question, and she was right! Once I became more consistent with including sentence frames, I noticed that my students were answering questions in complete sentences during discussions, were using academic vocabulary, AND their overall writing improved. Sentence frames provide Entering MLLs/ELLs with a starting point. The earlier in the school year that you get students to use the sentence frames, the more accustomed they become to restating the question and providing answers in complete sentences. Eventually, you can gradually begin to pull back from using sentence frames for every question posed.


Translanguaging is an approach to incorporating the home languages of students in our English classrooms. Allowing students to translanguage is to allow them to use their entire language repertoire to access information and communicate with others. Students have better access to the English language when they are able to compare it to their home language, especially when their home language and English have similar grammar structures and cognates that they can reference, such as English and Spanish.

This can be done by:

  • Strategically grouping students that speak the same home language together so they can discuss questions/tasks in their home languages. (i.e., pair an Entering student with an Expanding student).
  • Allowing students to complete parts of the task in their home language (i.e., group work can be completed in their home language, but the exit ticket must be in English using sentence frames, or vice versa).
  • Having students identify cognates in the text they are reading where possible (i.e., evaluate = evaluar in Spanish; objective = objetivo in Spanish).
  • Providing students with multilingual resources such as translation tools and bilingual glossaries.

Don’t give up if these strategies don’t work right away! Figuring out the best way to implement these strategies can take time but the payoff is worth it. Try them out and I’ll see you next week for Part 2 of Strategies that Work.

About Gissel:

A picture of Gissel standing in a school hallway, facing toward the camera, with one arm extended upwards. She is dressed in black pants, a grey sweater over a white shirt, and black shoes. The hallway is painted yellow with bulletin boards and windows on one side and lockers on the other. The floor features a pattern of blue and yellow tiles, with distinctive blue and yellow lines running down the center, guiding through the corridor.

Gissel Burgos is the 2024 recipient of the Collaborative’s S.P.A.R.K. award, given annually to one MLL/ELL educator and one special educator who embody special populations advocacy, relationship building, and knowledge sharing. Gissel was born and raised in the Bronx, New York to immigrant parents from Colombia and the Dominican Republic. She has degrees in Childhood Education and T.E.S.O.L. She has been teaching and supporting ELL students for five years. Currently, she is an English as a New Language (ENL) teacher and teacher leader at Family Life Academy Charter School (M.S.) in the Bronx.

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