Resources for Educators - Blog

Jun 15
Considerations for Designing Instruction for English Learners During Distance Learning Written by Barb Flores

​One of the biggest challenges for teachers and education leaders is to ensure that the quality of teaching-and-learning remotely meets the specific learning needs of our English learners. Even though we know many effective teaching practices in the classroom, we need to consider the shift of what these instructional practices look like during distance learning. There are four key practices to consider to meet the needs of English learners and to maintain engagement in rigorous grade level content.​

  1. Provide students with the linguistic and content support they need in order to tackle academic activities they are not yet ready to complete independently.
  • For synchronous learning, look at the specific language (both oral and written) that students will need to access the content. Chunk visual, written, and oral instruction, making deliberate pauses for students to process and practice.

  • For asynchronous learning, use audio or video recording to deliver instruction considering the specific language demands English learners will need. Remind students it is important to 'pause' throughout the audio/video and replay sections so they hear it multiple times to make meaning.

  1. Engage English Learners in routines that support socialization and focused learning of target concepts, skills, and the language needed to express them.
  • For synchronous learning, use familiar routines from the classroom. These routines can be interactive activities as well as a structured morning routine, such as calendar. This reduces the linguistic and cognitive demand of students.

  • For asynchronous learning, have students listen to stories read aloud to them daily. Storyline Online and EPIC are a couple of the online platforms available. This provides students with models of language. Send parents or caregivers a list of ideas for language-related routines they can do at home.

  1. Provide frequent opportunities for English Learners to engage in collaborative activities — with extended and meaningful exchanges of language — as a way of supporting their understanding of key content area concepts.
  • For synchronous learning, use videoconferencing applications to engage students in small group discussions and/or provide opportunities for peer feedback on writing assignments. Use technology apps, such as jamboard or interactive whiteboards, to display sentence frames students can use during discussions. One example could be, “I agree with ___ because ___," which gives students a clear sense of how to use language to explain why they agree with someone.

  • For asynchronous learning, have students use shared online documents such as Google documents, slides, jamboard, etc., to collaboratively contribute to assignments. Provide written sentence frames students can use to correspond with their peers. 

  1. Invite English Learners to engage in multimodal tasks that support and reinforce listening, speaking, reading, and writing in English throughout content areas.
  • For synchronous learning, design tasks where students are in small groups discussing responses to content related questions. Give students models of language to use during the discussion with their peers.

  • For asynchronous learning, design collaborative tasks students can work on together or have them record their responses using virtual tools such as Flipgrid or Screencastify. Give students written models of language to use while recording their responses.

For English learners that do not have access to technology, give them assignments that encourage them to use oral and written language on a daily basis, whether in English or in their home language. Sample assignments include: interviewing family members, surveying family members about a topic and recording and writing the results, reading to siblings.


Billings, E., & Laguno!, R. (2020). Supporting English Learners During School Closures: Considerations for Designing Distance Learning Experiences. WestEd.

Webinar: Episode 11: Supporting ELs Through Distance Learning

Webinar: Episode 17: Designing Designated ELD Lessons in a Distance Learning Environment


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