Tips for Using Technology with ELL Students

Moira West


Larry Ferlazzo has spent 12 years teaching English and social studies to both native speakers and English language learners (ELL) at Luther Burbank High School. Before that, he worked another 19 years as a community organizer in areas with large immigrant populations. In both roles, he tries to help people by giving them the tools they need to achieve their goals.

Part of that desire to spread knowledge and empower the people around him led Larry to write for teachers as well. He’s been featured in the New York Times and writes a popular education blog. So when we looked for an ELL teacher to discuss the best way to incorporate technology into the ELL classroom, he was at the top of our list. Take a look at what he had to say:

How technology can help ELL students learn

Though Larry doesn’t use technology as much in his non-ELL classes, his classes for English language learners always integrate some form of technology. “There’s lots of research to show that technology can be very effective with English language learners in particular; it provides the audio/visual support for text, and certainly helps English language development.”

We asked him what he looks for when determining the best web tools for his ELL classes. He gave us five easy tips to help guide you:

Tips for finding tools for the ELL classroom

  • Make sure it’s relevant. “Technology is a tool,” Larry told us. He recommends deciding what you’re going to teach and then looking for a tool that will help you teach it rather than finding an interesting website and trying to shoehorn it into your curriculum.

  • Keep it simple. Choose tools that both you and your students can learn quickly. Tools like Animoto, which are intuitive for both teachers and students, save class time and make it easier to avoid confusion. “It’s just something that’s so quick and easy to use. Students love the way it looks, and they enjoy showing it to their friends and their family members.” For example, Larry used it in the video below to share a project his class did with the help one of the school’s art teachers:

  • Look for cheap or free options. Most teachers don’t need to be told, but inexpensive or free web tools not only take the stress off an educator’s pocketbook, but they also mean that students can practice English outside of school, even if money’s an issue. Larry likes ELL sites like Duolingo and Lingohut, which provide free help for non-native speakers.

  • Consider mobile options. Larry’s school has few technological resources beyond an outdated computer lab, and students often don’t have computers at home. However, many students have smartphones they can use to access web tools or do research, so Larry looks for tools they can use on mobile devices (like Animoto’s mobile app as well as on school computers.

  • Have students produce something. Students learn by doing, so Larry prefers web tools that let his English language learners actively participate. Whether they’re adding entries to the Simple English Wikipedia, writing blogs, or using web tools like Animoto, students can reinforce key concepts while creating content they can be proud of.

What web tools are you using in your ELL classroom? Let us know in the comments below.