The Most Essential Tech Tools & Resources for Teachers of Bilingual & Multilingual Learners
Being a teacher of bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs, ESL, ELL students) can be pretty challenging, even organisations in the conventional classroom setup. When the world is quickly migrating into the digital world, it can even be more difficult to meet the demands of an online learning space for BMLs (also known as English Language Learners or ESL students).
And so, if you’re lost in translation when it comes to setting up your digital classroom in the best way possible, just know that there are so many invaluable tools and resources that can help you make the best of online learning or even just blended learning within a typical classroom setting. Some have premium fees, while others are entirely free. Regardless, all of these resources provide free insights and content to upgrade your teaching. At the end of the day, every classroom is unique to its teacher and their learners, so only you can decide what resources are best for your students.
To help you out, we’ve begun to develop a comprehensive list of tools and resources that we’ll keep updating. If you have any suggestions for us, please send us an email to add your recommendation to our list (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We know parents want to be on top of their child’s education. TalkingPoints makes two-way communication with families, who are multicultural or multilingual, faster and easier. Similar to Microsoft Translate, TalkingPoints immediately translates text messages (on web and mobile apps) written in another language to a language that is understood by the recipient. There are about 100 home languages available for translation. Unlike Microsoft Translate, however, this tool’s interface is specifically designed for educators to connect with families (some of whom may also be from low-income or under-resourced backgrounds). This is a great tool for communicating effectively with your BMLs’ parents. Plus, it’s always free for teachers.
Watch a one-minute video about Talking Points HERE.
Another platform that is designed to foster effective communication between teachers, students, and parents is Remind. In contrast to TalkingPoints, Remind allows teachers to communicate with families and students by scheduling class announcements, sending home updates and receiving ‘read receipts.’ The ‘preferred language translation’ option allows parents to receive messages in their home languages via translation. The free version of the platform gives access to basic messaging and team management, and the premium version gives more tools for smoother communication and language translation.
Plans available: https://www.remind.com/plans/
What is translation resources talk without Google Translate? Not only is Google Translate very accessible to all, but it’s also a pretty nifty, web-based app that automatically detects the language of unknown words and/or phrases that you would need to translate to English. Using Google Translate is definitely fitting for teachers across all levels. Even middle school to high school students may find it very useful when doing their English language tasks and homework.
Another translation platform that one can try is DeepL Translator. DeepL provides both the web-based and computer app versions and allows you to upload your document files (in .pdf and .pptx form) directly into the platform for translation. Reviews say that you get a more cohesive translation instead of just the word-for-word translation that usually comes from other platforms.
For group interactions, Microsoft Translator may also come in handy as another translator. It’s excellent for translations in real-time – a tremendous game-changer in breaking the language barrier when having multilingual students. As one speaks or writes, the other individual on the receiving end may read the message in English (or whatever their chosen language is) and see what was said or written in another language. The conversation can include 100 participants for up to 4 hours.
Classroom Games, Quizzes & Assessments
The traditional way of enforcing learning has been through flashcards, diagrams, study guides, and practice tests. Quizlet brings that online and offers quizzes that have helped numerous students prepare for homework and exams. Included in their language study sets are Spanish, French, and German. This tool is especially friendly for vocabulary study and voice recording. There are more topics to explore and choose from aside from language. Quizlet is a great resource to suggest to your students (or even for you to pick out an already-existing quiz to share with them).
If your school doesn’t have a paid subscription for any learning management system (LMS), you can always register your own Google Classroom. Google Classroom gives you the platform for posting learning materials, quizzes, and resources that easily integrate with everything Google and is fit for learners across all levels. If you want to explore what you can do with Classroom, you can check out this video by Pocketful of Primary.
Online teaching would inevitably include lesson videos, and lesson videos will always have the risk of being neglected and forgotten by your online learners. The solution? Track their progress and encourage them to finish watching the videos by locking them to your video page! At least this is the solution given to teachers only by Edpuzzle, an online platform where you could set up classes, upload videos, and provide check-up quizzes along the way. A unique feature of Edpuzzle is its ability to lock video viewers to the current tab they’re in and to add check-up quizzes as they go along your lesson video. Edpuzzle also allows you to see students’ progress by giving you a summary progress bar for your classes. While it can be used across grade levels, Edpuzzle might best fit middle school to high school learners who have already fostered a sense of independence in learning and would need little teacher guidance.
