More Tips for teaching English Language Learners: SEI

Hi everyone! It's Bex here from Reading and Writing Redhead to share some more ideas for teaching your English Language Learners. Last month I posted about this topic as well, and shared writing instruction strategies and vocabulary strategies. You can find that post here.  Today I have some thoughts on supporting your English Language Learners during reading instruction.


Just a quick review  - what is SEI? In Massachusetts, SEI is Sheltered English Immersion, and to make a long story short, every classroom that has at least one ELL student is an SEI classroom and teachers need to be highly qualified by taking and passing a rigorous semester long course or passing the Massachusetts teacher exam for SEI. After studying for and passing the test, I was inspired to share some of what I learned. I think no matter what state you teach in, the  ways that Massachusetts encourages us to support our ELL students can be extremely helpful.  For information on strategies for vocabulary and writing instruction, check out my blog post from August here. 

Draw on and Build Background Knowledge: 
Students may have limited English proficiency but they may still have a lot of helpful background knowledge. One strategy is to allow students to briefly chat with peers in their native language to discuss their knowledge of the topic before starting a new text. Technology can make building background knowledge a lot easier- you can do everything from printing out pictures that relate to the topic  to show  your class, to playing DVDs, projecting video clips from, visiting websites with useful images and using virtual field trips to tap into background knowledge and build new knowledge. Realia is always a great way to build knowledge. As example of a way to use realia is bringing in gardening tools when you are going to read "The Ugly Vegetables" with 2nd graders. There is so much you could do!

Click Here for a short 1 minute video on the importance of building background knowledge to give you some more info from Thinkport. 


Comprehension Checks: 
Informal comprehension checks are important. One new strategy I learned is to  print sentences from  the text on sentence strip paper, mix the strips  up and have students put them in order. For students with even less English proficiency you can do the same with pictures from the text.
Comprehension questions for students- Giving students the opportunity to answer questions orally and not solely in writing is important. Try using  simple sentences and key vocabulary.

Cloze Activities - if students need more support,  cloze passages can be very helpful at checking student comprehension. I created one for my students when we were studying plants. Cloze passages can have a word bank of key vocabulary from the text that you have taught directly, or to make it more challenge the blanks can have only the first letter or can be blank with no word bank. Nurturing Noggins has a great free product which includes cloze passages on Roosevelt. Check it out  here. Here are a few more cloze products you could look into : Ready Ed Publications Cloze Passages and Secondgradealicious Poem of the Week. And there is a solid post about using cloze with ELL students here at Teaching  Success with Ells.

Graphic Organizers:
There is an endless list of graphic organizers that can help any student with comprehension. Here are just a few. Scholastic also has a resource list with tons of graphic organizers too here.
Venn Diagrams
Story Maps
Cause and Effect Charts
Time Lines

What are your go to strategies for supporting your ELL students in reading comprehension? Let us know by commenting below!


  1. Have your ESL students heard of all the holidays you celebrate?  Mine haven't, so I am sure to teach them these holidays in an effort to build their common, cultural knowledge

    teaching big classes

    1. Sara, that is a good suggestion. Thanks for sharing!