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Support for English Learners in Distance Learning Environments: Blog Series

In contrast to the in-school learning experience, school closure to student attendance presents a greater challenge for English Learners (ELs), largely due to the inability to access content by way of physical interaction with teachers and peers. Also, our students might experience stress related health issues related to the lack of connection with teachers, staff and peers at school, and limited access to Internet and devices. 

The School Climate, Leadership & Instructional Services department recognizes that the need to support ELs is greater than ever; therefore, our goal is to help administrators and teachers focus on the most critical support for ELs and all students by sharing our top recommendations of available resources on the Internet. We also want to extend an invitation to educators to share their best practices in this blog. If you are interested please contact Dr. Yee Wan, Director of Multilingual & Humanities Education Department. 

Thank you,
Dr. Yee Wan

Jun 29
3 Considerations for Reopening Schools in Meeting the Needs of English Learners, Written by Dr. Yee Wan

The global pandemic caused an unexpected pivot to distance learning in spring 2020 and now educators have begun envisioning what the instruction of English learners might look like this fall. On CDE's Stronger Together: English Learners guidance, it states,

An English learners' English proficiency level may have decreased because the student has experienced limited instruction for an extended time during school closures. Therefore, close monitoring is key to ensure that English learners have the opportunity to recover any academic losses incurred during school closures.

Here are three considerations that are crucial for English learners as they enter the upcoming school year. They can be used by educators providing distance learning exclusively, face-to-face instruction with social distancing, or a hybrid approach.

  1. Building community and relationships: It is very important to address the social-emotional needs of our students. Educators can open each class or day with a welcome activity or routine that builds community. For example, have students share something they feel proud of about themselves or recall a time that they experienced success. Students can share what contributed to the success or how the experience made them feel.

  2. Formative assessment: Educators can strategically use formative assessment data to evaluate English learners' English language proficiency levels at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year or during the summer so that students can be placed in the appropriate level for ELD instruction. Teachers can use formative data in content areas to design instruction in response to where the students are when they begin instruction in a new content.

  3. Intentional language practice: Make sure students get as much quality language practice in meaningful ways as possible during face-to-face or synchronous virtual instruction. It is critical to provide designated ELD in small homogeneous groups on a regular basis. This may mean that focused ELD teaching happens in small groups.

Hybrid Learning Playbook: English Learners, California Collaborative for Educational Excellence

Reflection Tool: ELs Returning to School in 2020, SupportEd​

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

Jun 02
[Issue #7] 3 Tips to support Dual Language production in a Distance Learning Environment Written by Deedy Camarena

​​As we find ourselves in this distance learning environment, dual language educators need to continue with strong partner language support.  As research validates that students in dual language programs have consistently higher test scores than their English only counterparts,1-2 we need to continue our implementation of partner language instruction to strengthen their bilingualism. To support our dual language students while engaging in distance learning, here are three tips to consider.

Tip #1:  Stick with your language allocation plan:  Continue with your language allocation model.  If your model is a 90/10 model, then continue with that progression.  If 10% of your time is in English, and 90% is in Spanish, be consistent with the model in your instruction.  Keep this allocation of time in mind as you are designing your lessons.  Consider utilizing the resources students have at home, including parents and siblings.  This will help connect them with their families by practicing cross-linguistic transfer and building upon their assets, as supported by the EL Roadmap Principal 13.  Additionally, adding the Culturally and Linguistically Responsive and Equity lenses validate what the students bring to the table. 

Tip #2:  Amplify the partner language:  Students need consistent and continual practice to develop and grow in the partner language.  TV shows, videos, radio and podcasts are all resources that can be utilized to hear the partner language in an authentic context. An anticipation guide or a graphic organizer could be paired with these resources in addition to a synchronous follow up.  As you design lessons, use an equity lens, as not all students have the same access or time to spend on each assignment.  Dr. Jose Medina states “What will need to change is the way we lesson plan to serve emergent bilingual students, who now all have interrupted formal schooling, ... Only in this way, will we be able to effectively meet students' needs, regardless of any obstacles resulting from the COVID-19 school closures."4.

Tip #3: Provide many opportunities for input and conversation:  In order to provide input and conversation in the target language, students need a platform that allows for two-way communication.  Google Meet, Zoom and Skype are all free platforms readily used amongst educators.  However, it's never about the tool, it's how it's used for learning.  Planning for input and conversation is a must.  Some questions you may want to consider are: What is the best resource for input for the task at hand?  What do you want your students to produce?  Do you have protocols in place for effective and equitable two-way communication?  How will you assess them? How will you relay feedback?  Additionally, you may want to include opportunities to ask open-ended questions, assigning conversation buddies such as a community member that speaks the partner language, or the utilization of Flipgrid in order for the students to hear themselves speak, and respond to a classmates' Flipgrid post5.


1. Edutopia. The Dual Immersion Solution.  November 16, 2018.  Accessed May 28, 2020.

2.  Study of Dual-Language Immersion in the Portland Public Schools Year 4 Briefing: November 2015. Published November, 2015.  Accessed May 28, 2020.

