STEM With English Language Learners


STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities are highly engaging for students.  This is particularly true for English Language Learners. A key component is that the disciplines are integrated. Students typically have a real world problem to solve or project to create.

Here are some overviews of using STEM in the elementary classroom:

Reasons to use STEM Activities with ELLs

  1. Builds Background Knowledge- Having students take part in or observe an experiment, engineering challenge or other STEM activity creates shared background knowledge. It allows all students in a class to have a shared experience to refer back to.
  2. Keeps students engaged- Building, creating, and using technology are all highly engaging activities. For ESOL students learning reading, writing, listening, and speaking, it gives them an authentic reason to take part in these language areas. STEM activities are hands on.  They give students the opportunity to use their hands.  STEM activities also give students real life experiences.
  3. Speaking opportunities- STEM activities lend themselves to group work, and this creates authentic reasons for student to use academic oral language.  ELLs need many opportunities to speak in the classroom. Participating in a whole class discussions can be intimidating. Taking part in a small group building task  can be much less intimidating.

Ideas and Resources for Using STEM with ELLs

  • Preview vocabulary with students before they begin planing and building. This makes sure that ELLs are able to take part in group discussions with their peers and practice using the new vocabulary.
  • Provide graphic organizers.
    • Use for planning before building.
    • Use to reflect on a STEM challenge after it has been completed.
    • Use to record the steps a group uses to complete an activity.
  • Use sentence frames.
    • “First use the ______.”
  • Review prepositions. Particularly if students will be building and you have lower level ELLs this is an authentic opportunity to practice prepositions.
      • Provide students with a poster or handout to refer to if these are new terms.

  • Read a children’s book and then have students build something out of the book or solve a problem for one of the characters
Lakeshore Fairy Tales Problem Solving STEM Kits 
Lakeshore Fairy Tales Problem Solving STEM Kits


Writing About Photographs With English Language Learners

writing about photographs

Photographs offer excellent support for English Language Learners to use in writing. They can be used to help students generate ideas.  Visual vocabulary support is built into a high quality photograph. You can easily differentiate a writing assignment based around photographs.

Writing about Photographs with Newcomers 

  1. Label objects in the photograph.
  2. Provide students with a list of objects found in the picture and have them label it.
  3. Write simple sentence frames. (I see _______. I hear ______. The _____ is blue.)

Writing about Photographs with Level 1 and 2 ESOL Students 

  1. Have students talk about what they see in the photograph.
  2. Present students with a writing prompt around the photograph.
  3. Review sentence frames and additional vocabulary to assist with writing.
  4. Allow students to talk about ideas with a partner or in a small group before writing.





Writing about Photographs with Advanced ESOL Students 

  1. Present students with a writing prompt around the photograph.
  2. Allow students to talk about ideas with a partner or in a small group before writing.
  3. You can use sentence frames to introduce complex grammar structure or new vocabulary words for students to include.

Check out these picture writing prompts I designed that come with a writing prompt, vocabulary bank and sentence frames.

Thanksgiving Tips and Activities for English Language Learners

thanksgiving tips

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to integrate American culture into lessons. Some ELL learners will have celebrated Thanksgiving their entire life.  These students will be able to share their family’s traditions around the holiday. Other students will have never experienced the holiday before and will benefit from a basic overview of what the holiday is. Here are some ideas for integrating the holidays traditions into your lessons.

Speak and Write about Thanksgiving Traditions 

Students can share family traditions around Thanksgiving day. Some students may need assistance identifying what these traditions are. Food is one place to start that is concrete even for young students.  For ELL learners give opportunities for them to draw and/or orally share before moving on to writing.

I have writing task cards to help students write about Thanksgiving. I include pictures to help with vocabulary and to generate ideas. Topics include what students are thankful for and describing food that they eat.

Thanksgiving themed illustrated vocabulary sheets









Use Read Alouds to Introduce the Holiday
There are many picture books that can be used to introduce students to the history and cultural practices surrounding Thanksgiving. Check out my list of books to use with your ESOL students.

Integrate Thanksgiving Vocabulary into Content Lessons 

I have created coloring sheets that cover parts of speech using Thanksgiving themed vocabulary and Thanksgiving themed coloring sheets.

In math students can practice graphing skills with Thanksgiving themed pictures.

**Check out my Pinterest board for additional Thanksgiving ideas.

7 Thanksgiving Read Alouds for English Language Learners

Thanksgiving Read Alouds

7 Thanksgiving Read Alouds

You can use read alouds as a way to build students background knowledge of the history of Thanksgiving and learn about how people celebrate the holiday today. Many of these books can be integrated into language arts lessons on main idea, vocabulary development, story elements, sequencing, compare and contrast, and point of view.
*This post contains affiliate links.

Molly’s Pilgrim

This is a books I loved reading as a student for the plot and now can see all the great cultural and academic connections. It is a story about a girl that finds similarities between her own immigrant story and that of the pilgrims. (compare and contrast, story elements, character traits)

How Many Days to America
This is an immigrant story about a family fleeing to America. It tells about the difficulty of their journey. They arrive on Thanksgiving day. (story elements, making inferences)

Thanksgiving Is for Giving Thanks!
This story gives simple examples of what a child is thankful for. (main idea)

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving
This book tells the story of Thanksgiving from Squanto’s point of view. It includes vivid illustrations. (point of view)

The Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving
This story uses simple language to describe the experiences of the pilgrims as they travel to the New World and celebrate the first Thanksgiving. (point of view)

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade 

Tells the story of Tony Sarg, the puppeteer who began designing the oversized balloons for the Macy’s day Parade. This story emphasizes the contributions of immigrants to the parade. (story elements, sequencing)

Pilgrims of Plymouth
This books tells what life was like for Pilgrim children. It uses reenactment photographs to illustrate the information. (point of view, compare and contrast)

**“We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.”

ESOL Teaching Materials Tailwind Tribe

tailwind tribeCheck out a new Tailwind tribe that I created: ESOL Teaching Materials Tailwind Tribe. It is for sharing ESOL teaching materials.

If you haven’t tried tailwind it is a way to schedule pins to pinterest. You are able to set when the pin goes out.  This is a big help if you want to pin to multiple boards. You can schedule the pins to go out over a series of days instead of all at once. You are also able to pin at times when the most people will see your pins.

Tailwind Tribes is for collaborative pinning groups. Each tribe give you information about how people interact with your pins and allows you to search within the tribe. This is similar to collaborative pinterest boards but with much more specific information about how other people interact with your pins.  Tailwind tribes has been updated so that you can now search for tribes that you want to join.

If you want to give Tailwind a try, here is a referral link that will get you a free month to try it out. If you are signing up for the first time and use my link we both get a $15 credit to use for Tailwind.

Halloween Tips and Activities for English Language Learners

ELL Halloween

Halloween is a holiday that many children look forward to each year. For ESOL students that are newcomers they may not have experienced Halloween in the past or celebrated it in a much different way. These students will benefit from a basic explanation of what the holiday is and different ways that it is celebrated in their community.  This will help alleviate confusion that may come up otherwise. All student will benefit from learning about how Halloween practices differ around the world.

Other ESOL students have grown up in the United States and enjoy it the same way their classmates do. These student will enjoy thematic Halloween activities integrated throughout the month. I have a growing collection of ideas on a Halloween Pinterest Board.

Halloween Vocabulary Activities

Parts of Speech Halloween Color by Code
Halloween themed vocabulary sheets
Halloween themed ISpy style coloring sheets