2nd Grade ESL Teaching – Helpful Guide and Resources

In this article:

2nd Grade Foundations for ELLs

Before we get to the specific standards for grade 2 students, it is helpful to recognize that grade 2 standards require certain basic skills that not all English learners necessarily possess.

Here are a few foundations that students will need to work on simultaneously if they haven’t achieved them yet.

Reading Speed – 60 Words a Minute


Can a student read at or over 60 words a minute after subtracting mistakes?

  • If students are reading slower than 60 w/m, they will likely struggle with the length, vocabulary, and complexities of more difficult second grade texts.
  • If a student is reading 2nd grade texts at over 60 words a minute, it is probably not a phonics issues and the student probably just needs to read more.
  • If they are reading fewer than 60 words a minute and/or making lots of mistakes, there are probably phonics issues as well and a good phonics assessment can help you decide what phonics will have the biggest impact on a student’s reading. 

Speaking – Present & Past Simple, Linking Words


Can a student speak in full, coherent sentences?

  • Students tend to write how they speak. If they cannot put together a full, coherent sentence in speech, they are far less likely to be able to do so in writing.
  • In the second grade, students will need to be able to use sentence structures such as Present Simple or Past Simple as well as linking words such as “because” or “so” to provide detail or clarification. (Based on SL 2.6, L 2.1. L 2.1 provides more specifics for Grade 2).
  • Students should be able to speak in complete, coherent sentences using the above grammar patterns.  (SL 2.6, L 2.1)
  • If students struggle to create sentences such as these, you will likely want to start most of your practices with a lot of speaking exercises, getting students saying what they are going to write before you have them attempt to put pencil to paper.         

Vocabulary Knowledge


Relevant Vocabulary and Background Knowledge (L 2.4, 2.5) 

  • Students need to understand nuances and meanings of words based on context clues, prefixes, suffixes, and root words.
  • These standards can be challenging for native speakers.
  • For ELs, they can be daunting.
  • Telling ELs what words mean is not enough. They need to use words a lot, both everyday and academic words, hearing them, speaking them, reading them, and writing them, preferably in that order.
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2nd Grade Standards

I have tried to group similar standards together where possible. I have also separated out those standards that can be practiced alongside most any other standard. My goal is to focus our attention on what is going to get us the most “bang for our buck” so to speak.

2nd Grade Reading and Speaking Standards for MLLs

Asking and Answering Questions (RL 2.1, RL 2.7, RI 2.1)


  • I can ask and answer questions about literary and informational texts, utilizing both the text and images.
  • 5W & 1H Graphic Organizer (that Supports Textual Evidence), Cluster Map for Key Details

Things to keep in mind: 

  • Students should be identify who pronouns are referring to.
  • “Who” in informational texts can include inanimate objects that are the subjects of sentences (i.e. Rocks come in all shapes and sizes.)
  • “Where” can include circumstances (i.e. on vacation)
  • “What” questions are about events in a story and usually answered with verbs.
  • “Why” and “How” may require some inference if not explicitly stated. “Why” usually involves cause & effect. “How” usually involves a sequence of events leading to the main event and can be answered using the What, Where, and When.

Recounting Stories (RL 2.2, RL 2.5, SL 2.4)


  •  I can recount a story, describe its overall structure, & identify its central message.
  • Story Map/Timeline Graphic Organizer

Things to keep in mind:

  • Start by having students listen to a story and recount key details with a partner or in a small group.
  • Students should be able to recount the story using full sentences with verbs, adjectives and transition words. 
  • The abstract nouns and phrasing of the moral or lesson of a story is much harder than the retelling of the story. You can provide students with a bank of morals or lessons to choose from.

Characters’ Points of View and Responses (RL 2.3, RL 2.6)


  •  I can describe characters’ traits, motivations and feeliI can identify characters’ different points of view and describe how they respond to challenges
  • Character Traits Graphic Organizer

Things to keep in mind:

  • Students will need to use words like but, like, same to compare different points of view.
  • Students will likely need a word bank of character traits, motivations, and feelings as well as sentence stems for how a character’s actions affect the story
  • Students need to distinguish their own thoughts and feelings from those of the characters and the author.

Main Topic and Purpose (RI 2.2, RI 2.6, RI 2.8, SL 2.2)


  • I can identify the main idea of a text and explaiI can identify the main topic of a text, supporting details and reasons, and the author’s main purpose for writing a text.
  • Main Idea and Details Graphic Organizer

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Start by having students listen to a text and use sentence stems to discuss key ideas or details with a partner or in a small group.
  • Students can often identify the main topic by looking for words that repeat a lot.
  • You can provide students with a selection of possible purposes for them to choose from–a Purpose Bank so to speak.

Identifying Supporting Reasons (RI 2.8)


  • I can describe the sequence of historical events, scientifiI can identify the reasons an author provides for making a particular point.
  • Flow Chart or Cluster Map Graphic Organizer

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Students will need to recognize time words that show the order of events. It may be helpful to have students underline or highlight sequence words as well as cause & effect words in a text.
  • They will need practice with comparison words like, as, similar to, etc to help them make comparisons.

Connections Between Events, Ideas, or Steps (RI 2.3)


  • II can identify connections between historical events, scientific ideas, or steps in a process.
  • Cause & Effect Graphic Organizer

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Sequence words (Before, Long Ago, Currently) and Cause and Effect Words (Because, Since, S0)
  • It may be helpful to have students underline or highlight sequence words as well as cause & effect words. 

Compare or Contrast 2 Texts (RL 2.9, RI 2.9)


  •  I can identify the similarities and differences between 2 similar stories or texts
  • Venn Diagram Graphic Organizer

Things to keep in mind:

  • Vocabulary: Same, Similar, Different, Both, Because, So
  • Students will need sentence stems to communicate the similarities and differences between two stories or texts. The stories are the same because they both________. The stories are different in that they __________.

2nd Grade Writing Standards for MLLs

Writing Opinion Pieces (W 2.1, 2.5, 2.6)


  • I can write my opinion about a book or topic with reasons to support it, and, with the help of my teacher and peers, revise to strengthen my writing.
  • Opinion & Reasons Web Graphic Organizer

Things to keep in mind:

  • Linking Words: Because, So, That Is Why
  • Beginner and low-intermediate students may need sentence stems for the different parts of their paragraph or essay. For example:  _______ was a great book. I liked _______. I didn’t like _________. In conclusion, __________.
  • Students may need some review of the tense you want them to use in their writing (i.e. Present Simple, Past Simple, etc.).
  • You can provide students with digital tools to work collaboratively to publish their writing.

Writing to Inform Or Explain (W 2.2, 2.5, 2.7, 2.8)


  • I can research and write to informI can write to inform or explain a topic using facts and definitions, and, with the help of my teacher and peers, revise to strengthen my writing.
  • Main Ideas and Details Web Graphic Organizer

Things to keep in mind:

  • Important Words to Know: Facts, Definitions, Key Points
  • You can get students researching a topic together. 
  • Beginner and low-intermediate students may need sentence stems for the different parts of their paragraph or essay. 
  • Students may need some review of the tense you want them to use in their writing (i.e. Present Simple, Past Simple, etc.).
  • You can provide students with digital tools to work collaboratively to publish their writing.

Writing Narratives (W 2.3, 2.5, 2.7, 2.8)


  • I can write a story including dialogue, actions, thoughts, feelings, temporal words and closure. Also, with the help of my teacher and peers, I can revise to strengthen my writing.
  • Story Map Graphic Organizer

Things to keep in mind:

  • Sequence Words (First, Then, Next) and Closing Sentence Stem (In the End…)
  • English Learners will likely struggle with writing dialogue. You may want to have them develop some dialogue after they have finished writing their story and then inject it in, so that you can make the process more manageable.
  • Students may need some review of the tense you want them to use in their writing (i.e. Present Simple, Past Simple, etc.).
  • You can provide students with digital tools to work collaboratively to publish their writing.

2nd Grade Various Standards for MLLs

You can bundle the objectives below with many or all of the objectives above rather than take time to deal with them separately.

The Meanings of Words and Phrases (RI 2.4, RL 2.4)


  • I can determine the meanings of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text.
  • Matching Words & Images

Things to keep in mind:

  • Pre-teach vocabulary and provide a word bank relevant to a task for beginners and low-intermediate students. For intermediate to upper-intermediate provide a word bank.
  • Students cannot understand a word from context if they cannot understand the context either. Natalie Wexler’s book The Knowledge Gap is particularly instructive when it comes to reading comprehension. Background knowledge seriously impacts comprehension. You can build background knowledge by reading to students on a topic, teaching them directly about it and practicing relevant vocabulary before having students read texts themselves on that topic.

Discussions (SL 2.1, 2.3)


  • I can engage in a one-on-one, group and teacher-led discussions, building on others’ ideas and expressing my own ideas clearly.
  • Ideas Web Graphic Organizer

Things to Keep in Mind:

Providing students with sentence frames they can use to participate and practicing good examples of sentences using those sentence frames will help build the confidence and fluency students need to be able to use it when they need it.

Audio Recordings, Drawings & Other Visuals (SL 2.5)


  • I can create audio recordings of stories or poems read fluidly and at an understandable pace. I can also add visual displays to enhance or emphasize certain details or facts.
  • Cause & Effect Graphic Organizer

Things to Keep in Mind:

There are so many tools that students can use to record, draw or create other types of visuals. This is a great add-on to any of the above standards as a final display of what a student has learned.

Differentiating for Grade 2 English Language Learners

 

Beginner/Entering MLLs:


  • Vocabulary: Pre-teach vocabulary and provide a word bank.
  • Read (& Listen): Provide graphic organizers partly filled in. Consider having them listen and discuss before reading.
  • Speak: Provide sentence stems and lots of examples. 
  • Write: Use Substitution and Reading Clozes.

Low-Intermediate/Emerging MLLs:


  • Vocabulary: Pre-teach or brainstorm together words they will need in a word bank.
  • Listen & Read: Provide an empty graphic organizer. You can observe how they do without pre-filling anything.
  • Speak & Write: Provide sentence stems for speaking and see if they can go without full examples.
  • Write: Students can use their filled-in graphic organizers and some sentence frames to write 2-3 paragraphs.

Intermediate/Developing MLLs:


  1. Vocabulary: You can try PWIM and word banks. 
  2. Listen & Read: Use empty graphic organizers.
  3. Speak & Write: Provide prompts and sentence stems with more academic language.
  4. Write: Develop a short essay based on the graphic organizers.

*This post has been developed based on the following resources: WIDA Can-D0 DescriptorsCommon Core ELA Standards and New Language Arts Progressions (NLAP)

Activities and Strategies

Click below to find lots of activity ideas that you can use with your English learners to both engage them and help them access grade-level content.

2rd Grade ESL – Materials & Resources

Here are some really helpful resources

  • New Language Arts Progressions (NLAP) – This is a set of pdfs that give solid tips for what to expect from and how to assist students at each English level and grade level. Even though it is not organized in the most convenient way, I have found this resource particularly helpful.
  • Sheltering Instruction in the Content Areas – This is a helpful post by Valentina Gonzales with downloadable pdfs on sheltering content in Social Studies, Math, Reading and Writing.
  • ESL Teaching Methods from the Masters – This is a set of articles on leading professionals in the field of English Language Teaching. You’ll find links to their blogs, resources and social media pages. I have personally been in touch with each of them and they are caring, approachable people to whom I owe a debt of gratitude.
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