3.  California Department of Education.  California EL Roadmap.  Publication date unavailable.  Accessed May 28, 2020.

4.  Education Dive. Dual language teachers try to 'stay the course' separated from classrooms.  Published April 15, 2020.  Accessed May 28, 2020

5.  Language Castle.  Fast 5 Gamechangers Empower DLLs With Conversations!  Publication date unavailable.  Accessed May 28, 2020. 

May 25
[Issue #6] 3 Tips to Increase Oral Language Production for English Learners in Distance Learning Written by Dr. Yee Wan

As I am hearing from other educators through webinars and the English Learner Support Network, many have stated that “Oral language was crucial for English learners before, it's even more crucial now!“ How can educators create speaking opportunities for English learners in distance learning? Here are three ideas for your consideration.

Tip #1: Leverage the funds of knowledge at home: Teachers can ask students to observe something around the house or outside their home and use specific language functions to share their observations with family members. For example, students can describe, something they see, compare and contrast, or share their preference for activities and provide relevant reasons to support their choice.

Tip #2: Language scaffolds for oral language: Use songs, chants, graphic organizers, sentence frames and small groups as language scaffolds during synchronous virtual class meetings. Students will have more time for oral language practice during small group meetings.

Tip #3: Utilize tech tools: Educators can have students verbally respond to a written or video prompt on Flipgrid. Students can also give feedback on each other's videos. Adobe Spark Video is another tool for students to create videos. Also, educators can also provide the option of students leaving voice messages on Google Voice.


MTSS – EL Roadmap Tools for Online Learning created by Amber Reihman, Social Science Teacher & EL Coordinator, and Maxine Sagapolutele, English and ELD Teacher & EL Coordinator at Grossman Union High School District

Oral Language in Distance Learning webinar presented by Marna Ledesma, Katie Mlakar, and Heather Skibbins at SEAL​​

May 18
[Issue #5] 3 Tips on How to Support Content Instruction for English Learners in Distance Learning Written by Dr. Yee Wan

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the webinar on Support for Distance Learning: The History–Social Science and English Language Arts/English Language Development Frameworks. It was packed with useful information. Here are three key learnings with resources from the English learner support lens.

Tip #1: Build, but not from scratch: The shelter-in-place circumstances may make the introduction of new content difficult. Consider ways to amplify and broaden learning that will allow students to practice, refine and master skills that they learned during the first part of the school year while at home. Here are some ideas of ELD activities for language practice that you can use or adapt.

Tip #2: Teach the students, and reach the child: It is important that educators acknowledge that the challenges of distance learning are ongoing, and that teachers and students mutually feel them. Consider how established classroom routines can be modified for distance learning. If possible, maintaining these routines, even in an adapted form, will help provide structure and a sense of normalcy for students. Also, providing the language practice opportunities at home validates the students' home experience, lowers the affective filter and fosters relationships with family members.

Tip #3: Redefine, when necessary: Create flexible parameters that redefine engagement, participation, and daily schedule. What could the “new normal" look like? Educators might use fun games to engage students during virtual class sessions. Furthermore, educators might need to interact with students and their families through a variety of means such as the U.S. mail, phone calls, emails, what's app, parent networks, food distribution locations, etc. The length of time and frequency of synchronous sessions might vary depending on circumstances.


The History–Social Science and English Language Arts/English Language Development Frameworks webinar will be posted at the California Department of Education's COVID-19 Webinars webpage.

ELD Activities for Language Practice at Home, Tulare County Office of Education

Distance Learning Planning Models, Dr. Molly McCabe, ELA/ELD Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee Co-lead  ​​

May 11
[Issue #4] 3 Considerations for Inclusivity and Support within Designated English Language Development in Remote Learning Written by Dr. Yee Wan

In response to COVID-19's shift from face-to-face instruction to distance learning, the Designed ELD Workgroup within the CISC ELA/ELD Subcommittee with representatives from across the state developed the Considerations for Inclusivity and Support within Designated English Language Development in Remote Learning tool to help teachers to focus on high-priority practices for Designated ELD in a distance learning setting. Teachers can use this tool in planning, delivering, and reflecting upon distance learning lessons in an effort to maintain, sustain, and improve Designated ELD practice. The tool is organized around these three overarching ideas, the 3 Ls:

Tip #1: Connect with Learners - Engage learners in genuine ways to promote social and academic wellness

Tip #2: Connect with Learning - Make meaningful connections to bridge language practice with the content students are learning across the subject areas. Teachers can use or adapt ELD lesson template examples to establish rituals and familiar routines to lower the affective filter.

Tip #3: Connect with Language - Establish a focus for language learning and practice that meets students at their proficiency levels

To access this resource, visit I would like to acknowledge the collaborators of this Designated ELD Workgroup.