The British Council offers a lot of game-based activities for ‘ESL learners’ made for various levels. Board and card games that help students communicate in English while having fun with their classmates are available for free on the website. The majority of the games are suitable for younger learners, but the materials are easily adaptable for more advanced language lessons.
We educators have a game in mind with specific names, vocabulary, or phrases on our list. An easy way to make one is through Flippity, a website that conveniently turns contents from our Google Spreadsheets into a game. The site offers various games to choose from, such as classic flashcards, crossword puzzles, word searches, a matching game, or hangman. In addition to that, you can make quizzes where certificates are awarded in the end. It’s no surprise why teachers continue to love and suggest this resource.
If you’d like to do away with excel files and go straight to game-creation from your content, Wordwall may do that for you. In just a few minutes, one may create fully interactive activities. The students may access the designed activities through interactives that may be played on any web-enabled device or printables on paper or in .pdf format. They also have the feature of creating different game templates with the same content to reinforce a lesson. Themes are also available and customisable, which is a bonus.
These activities can be given as student assignments, shared with other teachers, the public, or kept private, while the results generated are system collected and tracked.
Fun activities such as Whack-a-mole, which are great for younger children in kindergarten, are available, while more well-known traditional games are also available.
Another game-based learning platform is Kahoot! Inside are pre-made games you can choose from, while you may also make your games, which they call “Kahoots” – best played in a group setting. They promote student-paced learning or independent study, which is great for distance and blended learning. Other teachers may also encourage the students to improve their leadership skills by making their games relevant to the lessons and sharing them with their classmates. The variety of already available content they have is massive, including collaborations from other organizations or companies like Disney, Khan Academy, Angry Birds, Time Magazine, National Geographic, Nature Lab, Drops, and many more.
Another classroom management resource is Classin. They’ve built this platform to help make better online experiences to result in better learning outcomes. The resource integrates online tools and services, such as putting live classes, group chats, cloud sharing, and assignments into one platform. A review from their site says: “The majority of the teachers found ClassIn to be the most effective at recreating the classroom experience and enhancing interaction between teachers and students.” Features in the platform include online homework correction, class discipline control, student attendance tracking, among many other tools. ClassIn has been well trusted by many organisations, including universities prone to high traffic (may even manage up to 600,000 students based on a testimonial on their site).
“Great teachers spend less time marking and more time teaching” is the tagline of YACAPACA. With the advantage of advanced technology today, teachers have saved more time checking student papers, which used to take up so much time. Again, this website is operated by teachers to create automated assessments for students. This tool is entirely web-based; thus, any computing device (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile phone) can run this.
Nearpod has premade courses partnered with educators’ favourite brands, including Quill, BBC, and Remind. You can use them as is or even customise them to fit the unique needs of your students. A great feature they have is uploading PowerPoints, Google Slides, and videos and then upgrading them with more interactive activities. You can start using Nearpod for free.
Here’s a comprehensive step-by-step list of how Nearpod works: Link.
Knowing what your students know and don’t know is also made easy by Naiku, meaning “teacher” in Lao. Personal assessment of each student becomes less of a challenge. Fast feedback is provided to students, while they may keep track of their confidence levels in answering questions and journal on what they do or don’t get right (or understand). This encourages student ownership and sharpens their thinking. The good thing about Naiku is that it is highly affordable and easy to adopt; hence it’s excellent for small schools and large districts alike. This platform may be accessed through any web-enabled device. It is teacher-friendly and student-centric.
Grammar & Vocabulary
Grammar and language technicalities are things that are always vital to language learning simply because they are the base upon which one builds further knowledge and communication skills in the target language. Grammarly is a nifty tool to have one’s grammar and sentence structure checked and revised. It has a Google Chrome extension and desktop and mobile apps, making it relatively easy to integrate with all of your devices. Grammarly is not only helpful for checking your grammar when preparing lessons, but it’s also invaluable when checking essays and other written activities across all levels.
vocabulary.com is a vocabulary development website where you and your students can sign up and create a learning space. The website features different questioning strategies that help with the memorisation of a word’s definition. A friendly explanation of what the word means is also given before playing in vocabulary.com, with a virtual version of the flashcards game for learners across levels.
