Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Support English Learners’ Literacy Skills

A Research-Based Approach to EL Literacy from Dr. Jana Echevarria

Have you ever flipped to a television channel broadcasting a show in a language you couldn’t understand? You probably spent thirty seconds listening and watching, trying to figure out what was going on, then just changed the channel. But, what if you couldn’t change the channel?

Imagine if this is how you spent every day of your education, trying to understand and learn concepts and content taught in a language you didn’t know? This is the reality for nearly 5.5 million English learners who populate our schools nationwide, a 71% increase over the past five years. English learners (ELs) are among the fastest growing student populations in the country.

So, how do we help English learners access grade-level content and prepare them to be college and career ready?

In Improving Literacy for English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know, Dr. Jana Echevarria responds to this question by providing educators with suggested research-based practices that can benefit all students, particularly ELs as they build literacy in English. Dr. Echevarria’s work identifies specific teaching techniques that help students tackle the double challenge of learning content and language simultaneously.

We encourage you to add the full paper to your summer reading list. For now, here are a few of the most important takeaways you can expect to discover in Dr. Echevarria’s work:

Effective Practices

In addition to using practices and techniques from which all students will benefit, such as setting clear goals and objectives, linking new learning to previous learning, modeling new skills and procedures, and encouraging active engagement and participation, Dr. Echevarria highlights some additional supports for English learners.

English proficiency is the greatest predictor of academic success for English learners, more than all other factors combined (Suarez-Orozco, Suarez-Orozco, and Todorova 2008). Dr. Echevarria remarks how English learners must learn “academic English” which varies greatly from conversational English as it is more complex and less likely to be encountered in an everyday setting. In her paper, Dr. Echevarria provides seven strategies for supporting access to content and also the development of English language proficiency among English learners.

1. Using Multiple Media

2. Providing Additional Practice and Repetition

3. Building Background Knowledge

4. Providing Explicit Instruction of Literacy Skills

5. Highlighting and Teaching Vocabulary

6. Ensuring Opportunities for Oral Discourse

7. Capitalizing on Students’ Native Language

The full text gives an in-depth look at each of these strategies and their significance to building English language proficiency among English learners. In the paper, you will find each strategy listed so that you can employ those relevant to you in your own classroom. Research confirms how important these practices are to helping build English learners build proficiency in English. We encourage you to check out the full text and learn how you can apply research-based practices in every lesson.

For more educational research spanning a wide variety of K-12 fields, see our McGraw-Hill Education K-12 Research Portal:

Dr. Echevarria is Professor Emerita at California State University, Long Beach. A founding researcher and creator of the SIOP Model, Dr. Echevarria has published widely on effective instruction for English learners, including those with learning disabilities. She has presented her research in the U.S. and internationally, including serving as a Fulbright Specialist in Macedonia. and her UCLA doctorate earned her an award from the National Association for Bilingual Education’s Outstanding Dissertations Competition. She received her university’s Outstanding Professor award, was a finalist for the Senior Research Award given by the American Education Research Association, Second Language SIG, and was inducted into the California Reading Hall of Fame. She serves as an expert on English learners for the U.S. Department of Justice.