I have been teaching for 25 years and counting, with most of those years working with students with learning disabilities. For my students who are also officially classified as ELL, I found myself wondering where one diagnosis stops and the other one begins.

Receptive language problems mean someone finds verbal language problematic. A person who is learning a new language also finds verbal language in problematic, usually in that language.

Both groups tend to misinterpret verbal directions without a guide of some sort. Both groups find it quite difficult to make themselves understood to an audience. Both groups get confused by multistep directions, especially if only given verbally.

According to an article titled "Twelve Ways to Support English Learners in the Mainstream Classroom" by Jennifer Gonzales on Cult of Pedagogy, teachers with students who are learning a second language can do several things for those students:

1. Teachers can make the instructions visual. Her recommendation is to write them on the board.

Speaking for myself, I have one whiteboard in my room, and space is at a premium. I have created posters with graphics — whether a picture of the actual place or a student-drawn rendering — on the poster itself.

I’m working on coming up with a procedures flip-chart that I will do with the students for the first few weeks of school. For my non-writers or ELL students, the text will be provided, and they can glue it in place.

2. Teachers can allow students to work with a partner. Speaking in front of one person is more natural than speaking in front of up to three dozen.

3. Teachers can give sentence stems for responses. The teacher can post appropriate student examples, or they can pull appropriate examples off the internet.

4. Teachers can teach how to give a response using an acronym. Currently, our school is using the RACE acronym for responses: Restate the question, Answer the question, Cite your evidence, End or Explain.

Model doing that for your students, and show student work that exemplifies that practice as well.

I’ve taken several classes for English as a Second Language. After the first lecture in my first class, I started mentally substituting, "special education student" for "Second Language Learner." The techniques work for either group.

For those saying, "It’s too much work. I already have enough to do." I totally agree with you, but look at it this way.

The more ways you make your content accessible to your students, the higher your engagement. The higher the engagement, the fewer internal disruptions. The fewer internal disruptions, the more likely it is that you can cover what you need to do.

For those saying, "If I do this, I’m dumbing down my content." Notice that none of these suggestions said change the vocabulary that you are using to teach. It’s like riding a bicycle; after a child figures out they don’t need the training wheels any more, they bug you to take them off the bike.

Your students will get to the point that they will know whether their responses meet the RACE criteria.

They will know they can test out an answer with a partner if they need to do so. Students will get to a point where they don’t have to look at the written out instructions, or look at the procedures flip-chart to know what to do.