BrainPOP is a popular educational resource that also offers a curriculum with a great emphasis on Grammar and Vocabulary at ‘BrainPOP ELL.’. It includes: movies, quizzes, and games to make learning more interactive, engaging, and motivating. Lessons available are for any age, whether in beginner, intermediate, or advanced level, but is most appropriate for upper-elementary and middle schools. However, all may benefit and find the helpful tool. To help an educator get started with BrainPOP, one may take a placement test found on their website. The program is not only well integrated with games and lessons but well-organized to help maintain attention. Thus, it is conducive as a tool to both educators and students alike.
Grammar improves writing. A fast and easy way to assess and improve your students’ sentence constructions is through Quill. Unlike the traditional pen and paper way of checking we once had, feedback is fast with Quill. Thus, the students can quickly self-diagnose and correct lapses in their writing and understanding of grammar concepts. This tool is a game-changer for the advancement of writing and grammar. The resource is free and available for elementary, middle, or high school levels.
The effectiveness of our students’ comprehension comes from the relativity of words they learn. Lexile Word Lists helps teachers know what vocabulary is most appropriate to their students or class according to their grade level. They provide a comprehensive, by-level word list tailored according to the academic concepts they are likely to encounter.
Others have recognised that adding words to their vocabulary can get tiresome through mere memorising. Students may have a distaste or lower motivation for learning complex language definitions which they may not necessarily understand. Infercabulary has addressed that concern by adopting a new approach to vocabulary instruction using semantic reasoning. Multiple images are used to illustrate a word that may be used in different contexts. The reviews on this platform are excellent. The tool is even said to have elicited higher-level thinking and improved motivation in student vocabulary-building. It’s also included in Google for Education as their build partner.
Literacy: Writing & Reading Comprehension
One of the main concerns teachers have is enabling their students to overcome the challenge of reading and writing alongside listening and speaking. A great way to help students hone their skills in these categories is to provide supplemental reading passages. CommonLit has garnered positive testimonials from teachers, directors, and students for their valuable resources and tracking system with stop and jot questions. The organisation advocates teachers using specific best practices for instruction, so; for that reason, their resources are flexible, research-based, and practical. The learning platform has been used in over 75,000 schools. CommonLit is mindful of students in the Title I category and students in Grade 3-12 level.
Another well-recommended resource by teachers to help students have better confidence in reading and writing is Read&Write, available for all devices using Google Chrome, Windows, or Mac. Its features include text-to-speech with natural voices to choose from, word prediction to develop writing skills, picture dictionaries to understand unfamiliar words, audio maker, and study highlighters. The variety of support for students is great for language learners (both ELL and ESL) for even those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia or visual impairments. The only free feature of Read&Write is Text-to-speech; however, K-12 teachers get a free premium subscription to this toolkit.
Great up-to-date, non-fiction yet high-interest, and in-depth articles accompanied by images and questions may be found in Newsela. Currently, the entire site is accessible in support of educators and students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The availability of texts offered is varied for five different Lexile levels. The topic diversity of resources found here would be a great supplement to the educational curriculum one is adapting; moreover, there are student assessment tools in the form of quizzes, annotations, or writing prompts for every article. Many teachers truly love Newsela.
Another similar platform for non-fiction reading is News-O-Matic (for K-8 classroom)
Project Gutenberg is a public domain resource that offers thousands and thousands of books, free for download. It gives you a wide array of English literary classics, a great way to start improving your vocabulary. Because many of these books are in the classics, they are most suitable for middle school to high school learners. * Please note there may be some copyright restrictions in different countries as their website states not all books have free copyright in each country.
Free Online Graded Readers offers one of the most extensive online libraries of graded e-books. Here, you can find plenty of ebooks in different digital formats: epub, fb2, Mobi, RTF, txt, as well as audiobooks in mp3 format. You can download the ebook of your choice, and if you sign up, you can read it online for free.
(Other similar websites as resources for audiobooks: ESL Audio Literacy Books, ELL Audio Books)
Another reading resource for online books, best for elementary students, is Unite for Literacy. Students also have the option to listen to the recorded reading of the book in both English and a different language. Their library includes topics on family, friends, health, math, plants and food, technology, zoos, aquariums, animals, people, community, and many more.
A great resource that provides free audiobooks and e-books is Epic, which has amassed several awards, such as Mom’s Choice Award 2014, Teacher’s Choice Award 2020, and Parent’s Choice Gold Award 2019, Best Educational App for Kids by Parents, and many more. Educators get more features for free and are enabled to have in-class integration, class rosters, assignment tracking and more. This digital library is excellent for kids in grades six and under. If you teach children in that age group, you wouldn’t want to miss out on using this resource.
Barriers to educational equity such as inadequate funding, access to the internet, lack of parental hands-on support, and demographic location shifting have been taken into consideration by Footsteps2brilliance. It is a literacy platform that hopes to build a “Model Innovation City”, a solution that allows one to scale educational apps to an entire city cost-effectively. The platform uses bilingual (English and Spanish) tools tapping into visual, tactile, and auditory techniques. It makes learning fun and exciting for young children from pre-kindergarten to 3rd grade. It’s great because it takes advantage of using technology made readily accessible with the devices parents already have.
While for the Spanish learners in Grades 3 through 8, trans-adapted lessons in Waggle may encourage their literature reading. Not only will English language arts and multilingual learners benefit from this, but also Maths learners. Students as young as kindergarten may already start using this platform as well. The techniques adopted are research-backed and use proven approaches to student growth. Their persistence is rewarded. This adds to the motivation of the students aside from the platform’s utilisation of gamification and personalisation. A self-guided demo is available for interested educators to see how this fits in their curriculum for BMLs (EAL, ELL, ESL, students).
Since now, we have been on our fingers typing more than we’ve ever had in our lifetime. You or your students may want to speed things up by upgrading your typing skills. TypingClub is an excellent Google for Education Partner that addresses this need. Besides English, they even have other language series in Spanish, French, and German. Their interface is seamless, and so are their explanations.
Conversation & Communication
Another way to assess your BMLs is through their conversations. A way to encourage them to start conversations is through Flipgrid. Community engagement and interaction may also be encouraged through this means as colleagues may view each others’ shared videos. The interface is simple, and best of all, free.
Being able to correctly pronounce words in English may boost our BMLs’ confidence in speaking. Listening comprehension may be improved through Languabooks. Listening to audio from native professional narrators with visualisation helps our students understand native speakers to learn better pronunciation and comprehension. Also, Languabooks provides visual feedback to a student regarding their speaking ability. Feedback is fast and appropriate. Thus, learning is accelerated. This tool incorporates the best speech recognition software available, which was originally developed for the US Military. It helps learners speak so they will be understood. It is available for kids and adult English learners as well.
A unique way to encourage students to communicate with your or their other peers is through Voxer. It is a walkie-talkie (push-to-talk) mobile app with live audio messaging. The app is available on iPhone, Android, or on the web. Features include secure real-time communication, voice-to-text transcription, and chats with up to 500 individuals or team contacts.
To quote from Peergrade’s site:
“Teachers may give good feedback, but sometimes students can give even more targeted and better feedback because they’re in the middle of the process as well.” – Jennifer Boyle
The great thing about Peergrade is that students can provide feedback to each other. This helps students to self-assess how to improve the quality of their own assignments through their peers’ insights which encourages students to sharpen thinking. It’s great for assignments that require writing, proofreading, and editing. The activity of giving feedback to each other makes learning together more memorable and dynamic for both the receiver and giver. Also, this saves educators a great deal of time.
Videos & Class Presentations
Asynchronous video communication has been the primary mode of sharing our ideas in this generation. Especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been truer than ever before. Programs have been built and designed by teams and programme developers to support educators, workers, and individuals to help convey their ideas and discourse efficiently, fast, free, and accessible.
Another simple way to record, edit, and share videos would be through Screencastify, which is the acclaimed #1 screen recorder for Chrome. It is a free extension to be added to one’s Google chrome browser to record at ease. One review even writes how it is the best flip class tool she has seen in her life. Sharing videos on Google Drive or Youtube is easy with this extension, and that’s why many people love it for its convenience, practicality, simplicity, and efficiency.
A way to up your Google Slides game is the integration of Peardeck. It helps you create engaging instructional content, “effortlessly”. In the slides, teachers may provide formative assessments and interactive questions to know the status of each student. It helps teachers know who needs more help and those who do grasp the concepts discussed. With a premium subscription, teachers may even do more such as inviting other educators to their dashboard, leave feedback for students, and add audio to slides.
StoryboardThat is also another resource that enables the easy creation of visuals, especially for sequencing, brainstorming and timelines. Integration of scenes, characters, infographics becomes easy since they have well-thought graphics to choose from. These visuals or storyboards may help simplify class lessons. There is also pre-made content designed for 21st-century students- to explore. Through this, visual communication is made even more accessible.
Sometimes, our students may want to enhance their learning by other means other than the primary resources we give them. Khan Academy is an incredibly great non-profit providing free, world-class education. Topics are well explained through videos. In addition, exercises to reinforce their learning are provided at the end of the videos. It has been well trusted by students and teachers in primary/elementary (starting from Grade 1) even up to college-aged.
Since Shakespeare has been widely regarded as the greatest or most influential writer and dramatist in literature history, his works are continually studied year-to-year. The themes within his plays have been timeless. MyShakespeare offers “rich, full-text editions of Shakespeare’s plays” and includes interactive learning tools such as simplification of difficult words, recorded audio, videos, and a scene summary. This comprehensive platform should be a great resource for educators who teach Shakespeare.
Teacher Testimonials: https://myshakespeare.com/teacher-testimonials
Math is a universal language. It remains the same regardless of what culture, race, or educational discipline. Mathigon is a “Textbook of the Future” that provides interactive, visual, and personalised conceptual activities. This is perfect for Grade 6 -12 students as they have many tools to help support them in their understanding of complex concepts and problems. This is especially powerful for BMLs since it makes everything understandable through visuals and vocabulary support.
Another math program available for PreK-8 is ST Math, which helps students understand mathematical concepts regardless of their skill level or language ability. It teaches students by helping them to move from concrete to abstract thinking using the brain’s innate spatial-temporal reasoning ability. The focus is on mastery learning, whereby students move from one level to another. The use of ST Math has been repeatedly shown to double or triple student growth in math proficiency. It has gained numerous awards and recognitions and is proof that this approach is a game-changer for teaching math.
Back in the day, going on a field trip was such an exciting experience to look forward to. Today, with the onset of the pandemic, which includes many restrictions, these kinds of trips may be difficult to impossible. To add to that, if you have students living in various places around the world, shared experiences can be impossible. Museums have always been a great way of immersing people in an experience of culture, history, and art. It’s amazing that we can now take our students to explore the best museums from around the world, virtually, from the comfort of our homes. Virtual Museum includes access to: British Museum in London, Guggenheim Museum in New York, National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Musée d’Orsay in Paris, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Uffizi Gallery in Florence, MASP in São Paulo, and National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
As a teacher, it’s crucial that we keep our lessons, assessments, and other plans in place. Every teacher almost always has their own note-taking app, and then perhaps a couple of other staple apps along the way (like spreadsheets and word documents) to keep track of everything from lessons to personal matters. The great thing about Notion is that it offers you all these features in one solid platform. Notion is an all-in-one workspace for notes, databases, kanban boards, etc. The best thing? It offers a free personal pro plan if you sign up with your .edu emails.
Canva is a graphic design platform used by many startup businesses to create engaging social media graphics, but it’s also a beneficial tool even for teachers. It offers rich resources for design elements that you can use when making your visual aids. You can also do this by starting from their library of templates for whatever output you might need—from slides to infographic posters and even videos. Canva offers a free-for-life Canva for Education account that gives you pro features and other exclusive content for free if you sign up with your school email.
Whether you fall into the category of “more often than not” or the ‘every once in a while’ category regarding your use of photos and videos, Mixkit is a go-to for stock or royalty-free video clips, music, sound effects, and video templates. The available resources have been well-curated by Envato, a leading company catering for creatives.
(Another stock-free resource for photos: Unsplash)
As teachers, we’re always called to up our game, and we’re constantly challenged to come up with new strategies and approaches to understand and teach our learners better. With the rise of digital learning, it’s only about time that we also start building our pool of online resources that won’t just help our learners but would also help us to enter our classrooms–virtual or not–every day a bit more empowered with knowledge and tools than yesterday.