By Katie Breitholtz

Do you work with English Learners (ELs)? My guess is you do if you’re reading this. My entire career has been focused on them in all content areas. The 21st century classroom is diverse and every class has either current or former ELs. Teachers are expected to know how to meet the needs of all students, including English Learners of ALL proficiency levels.

According to WIDA, there are six levels used to measure English proficiency levels: Levels 1-6, which range from newcomers to near native-like proficiency. Each level is based on linguistic complexity, vocabulary usage, and language forms and conventions. This means that newcomers are going to acquire the social language (BICS) first through social interaction, everyday conversation, and classroom routines. As students acquire more language, they learn the academic language (CALP) taught in content areas like Science, Math, Language Arts and Social Studies.  

As an EL teacher, I use Edulastic to differentiate for formative and summative assessments with all students regardless of proficiency. Differentiation is easy with Edulastic. To differentiate for different students, I use the “Create a New Version” button. This helps me modify the assessment, keep the same questions, then focus on the skill/s being assessed. You can select a different question type if needed, or add the linguistic support to assess the same skill as the other students. Language should not hold back your students if they are given the necessary scaffolding to show the content learned. So, keep your objective in mind of assessing language or content, and provide the visuals, sentence starters, and specific options to achieve your objective.

Now, let’s take a look at the real reason you are reading this post: how your job of helping English language learners can be made easier with Edulastic!

Question Ideas Based on Proficiency Level

I work with students at all proficiency levels. Here are ideas and suggestions on different ways to ask questions on Edulastic to help all students shine, regardless of language ability. 

Level 1 – Entering

Students at the “Entering” level are newcomers and recent arrivals. They benefit from strong visuals, simplified language, and native language support when available or appropriate. Assessment should not be focused purely on language production, but showing their knowledge through other ways. Here are examples: 

Embedding images into answer options gives EL students a challenge that doesn’t rely on their language mastery.
  • Resequence 
    • Social language to show dialogue 
    • Reorder pictures to tell a story
    • Steps in a lab with visuals
    • Events from a time period with real pictures or images
  • Multiple Choice with pictures
    • Keep options limited to no more than 3 if possible 
  • Multiple Select with pictures
    • Tell how many answers are correct as a “Hint” 
  • Drawing response 
    • This provides students with the opportunity to show what they know and add basic vocabulary to the picture for details. 
  • Drag and Drop 
    • Steps in a lab to label with key vocabulary
    • Label an image/picture 
  • Essay 
    • Ask students to list words based on a picture, video or topic 

Level 2 – Emerging

Students at “Emerging” level know and use some social English and general academic language with visual and graphic support. These students have been exposed to English either through class and have been in the country ranging from several months to a year. Usually they are still newcomers, or in the country less than three years. 

With the Drawing Question Type students use the ScratchPad to indicate their response to the prompt.
  • Drawing Response
    • Draw on image i.e. character traits, 
    • Students are ready to add simple sentences to a picture
  • Resequence with simple sentences and pictures
    • Events in history
    • Steps in a lab
    • Sequencing events in a story 
  • Multiple Choice with simple sentences and pictures
    • Keep options limited to no more than 3 if possible 
  • Multiple Select with simple sentences and pictures
    • Tell how many answers are correct as a “Hint” 
  • Drag and Drop 
    • Label an image/picture 
    • Sort/Classify information about a given topic using a graphic organizer
  • Essay 
    • Write simple sentences using sentence starters 

Level 3 – Developing

Students at “Developing” level know and use social English and some specific academic language with visual and graphic support. Students need support with written responses such as sentence starters or sentence frames, but are able to write more substantial responses. 

  • Passage-Based Questions
    • Short to longer texts recommended with visuals  
  • Drag and Drop 
    • Classify details 
  • Drawing Response
    • Draw on image and explain with simple and some complex sentences
  • Resequence with simple and complex sentences and pictures
    • Events in a story
    • Steps of a lab
  • Multiple Choice with simple sentences and pictures
    • Keep options limited to no more than 3 if possible 
  • Multiple Select with simple sentences and  pictures
    • Tell how many answers are correct as a “Hint” 
  • Drag and Drop 
    • Label an image/picture 
    • Sort/Classify information about a given topic using a graphic organizer
  • Essay 
    • Write simple and some complex sentences using sentence starters 

Level 4 – Expanding

Students at “Expanding” level know and use social English and some technical academic language with visual and graphic support. Students need support with written responses such as sentence starters or sentence frames, but are able to write more substantial responses.  Responses may include more content area specific vocabulary to support learning. 

  • Passage-Based Questions
    • Short to longer texts recommended with visuals  
  • Drag and Drop 
    • Classify details 
  • Drawing Response
    • Draw on image and explain with simple and some complex sentences
  • Resequence with sentences and/or pictures 
  • Multiple Select with more complex sentences and  pictures
    • Tell how many answers are correct as a “Hint” 
  • Drag and Drop 
    • Label an image/picture with more technical language
    • Sort/Classify information about a given topic using a graphic organizer
  • Essay 
    • Provide sentence starters 

Level 5 – Bridging 

Students at “Bridging” level know and use social English and technical academic language with visual and graphic support at grade level. Students still benefit from linguistic supports like sentence starters. 

The Passage Based Question provides students with a written text, video, or other media which they can interpret and
  • Passage-Based Questions
    • Texts offer visuals when possible
    • Compare text and videos  
  • Drag and Drop 
    • Classify details in all content areas 
  • Drawing Response
    • Draw on image and explain with written explanations
  • Resequence with sentences (pictures when appropriate) 
  • Multiple Select with more complex sentences and  pictures
    • Tell how many answers are correct as a “Hint” 
  • Drag and Drop 
    • Label an image/picture with technical language
    • Sort/Classify information about a given topic using a graphic organizer
  • Essay 
    • Provide sentence starters 

Level 6- Reaching

Students at “Reaching” level know and use social English and technical academic language at grade level. Students are able to communicate in English similarly to their English-proficient peers. 

The ideas shared above help differentiate within the classroom for the proficiency levels sprinkled throughout classrooms. This is by no means an exhaustive list but mere suggestions to help assess English learners of all levels.  

With testing season upon us, we all reflect on the ways we can improve our own assessment practices. These examples are meant to help improve how ELs show comprehension without losing the integrity of the assessment. Language should not hold back students from demonstrating knowledge. Try adjusting your assessment to match your students’ proficiency level and see the difference in outcomes.

Looking for more? Katie Breitholtz recently joined us for Edulastic for ELA. Check out her tips and tricks for supporting ELLs in this snippet from this webinar.

Discover more ways you can use Edulastic to support ELLs