In my last post, I shared the success stories of two of my multilingual learners. I told you I used strategies, but I didn’t share which ones.


I thought when I got my first language development specialist credential, I had adequately prepared myself to provide quality instruction to my multilingual learners.


I was wrong.


When I got my cross-cultural language acquisition and development credential, I just knew that was the ticket!




So, I dove in again and got a bilingual credential. Certainly, being able to read and write and have a greater depth of understanding of Spanish – the primary language of the majority of my multilingual learners – was the missing piece.


Wrong again.


It took years, years of continuing education, of trial and error, of research and practice. YOU shouldn’t have to work that hard. Your learners need you to become an expert, like… now!


In this post, I’ll provide you with five strategies you can use in your classroom today. You’ll find these strategies embedded in the instruction for emergent bilingual learners in Connections: English Language Arts. You’ll find many more in my upcoming book, Equitable Classroom Practices for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners.


  1. Frontloading - Before you begin any lesson, teach critical vocabulary. Don’t restrict “critical vocabulary” to the words listed as “vocabulary” in the lesson. Think about your multilingual learners. What other words, places, or concepts appear in the literature or lesson that may be foreign to them?


  1. Total Physical Response (TPR) - In ELA and content area instruction, TPR is a valuable strategy, especially for learners who are kinesthetic or at lower levels of language proficiency. With TPR, you use your body to teach, and learners use theirs to demonstrate their learning. Think miming, sign language, and other simple movements that connect concepts to motion. Use TPR as you frontload.


  1. Chunking – With chunking, you break information into smaller parts or “chunks.” Think about the lesson vocabulary you identify for frontloading. How can you group those words into meaningful groups? Then, present the words one group at a time. If you’re working on a specific theme across multiple weeks, plan your groups for the entire theme. As you introduce new concepts in future lessons, they’ll have some schema to attach the new learning to.


  1. Interactive Notebooks – Whether frontloading, using TPR, chunking, or any other strategy, interactive journals provide learners a place to write, draw, and doodle in their primary language, English, or texting code where they can return day after day to deepen their learning through reflection, analysis, and incremental additions to the content. Learners should have entries for lesson vocabulary that may include key terms and definitions as well as lecture, discussion, and literature response notes – leaving the margins clear for interactive feedback. Allow space for gluing in foldables or graphic organizers from your Connections Literature Emergent Bilingual Resource


  1. Routine and Consistency – This may seem strange here, but learners – especially those still learning the language and culture of your school – benefit from routines and consistency. Have an established routine and stick to it. Maybe each day begins with pulling out their interactive notebooks and doing a quick write (or quick sketch) of a vocabulary concept they’ve made a connection to outside of the classroom. Maybe they exchange notebooks with a partner and provide commentary in their partner’s notebook – making a connection to something their partner has written. Starting or ending each lesson with the same activity serves as a mental bookmark.


Remember, building vocabulary is not about memorizing the definitions of 20 words each week. For learners to build their lexicons, to develop the ability to analyze, synthesize, or evaluate based on their understanding of a concept, they must have at least 36 meaningful interactions with that word or concept.


While multilingual learners greatly benefit from these strategies, remember:


There are multilingual learners whose primary language is English, just not the English of the classroom.


Use these strategies with all learners. Make them a part of your instructional repertoire.


Dr. Almitra L. Berry is an educational consultant, author, and podcaster. She is the emergent bilingual consultant for Connections: English Language Arts. Dr. Berry extensively covers multilingual learners in her book Effecting Change for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners and several  Educational Equity Emancipation podcast episodes.