CommonLit Best Practices All the Ways CommonLit Supports English Language Learners

CommonLit’s free digital literacy program helps support English language Learners with digital accessibility tools, scaffolded reading comprehension, explicit vocabulary instruction, and more.

CommonLit’s free online digital literacy program makes it easy to support English Language Learners. Through inclusion and differentiation, both CommonLit’s library and our ELA curriculum are built to help ELL students excel.

Here are 5 ways you can support ELL students on CommonLit.

1. Leverage digital accessibility tools to support student understanding

CommonLit comes with a suite of supportive technology. Students can use the read aloud feature to listen to the text and assessment questions. This is an especially helpful strategy for English Language Learners, as well as students who struggle with fluency or decoding. Students can pause and restart the audio, repeat sections, and slow down the speaker's voice.

A translation feature is also available to students, providing on-click translation into over 30 languages, including Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu, Hindi, Vietnamese, and more. This tool can help students grow their English vocabulary and reading comprehension.

2. Turn on scaffolded reading questions to build student reading comprehension throughout a lesson

Library lessons come with the option to turn on Guided Reading Mode.  This feature scaffolds students’ reading by blurring out part of the text until students answer a basic reading comprehension question correctly. The questions do not impact the student’s grade on the assignment, but students receive feedback on their comprehension in real time.. Teachers can use Guided Reading Mode with the whole class or just with students who need additional comprehension support.

A screenshot of the scaffolded reading questions for "Fish Cheeks."

For our ELA curriculum, CommonLit 360, reading lessons also include a set of text-dependent  questions that help students build their comprehension as they read. These questions prompt students to go back to the text and find evidence, synthesize key paragraphs, and draw conclusions based on what they’ve read so far. These questions will help give teachers a “pulse check” of whether students are comprehending the text as they read.

3. Use our engaging discussion lessons to encourage student collaboration and focus on oral language

To help English Language Learners build confidence with language, they must feel supported by their learning environment. CommonLit’s library and 360 lessons are designed to get students talking. Lessons include many supportive materials and prompts to help teachers build a language-rich classroom environment with strong norms and routines for speaking and listening. Each library lesson comes with multiple discussion questions teachers can use to facilitate classroom debate.

In every 360 unit, students answer reading questions orally through “turn and talk” questions,  work collaboratively with partners to complete Related Media Explorations, and participate in classroom discussions. Students receive direct instruction in how to listen to their peers and respond in a productive way to move discourse forward. Discussion protocols for students allow them plenty of thinking and planning time to reflect on their own speaking and listening skills.

4. Utilize the CommonLit Español library and supplemental Spanish texts for CommonLit 360

Research tells us that background knowledge is key when it comes to building student reading comprehension. And with background knowledge, success begets success; the more you know, the easier it is to read, and as reading becomes easier, the more you’re able to learn.

For Spanish-speaking students, CommonLit provides a separate text library of over 800 authentic Spanish lessons. Many of these lessons are cross-listed in the English library, so teachers can assign the lesson in English, Spanish, or both. The texts, assessment and discussion questions, paired texts, and multimedia  are all in Spanish. Teachers can use these texts for small group instruction, remediation and reading intervention, extension activities, and more.

A screenshot of the Spanish library on CommonLit.

CommonLit 360 units also promote the development of background knowledge by providing a set of informational and literary texts. Every unit comes with a set of supplemental texts in both English and Spanish. These texts are connected to the unit’s themes and can be flexibly used to differentiate instruction.

5. Incorporate explicit vocabulary instruction in your classroom

Research shows that one of the most effective pedagogical strategies for English Language Learners is to develop their vocabularies. Explicit vocabulary instruction has been shown to have a positive effect.

In the CommonLit library, every lesson has a list of vocabulary words that students can reference as they read the text. To build upon that, each CommonLit 360 unit comes with a set of five vocabulary activities to help students learn 7-10 high-quality academic vocabulary words. These words are used in the unit’s texts, questions, and writing and discussion prompts. Students get multiple exposures to each word, and complete a short vocabulary quiz to assess word retention.

A screenshot of the vocabulary exercises from CommonLit 360.

Next Steps

If you are interested in learning more about how CommonLit’s digital program is built to support all learners, here are our recommended next steps: