English Language Learners: Supporting Grammar During Literacy Intervention

If you have been following my recent posts you know that I have been doing a lot of learning about how to best work with English Language Learners (ELLs) during their literacy intervention time. Here are the links to my previous posts.

Supporting the Literacy Needs of English Language Learners

English Language Learners: Supporting Comprehension During Literacy Intervention

In this post, I will get into more detail about how we can support grammar during our lessons. I think that it is beneficial to learn a bit about the student’s native language as it can help us to think deeper about what aspects of English grammar will be challenging for ELLs when reading.

Adding Word Endings

Learning how to conjugate verbs and learning irregular verbs poses many challenges for ELLs. The more that the native language structure differs from English the more challenging it will be to pick up on the grammar.

For example, it makes sense that a Spanish speaker might find making plurals by adding “s” to the end of a word less challenging than a Korean speaker. In Spanish “s” is used to create the plural form of some words while in the Korean language “s” is not used to form plural words. Although there is a way to form plurals because Korean is a contextual language there is generally not a grammatical distinction between the plural and singular form. The listener knows whether or not the word is plural from the context of the sentence. With this in mind, it is understandable that students whose first language is Korean may find it quite challenging to create the plural form of a word by adding /s/ to the end of words.

When it comes to word endings ELLs will need to be able to use more than just visual information. They will need a lot of exposure in order to be able to distinguish what sounds right to use.

Using Articles and Prepositions

Articles (a/an, the) and prepositions (words that indicate locations) are also difficult for ELLs because it can be confusing to know which to use for particular situations. Here is an example using the words “in” and “on”. In English, we would say “I am in a car.” If we heard somebody say “I am on a car.” it would sound a little strange and maybe even a little alarming. Yet, it sounds okay to say “I am on a bus.” Why we use one word over the other can seem arbitrary.

Using these same examples, in Spanish “in” and “on” can both be communicated by one word “en”. In Korean, there are position words that often have the particle 에 or 에서 attached to the end to designate a location.

These subtle nuances in how we use position words can be difficult for ELLS to distinguish between.

In regards to using articles, Spanish speakers may find it easier to use words such as “a” and “the” because they also use articles such as un/una (a), el/la (the) in Spanish. There is not an equivalent in the Korean language.

Notice What is Under Control

It is helpful to pay close attention to the oral language that our ELLs have under control. This will allow us to make better decisions about which books to pick for instruction.

Support before reading

When planning the introduction for the book look for any unfamiliar book language that might interfere with the reading process if left unaddressed.

“Once upon a time…”

“Day after day…”

“Away he goes.”

The child will only be able to monitor and self-correct their reading using syntax if they can determine what does and does not sound right. The best way to sort out these confusions is by providing students with a lot of opportunities to interact with native English speakers so that they are able to hear how these words are used in context. During the book introduction plan for the students to hear unfamiliar language structures over and over again. Have them practice saying it with you.

Support during reading

If an error is language-related due to the language structure, the teacher might model, “We say it this way in English.” If there is evidence that the child is familiar with the structure, the teacher might offer two alternatives and ask the student which sounds better. Of course, it is not helpful to ask if something sounds right if the child is unfamiliar with the structure.

The teacher should think carefully about interrupting students while they are reading in order to correct grammatical errors. If the error is greatly impacting meaning it may be helpful to give the support at the end of the page/paragraph. If the student is still carrying the meaning of the story the teacher may want to wait until the child has finished reading the book.

Support after reading

Discussions after the reading of the text are great opportunities for teachers and peers to provide models of appropriate grammar through meaningful conversations. We lift the complexity of our students’ language by asking questions that expand on ELLs’ known language structures. We can also help our ELLs to become more flexible with language by teaching them that there are different ways of saying the same thing.

In Summary

Learning the grammar of a new language can be quite challenging especially the more the student’s native language differs from the new language. Having a basic understanding of a student’s native language can help teachers to better plan for what might be challenging for a student. ELLs need to hear sentence structures over and over again to take them on. Planning for opportunities to talk and write about books and to read books with natural sounding language helps our students to expand on their grammar knowledge.



Briceño, Alison and Klein, Adria F. “Making Instructional Decisions:  Deepening Our Understanding of English Language Learners’ Processing in Reading.”  Journal of Reading Recovery.  Fall 2016: pages 55-64.  Print.

Fountas, Irene C. and Pinnell, Gay Su. When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2009. Print.

One thought on “English Language Learners: Supporting Grammar During Literacy Intervention

  1. This would have been very helpful in my volunteer work with Basic ESL learners, but, alas, the program is in limbo. Our contract with the school district that provides the place for our courses, lessons, and activities is up, and may not be renewed.
    I may have to find similar “work” in a nearby town.

    Liked by 1 person

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