Linda Korff-Reis, Kings COE

Malane Morales-Van Hecke, Los Angeles COE

Dora Ann Salazar, Monterey COE

Richard Romero, Orange County DE

Tracy Wilson, Placer COE

Molly McCabe, Ed.D., Riverside COE

Izela Jacobo, San Diego COE

Carlos Pagán, Santa Barbara COE

Deedy Camarena, Santa Clara COE

Yee Wan, Ed.D., Santa Clara COE

Alethea Vazquez, Tehama County DE

Alesha Ramirez, Tulare COE

May 05
[Issue #3] 3 Tips for Planning Designated English Language Development (ELD) Lessons in Distance Learning Written by Dr. Yee Wan

In the past two weeks, I have attended several webinars on designated ELD instruction in distance learning. I noticed these patterns in the designated ELD weekly plans.

Tip #1: Offering both synchronous (real-time virtual interaction) and asynchronous activities (not-in-real-time virtual interaction).

Tip #2: Focusing the synchronous learning time on oral language skill development through modeling, applying language through interaction with peers and teachers, and negotiating meaning

Tip #3: Providing choices for the learning activities

These are several examples that you can explore:

  • Template for using mentor sentences to teach designated ELD in K-5, created by Leslie Hyatt at Bell Gardens Elementary School, Montebello Unified School District

  • Sample elementary designated ELD lesson plan, created by Deedy Camarena, Santa Clara County Office of Education

  • Designated ELD in TK-12, created by Sanger Unified School District

  • Designated ELD in 6-12

    • dELD Weekly Plan and d.ELD Distance Learning Choice Board, developed by Efraín Tovar, Abraham Lincoln Middle School, Selma Unified School District

    • San Juan Unified School District developed distance learning weekly lesson plans that are aligned to the ELPAC task types and are organized by the four language domains. The weekly plan also includes a culminating task. To access the resources, visit

I hope that you will be able to adapt these templates in planning your dELD lessons for English learners.


Apr 28
[Issue #2] 3 Tips to Keep Newcomer English Learners Engaged in Distance Learning Environments Written by Dr. Yee Wan

Newcomer English learners are facing greater challenges during school campus closures than their peers; having to unpack emails, navigate the technology tools, comprehend directions for assignments are just a few.  Transitioning to distance learning could be overwhelming because newcomer students tend to rely heavily on non-verbal and visual clues to make meaning in their learning. Additionally, many students have limited or no access to Internet, Wi-Fi or a technology device.

I was reading about what some teachers are doing, so am sharing some ideas that teachers of newcomers might consider:

Tip #1: Connect with newcomer students and their families: Remember that not all students have access to online learning platforms. Depending on the grade level of the student, teachers might connect with the parent or guardian by phone first and then with the student. Once initial contact has been established, schedule mutually agreed upon times to connect with students several times a week. Prior to the call, determine what are the most essential language skills that you would like to teach, coach or practice with your students. When setting up meetings, include call-ins from a landline or cell phone.

Tip #2: Be responsive by asking your newcomer students for a list of topics that they would like to learn about and integrate their interests into language learning activities. Share stories of inspiration and affirmations with students.

Tip #3: Create assignments that could leverage resources from home, be self-directed or require minimal support. For example, watch educational programs from the public broadcasting stations such as KQED TV and PBS shows. Remind students to read as much as possible. They can read in their native language or in English. You can provide hard copies of the reading materials or refer them to websites.   You might include family members in the assignment such as having the students share what they have learned with their family members.

  1. Resource
    Website: Newcomers at Grade Level and Beyond

Apr 23
[Issue #1] 3 Tips for Engaging English Learners in Distance Learning Environments Written by Dr. Yee Wan

By now, many teachers have engaged their students with various types of distance learning. However the question remains, how can teachers specifically engage English Learners effectively?

Based on our team’s research, we recommend the following:

Tip #1: Connect with your students through care and compassion – Reach out to see how your students and their families are doing. Educators can work cohesively with parents, guardians and/or caregivers to fill in space for creative learning during this time. You might also ask families if they need help connecting with community resources. In addition to sending individual emails/messages or making calls, you can also schedule a weekly check-in conference call with all or selected students and/or families.

Tip #2: Schedule drop in hours  – Offer multiple options for how and when students can connect with you such as phone call, email or Facetime. Students are likely to reach out for support when there is flexibility and space for them to express their feelings.  

Tip #3: Support for language access – When designing live or recorded video lessons, you can make learning visible by speaking clearly and providing models or examples to scaffold the key concepts, including photos, illustrations, YouTube videos, primary language, etc...

For more information on this topic, check out: 

Larry Ferlazzo’s 7 Tips for Remote Teaching in YouTube. March 31, 2020. Larry Ferlazzo is a high school teacher at Luther Burbank High School, Sacramento, CA. 

Supporting multilingual learners (MLLs)/English language learners during the COVID-19 Shutdown, The Education Trust, March 2020

Yee Wan, Ed.D.

Director, Multilingual and Humanities Education
(408) 453-6825
@MET_SCCOE and @WanYwan
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