5 Technology Consideration Tips for ELL Teachers

5 Technology Consideration Tips for ELL Teachers

To be sufficiently prepared for college and the workforce, all students must have strong digital literacy skills. In today’s marketplace, it's not only white-collar jobs that require digital literacy and ease of media use to present, record, and analyze data—blue-collar workers are expected to look for ways to increase productivity, analyze market trends, and increase job safety as well.

However, digital literacy can be difficult to master for English language learners. Not only are these individuals tasked with becoming literate in English, they must also learn how to navigate their way through the jargon-filled digital world.

ELLs' experience with technology can vary greatly from one student to the next. While some may never have used a computer, others may be adept at troubleshooting. If you have ELL students in your class, here are a handful of considerations to keep in mind when using technology:


  1. Find out what they know

    When ELL students enter a school, they are given a baseline assessment that identifies their English proficiency. However, this assessment rarely touches upon technology, meaning teachers must determine what each student knows in terms of both terminology and overall skills. As technology terminology changes quickly, words may be unfamiliar to some of your ELLs. That said, keep in mind that ELLs are a diverse population, so it is presumptive to think that a student who does not speak fluent English also knows very little about technology. Although some may not be able to operate a basic word processor or conduct an internet search, others might know how to build a computer from scratch!


  1. Use as many visuals as possible

    ELL students respond well to visual instruction, and this method also works well for introducing new technology. Because of the language barrier, ELL students may have trouble keeping up with an in-person presentation, so it will likely be more helpful to create illustrated handouts that cover the basic technology skills and tasks students will need to successfully master for your class. When explaining how to use a software program, the handouts should contain as many screenshots as possible. Students can annotate these reference sheets in their native language and use them as quick references if they become stuck.


  1. Ensure adequate practice time

    Like many mainstream students, ELLs have a wide range of technological abilities, so it is important for teachers to determine who needs more practice time and who is ready for a more challenging task. Due to a variety of factors, some ELL students may need additional coaching and practice to close the gap with their more technologically savvy peers—ELL or not. Both for students who need extra time and those who are exceeding expectations, consider an after-school technology tutoring club. In this setting, students who need more one-on-one time can work with a teacher or paraprofessional to master basic skills while more advanced students can experiment with new technology outside the curriculum.  

  1. Allow for more paired and small-group work

    According to Colorin Colorado, cooperative learning has proven to be effective for all types of students, including academically gifted individuals and ELLs. Cooperative learning is particularly beneficial for any student learning a second language as it promotes peer interaction, which encourages the development of language and the learning of concepts and content. Colorin Colorado also emphasizes the importance of assigning ELLs to different teams so they can benefit from a range of English language role models. If a few ELL students are in a mainstream class, those students have an opportunity to learn from digital natives by observing how these individuals use and talk about technology in a natural environment.


  1. Don’t forget about digital citizenship

    According to digitalcitizenship.net, the concept of digital citizenship (in the context of teaching) helps teachers, technology leaders, and parents to understand what student technology users should know to use technology appropriately. Although digital literacy is a critical skill that all students must learn, there are great risks associated with improper technology use—especially for kids.  Here are a few examples that apply to ALL learners:

  • Photos
    When posting photos online via social media or a personal blog, many students are not aware that private or identifying details may show up in the images, such as license plates, street signs, or geo-locations.

  • Copyright/Trademarks
    Although students can access just about any image, text, or movie clip via a simple Google search, they may not understand the copyright or trademark rules that govern media use. One of the most common infringement scenarios involves using a song in a YouTube video. Music publishers are actively monitoring and flagging user-uploaded videos that include songs being used without permission.

  • Malware
    Many programs offer free downloads of music, movies, books, etc., which is a problem for two reasons. First, pirating files is a form of theft. Second, many students—including adults—aren’t able to distinguish between a legitimate file download and malware. A good rule of thumb is, "If it's illegal or looks suspicious, it's probably dangerous."

While ELLs tend to face particular obstacles throughout their academic careers, that doesn’t mean their desire to learn is lacking. Digital literacy is a vital 21st-century skill that must be mastered to ensure college and career success for all students—ELL, mainstream, or otherwise. Your instruction may be slightly different when teaching ELLs, but with the right approach, they too will achieve their goals.


“In the 21st century, the century our children will live in (the century they will, in fact, shape), media literacy will not be a luxury; it will be a necessity.”

— Linda Ellerbee, journalist and television producer


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