Working With ELL Students

ELL students benefit from many Universal Design and accessibility principles along with other students when learning remotely. ELL students due to:

  • Heavy cognitive load with high language demands of reading and writing in online courses. This means more time needed to process written language in two or more languages (and then formulate thoughts/answers in two or more languages). It also means higher burnout or non-completion of tasks. Consider limiting amount of textual engagement and/or granting extended deadlines.
  • Lack of context cues, such as intonation, nonverbal expression, objects in the surroundings, and opportunities to ask questions. Many multilingual students have great skill in using multiple cues from face-to-face contexts in order to participate fully. In online courses, however, most of those cues (speech, nonverbal expression, objects, and even physical location) are removed. Captioning and recording PowerPoint, Teams, and Zoom videos for further review by ELL students is recommended. 
  • Reduced opportunities for developing the cultural capital necessary for academic risk-taking and support-seeking behaviors. This means they may be less likely to speak up on video meetings, participate fully in peer collaboration or evaluation, approach professors with questions or difficulties, etc.
  • Potential government monitoring of online activities and expression. Consider alternative critical assignments on a case-by-case basis if you feel a student may be uncomfortable engaging in the type of expression you require, particularly if they are located in China. 
  • Slower or unreliable internet connections, even if using VPNs. This may make synchronous participation difficult, as well as upload or download of large files.

(Adapted from publication by Gail Shuck, Boise State University English Language Support Program University and by Michelle Cox, Cornell Writing Institute.) 
If you’d like to check if a web page you’d like your students to access is blocked in China, use this simple copy & paste search engine
This Time Zone Map may also be helpful for considering all your students’ locations and time zones at once. 
If you would like to consult or ask additional questions, please contact Carla Reyes ( or Linda Weaver (