How do I adapt virtual learning content for my MLL students?

April 2, 2020

We see you.....

Regardless of your specific role, you are an educator committed to supporting your multilingual learners (MLLs) during this transition to virtual learning. Know that you are not alone!

Many of you have expressed how helpful it is to have a step-by-step process for adapting virtual learning content, such as the checklist developed by Teaching Matters ENL Team that outlines our five-step adaptation process. This post will focus on two high-priority areas of the checklist: Content Adaptations and Student Output Adaptations. New call-to-action

Content Adaptations

As you consider which content adaptations to make, keep in mind the difference between CALP and BICS. CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) is the language that students need to succeed in school. Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, or BICS, refers to social language that students acquire through daily interactions. Your students might communicate effectively with adults or peers in social settings but struggle when it comes to textbooks, tests, assignments, or class presentations.

Supporting academic language development during virtual learning is crucial. Previewing the text, teaching vocabulary and grammatical structures relevant to particular content areas ("greater than" and "less than" in math lessons), and showing how the targeted academic language is used will provide a leg up for MLLs.

As you plan, prioritize providing experiences for students to practice their English skills via all four language modalities: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Whenever possible, leverage a student's native language skills. A student’s native language(s) will most likely have a strong influence on how students learn English. Even if you don't know a student's native language, being aware of native language influence will support effective instruction. This influence can provide extra support (e.g., English and Spanish cognates such as education and educación).

Student Output Adaptations

What if the response format or independent practice calls for modification? Clarify by adding visual cues or examples, and provide response options (e.g., picture or audio response, student records video response through Flipgrid, and word banks or sentence stems to assist in completion of replies).

Give opportunities to work together online by assigning activities through Padlet or Answer Garden. Cooperative learning activities promote peer interaction which facilitates language learning.

Be aware of the affective filter by monitoring for anxiety during language learning. (To learn more about the affective filter, please watch the 20-minute video on our website: Language Acquisition Support Tutorial.) One approach: gamify it! This allows students to interact with materials in a natural and authentic way while learning English.

Also, it’s important to create balance between encouragement and error correction. Rather than correcting every aspect of students’ work, concentrate on 1-2 focus areas. Let students know ahead of time what you’ll be focusing on so that they can focus on those  concepts in the assignment.

Please stay in touch as you continue to do this work. We would love to hear from you and welcome the opportunity to support you. Contact us at:


Written by: TM ENL Team

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