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ExC-ELL (Expediting Comprehension for English Language Learners)

ESL reading

How do English Learners learn best?  What instructional strategies are most effective for the English Language Learners?  According to Dr. Margarita Calderon’s research, the quality of the instruction may be more important than the language of the instruction when it comes to providing effective educational programs for ELLs.  Calderon defines high-quality instruction as strategic, systematic, and incrementally built on what students already know. She also says that making instruction explicit will boost English learner comprehension and participation in learning. Dr. Calderon developed the ExC-ELL program (Expediting Comprehension for English Language Learners) to provide teachers with the ten components essential for effective instruction.

ExC-ELL components

1. Backward planning. In backward planning, the first step is to identify the desired end result of instruction by selecting the essential standards that students need to learn to become proficient in the subject area. Next, identify what students should know, understand, and be able to do to demonstrate mastery, then determine which assessments will provide the best evidence of student proficiency. As a last step, plan learning experiences and instruction that will lead to student mastery. Click here to learn more about Understanding by Design and backward planning.

2. Parsing of text by teachers. Based on standards, select the most important content for the semester and break those larger pieces into weekly assignments. Condense and eliminate text that is extraneous to student understanding and focus instruction on what is most important for mastery of the topic.

Children_in_a_classroom3. Summarization. Write a summary or overview of the unit, lesson, or chapter, and share it with students. These summaries can take the form of an outline, thinking map, Cornell Notes, or written document. Use the summary to focus students on what is important to know, understand, and be able to do. Click here to review some summarization strategies.

4. Background building. Explore the depth and breadth of student understanding of and experience with a concept, then connect what they already know to what they will learn. Build background around unfamiliar concepts by using graphic organizers, films, and pictures.   While building background, focus on developing the academic vocabulary that’s essential for proficiency in the content area.

5. Review of previous lessons, concepts, and content. Review previously taught lessons and/or what students learned in other grades to form a bridge to new learning. Connecting new learning to previous knowledge will help students move new information into permanent memory.

6. Explicit instruction of vocabulary. Identify the Tier 1, 2, and 3 words in the lesson, then explicitly teach Tier 2 words. Quickly review important Tier 2 words daily throughout the week. Talk with students about which vocabulary strategies work and which should be revised in order to solidify their learning. Click here to access more information about Academic Vocabulary. 

7. Formulation of questions. Pose questions that focus students on what is important to know, do, and understand. Use questions to probe student knowledge and deepen understanding. Click here to access a Bloom’s Question Stems handout to encourage higher-order questioning.

8. Engagement with text. Use read-alouds to model comprehension strategies and thinking about a topic. Target a specific comprehension strategy in each lesson—for example, cause and effect, inference, comparing and contrasting, problem-solving, self-correction, summarizing, questioning, and forming hypotheses. Have students read with a partner to practice the strategies and expand comprehension. Debrief with students about the success of their learning.  Click here to access comprehension strategies.

9. Consolidation of knowledge and skills. Use instructional conversations, graphic organizers, team activities, writing tasks, and debriefing to solidify what students have learned.

lab10. Assessment. Use a variety of assessments—performance-based assessments, portfolios, traditional tests, quizzes, or compositions—that are keyed to the way students can best demonstrate new learning.

In order to help your students become successful in the classroom, Dr. Calderon states to begin with high-quality instruction.  She explains that teachers who provide lessons that are thoroughly planned and delivered with the goal of allowing the ELL students an opportunity to participate throughout the lesson will notice a higher rate of success with these students.

For more about ExC-ELL (Expediting Comprehension for English Language Learners), click on the links below.

Click here to learn more about how to teach reading to ELL students grades 6-12.

Click here for the powerpoint about the ExC-ELL program.



Calderón, M. (2011). Teaching reading and comprehension to English learners, K-5. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

About Tammy Brown

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