Appealing to ALL Learners: Lessons in Teaching English Language Learners

When asked for resources that appeal to minority males, I can go by what I know. Prior to my new position, I spent 12 years teaching English Language Learners, primarily Latino, more specifically a Mexican majority. It is my deepest belief, however, that well designed learning opportunities can engage all learners even the most reluctant ones. There should be a focus on classroom culture, authenticity, and differentiation to address individual needs.

That being said, what has been successful to my Latino students is the following. Some of these resources fuel my own learning to better understand my students. Some of these resources are accessible texts that inspire further discussion of global challenges. And others of these resources are crucial in my personal learning networks that keep me focused and innovative and responsive in my teaching.


Supplementing with graphic novels, simplified texts, translations, and media support. It is crucial to offer texts that so many other people have had access to and make reference to repeatedly. Some of these are written or translated into archaic language that may confuse or frustrate native English speakers. Imagine what these texts do to learners who may speak English but may not be academically literate. These texts are important, however, and are studied time and time again because of the universal themes that prove true across boundaries. Simplified texts written in more contemporary English or graphic novels or even translated texts in a learner’s home language gives access to this type of content. Allowing excerpts of films can also help. But, I do have to say this. I let my learners struggle with a difficult text. I think it is important to give them opportunities for multiple readings, deep discussions to uncover and construct meaning with others. If a text is too easy, these types of rich learning experiences simply do not happen.


Including Latino and Latino-American writers in curriculum. One of the biggest complaints of English Language Arts curriculum is that we only study texts written by “dead white guys”. Discussing that perception, analyzing its validity is a lesson in itself, but it is important to have role models from a variety of cultures across content areas. I am not saying to include these texts during Hispanic Culture or African American History month. I am suggesting that fine examples of multiple genres written by diverse authors should be a goal in every classroom. It’s not just about being multi-cultural. It’s about being a global citizen, someone well versed in the talents and cultures of the multiples of peoples we interact with every day.


Connect to popular culture. Here is one of my favorite finds of the year. I was introduced to World Champion Slam Poet Joaquin Zihuatanejo by a colleague, and WOW. His commitment to writing, developing literacy in urban youth, his dedication to share his culture through poetry and performance. Wow! And ask learners. He motivates them. He encourages writers to seek their voice and write and perform and share. And you know what? He works with student poets! He offers slam poetry workshops on Saturdays. Just watch 19 Mexicans. It is beyond difficult to keep yourself from having an emotional response. This is the type of media, writing, spoken word that resonates with not only Latino males but all learners.


Find networks that support your work. The National Writing Project advocates for quality literacy education for all learners and educators of all learners. There is an English Language Learner network that has informed my practice, but the Culturally Mediated Writing Instruction (CMWI) group out of the North Star of Texas Writing Project has been pivotal in my teaching. CMWI takes an inquiry stance and studies what works and doesn’t work in actual classroom across the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. Its work reminds us to mediate instruction in order to connect, engage, and empower learners. We are reminded to question, iterate, assess, and respond to learners’ needs. Above are two resources we used for book talks. We study meaningful theory and texts that drive powerful, transformative discussions. All in the spirit of serving our learners.

And, yes, there is more to say because there is more to learn. And perhaps, that is the best way to “end” this post by the gentle reminder of: Continue to learn. Continue to challenge. Step out of your comfort zone.

If there’s one thing I know, my Latino male students did all of this every day they stepped in the classroom. It’s only fair I do the same.



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