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Tech Tools to Support English Learners’ Literacy and Language Development

By Katie Stover Kelly and Bobbi Siefert
 | Jun 02, 2017

From Pencils to PodcastsThe growing population of English learners (ELs) in U.S. schools has left teachers underprepared to effectively support their unique linguistic and academic needs. As noted in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) standards and Diane Staehr Fenner’s Advocating for English Learners, technology can provide meaningful adaptations to support content instruction and language development for ELs.

Tools such as infographics, digital word walls, and digital storytelling are all effective for building background, deepening understanding of language and content through multiple and varied interactions, and promoting collaboration and communication—all important indicators of ELs’ success in mainstream classrooms.

Infographics, or information graphics (visuals with text), can be created and used by both the teacher and students. The visual elements of infographics enable ELs to process information more easily and to better understand the content. Infographics also offer an effective format to communicate information in a variety of modalities. Examples of easy-to-use infographic makers include Smore,, and Piktochart

Digital word walls foster vocabulary acquisition and provide native language and visual support for ELs. Using sites such as PBWorks or Popplet, students can collaborate, connect, and share keywords and online references on a digital word wall. Students can also create graphic organizers that map root words and associated meanings, images, sentence examples, and more. The study of Greek and Latin roots is particularly useful for ELs, as a single root can often be applied to determine the meaning of multiple words.

Digital storytelling enhances second language acquisition through the integration of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Digital tools such as VoiceThread, Puppet Pals, and Book Creator allow students to create and share material using text, visual, and audio formats. One first-grade EL read and recorded his written page from a coauthored book using VoiceThread, and then listened to and rerecorded it multiple times to enhance his pronunciation.

ELs benefit from authentic literacy experiences and digital tools where they can collaborate and communicate with their peers while practicing essential language and literacy skills in both traditional and digital spaces. Meaningful uses of technology can help educators meet ELs’ individual proficiency levels, enhance language development and content area learning, and provide performance-based assessments. More information and examples of technology tools can be found in From Pencils to Podcasts: Digital Tools for Transforming K–6 Literacy Practices.

Katie Stover KellyKatie Stover Kelly is an associate professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, SC, and a coauthor of From Pencils to Podcasts: Digital Tools for Transforming K–6 Literacy Practices and Smuggling Writing: Strategies That Get Students to Write Every Day, in Every Content Area, Grades 3–12

Bobbi SiefertBobbi Siefert is an assistant professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, SC. 

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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