Free lesson plan strategies and resources for ELLs


Christie Lillard

Christie Lillard, an ESL teacher in New York City, presented some helpful lesson plan strategies and resources in September 2018 in an webinar entitled “Strategies for Lesson Planning and Instruction for English Language Learners.” The webinar was sponsored by Squiggle Park and hosted by’s “Helping ELL/ESL Students Succeed” community. Lillard’s slides, which include handouts, can be viewed here.

Explicit phonics instruction is a must, said Lillard. She suggested using interactive activities and games to help students. Here are some suggestions:

  • Squiggle Park phonics games for grades K-3
  • Dreamscape, a free multiplayer game for 3-6 graders made by the makers of Squiggle Park — it’s a free pilot program but requires sign-up by October 8.

Not mentioned by Lillard but also good resources are:

When first meeting a student, Lillard advised informally assessing a student’s vocabulary…for example, showing a “D is for dog” picture, then asking the student to point to a dog in another picture.

Lillard said predictability in the classroom is important. If the student can’t speak English, but can predict how the day will go, that’s a great help to the student. Routines of place, such as having reading in a circle on the floor, and math in small groups at a table, also help students decipher what is going on.

Classroom charts with visuals are important, said Lillard. She provided free downloadable examples in her presentation, which include:

  • A calendar showing the days of the week as well as the season and the weather for the day

    Classroom calendar with visuals

  • Classroom activities and their times

    Photos showing classroom activities and their times

  • A feelings chart with emojis or photos or students showing feelings
  • Visuals of common classroom objects, with words
  • Hand signals for classroom communication
  • Visuals of common needs and requests, with words, that students can point to in order to communicate
  • A personal word sheet with visuals that the student can keep at all times, and add to as needed.

Lillard stressed the importance of helping the students communicate their feelings and travel stories. Her presentation included story starters with visuals, for the child to communicate likes and dislikes, where they traveled from, and who is in their family.

Lillard also suggested materials with few words, such as:

She also recommended:

One last important note is that it is a good thing to support use of the native language at home, because studies show that having a strong command of one language helps students learn other languages. You can support this by sending home bilingual notes for the parents, and also by occasionally using the student’s native language.

A translation app that can help is Google Translate. Here is a blog which describes how to use it and provides access:


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