Supporting English Learners

Like strategies for reading in the content area and Universal Design for Learning,  supporting English Learners (ELs) can benefit all students by using strategies to develop academic language.

Consider this statement: 

All teachers are language teachers.  Do you agree or disagree? 

Does your thinking shift when you consider that there are four domains that make up language: reading, listening, speaking and writing? 

Language is everywhere, in every content area and is an important part of student engagement in every class. The four language domains can be separated into two categories that sound very familiar to computer science educators - input (reading, listening) and output (speaking, writing). Our task as educators is to create input that is accessible and provide support and opportunities for meaningful output for all learners.

To get a sense for the English learner (EL) population in schools across the United States, let’s take a look at some demographic statistics:

The Four Language Domains

The four language domains- input: listening & reading, output: speaking & writing

Image source: Andrea Wilson Vazquez

We know there can be many barriers to English Learners’ participation in CS, and looking into the data for your state and school can be a helpful first step in starting the conversation. The following graphic comes from the 2020 State of CS report from and shows some states’ data comparing overall percent of ELs in their states vs. the % of ELs enrolled in CS courses. This is the first time this kind of data has been collected on a large scale. This data helps to demonstrate the urgent need for creating equitable and engaging computer science learning experiences for students from all linguistic and cultural backgrounds. 

Consider the following 5 strategies for creating a more EL inclusive CS program:

Language Development Overview:

Pause for a moment to consider all of the ways academic language is used in computer science. Also, consider that academic language support and development are necessary and helpful for English learners, as well as for any learner who may have less exposure to academic language. In fact, researcher Jeff Zwiers states that, “Academic language is often cited as one of the key factors affecting the “achievement gap” that exists between high- and low- performing students” (Zwiers, 2009).

Academic Language & Vocabulary

Academic language can be understood through a helpful analogy: brick and mortar terms (Zwiers, 2009).

Brick Terms:

Mortar Terms:

Supporting English Learners in CS

Watch the video to learn more about some strategies for supporting the academic language development of English learners, and more broadly, of all learners in your computer science courses.  (Slides)

Here’s a quick review of the EL support strategies presented in the video:

Reflection Activities

Part 1: Activity

Choose one lesson from Mobile CSP, CSAwesome, or another CS curriculum. Write down the content objective for the lesson, then consider what language functions students can use to show that they have mastered the content. Write at least 2 language objectives to go along with the content objective. (Jump to the content and language objective example in the video. )

Part 2: Reflection

Take a look at one lesson from Mobile CSP (or other CS course). Recall the academic language support strategies shared in this module related to input, output, structured collaboration, meta-analysis and culturally relevant pedagogy. 


Academic Language Development:

AP CSP Exam Taker Data:

Data on ELs in US Public Schools

EL Supports:

This content was created by Andrea Wilson Vazquez