Supporting English Learners in the Middle: Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Practices to Support Student Identity Development and Sense of Belonging

The English Learner (EL) population in the United States has increased by 8.1 percent between 2000 and 2017, with an increase in percentage in all but seven states and the District of Columbia (U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2020). For the purposes of this summary, EL will be used because of it is the commonly accepted term of the U.S. Department of Education, while other terms such as emergent bilinguals or multilingual learners are emerging in the literature. In addition, this summary focuses on students learning English which may be a second language, or could be a fourth or even fifth language, but what they share is that they are currently learning English as a new language. Ten states have an EL population of 10% or higher. Approximately 8.6% of 6th grade students and 7% of 8th grade students in the United States were English Learners as of the fall of 2017, with a larger percentage being represented in urban than rural areas (NCES, 2020). With rapidly increasing numbers of ELs throughout the United States, it has never been more important to ensure that their needs are being met not just academically, but specifically their multiple and intersecting identities and their sense of belonging, especially in a time so pivotal as that of young adolescence when “students often seek to find their individuality, uniqueness, and autonomy” yet also crave peer acceptance and a sense of belonging (Bishop & Harrison, 2020, p. 63). Additionally, they may start to identify themselves in different ways based on context, but also begin to become more aware of their “social identities such as race, gender, social class, religion, sexuality, and immigration status” (Bishop & Harrison, 2020, p. 63). ELs have to navigate their developing intersecting identities along with their multiple and intersecting social identities necessitating additional social-emotional supports in order for them to be academically successful (Yoon & Uliassi, 2019). For the purposes of this discussion, we will conceptualize identity as not a simple construct, but rather one that is multifaceted and often contextual. Specifically, we will use Yoon’s (2010a) definition of identity as follows: “the multiple and shifting presentations of self that are demonstrated through actions and emotions” (p. 20). The following sections of the article review describe research-based approaches to address the identity needs and supports to develop a sense of belonging for the growing population of ELs in connection to best practices identified in The Successful Middle School: This We Believe ([TWB], Bishop & Harrison, 2020).

Overview and Connections to The Successful Middle School: This We Believe

In order for the identity development and belonging needs of ELs to be met, many practices identified in the Association for Middle Level Education’s position statement in TWB (Bishop & Harrison, 2020) need to be ensured including the following:

Educators respect and value young adolescents.

  • “Effective middle school educators engage in developmentally responsive practices that also respond to young adolescents’ multiple identities. While age represents an important shared identity across middle schoolers, other social identities such as race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, dis/ability, and religion equally contribute to who young adolescents are and to their experiences in and outside of school. Middle grades educators who value young adolescents acknowledge these multiple and intersecting identities and seek to cultivate relationships, design curriculum, and establish learning environments that support, affirm, and honor youth holistically…p. 19

The school environment is welcoming, inclusive, and affirming for all.

  • Middle school educators purposefully foster a culture that sustains the dignity of all members within the school community…Affirming classroom communities, whether physical or virtual, are formed when students’ identities are valued and respected by their teachers and peers; students’ experiences are honored; activities that students enjoy are incorporated into the curriculum; and social, emotional, and academic learning are supported.” p. 20

Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and diverse.

  • A middle grades curriculum invites students to learn about matters of personal, social, moral, and ethical significance. p.37…young adolescents reflect on and question how their own cultural and social identity groups relate to, are different from, and are in position to other groups….
  • Responsive middle school educators acknowledge that students have these important and evolving thoughts around their exploration of identity…
  • Such a curriculum requires educators to design learning that builds on and sustains students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds and experiences. pp. 40-41
  • Each is integral at least in some part to supporting the overall well-being of all young adolescent identity development and a sense of belonging but is even more true for ELs.

English Learners are varied in many ways that influence their participation in schooling, including identity formation and finding a sense of belonging within the school community, both of which are intertwined. In fact, Danzak (2011b) stated that membership in various groups not only constitutes a group identity but is a part of the personal identity. As a result, their identity development differs for these students based on their environment and circumstances (Beyer, 2017). These aspects of their development can be influenced by their immigration status, time living in the United States, their language development, their country of origin, and even their location within the United States, let alone other aspects of their identity development such as gender, social class, religion, and sexuality. Students who belong to non-dominant groups, with EL being one of those groups, often exhibit the following characteristics: social exclusion, lack of a sense of belonging, isolation, discrimination, acculturation, experiences of abuse, stratification of friendship depending on ethnicity and race which can have a negative impact on student social and emotional development (Beyer, 2017; Kumar, et al., 2011; Phinney, 2008). Therefore, the purpose of this research summary is to provide a review of the literature related to supporting ELs in middle grades environments specifically related to culturally responsive and sustaining practices, with a focus on those that support identity and social belonging in the schools.

Importance of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy

Culturally sustaining pedagogy is at the center of appropriate practices for English Learners (Danzak, 2011b) and the middle school philosophy (Bishop & Harrison, 2020). Without this foundation, other supports to social emotional learning may be less beneficial. Paris (2012) stated that “Culturally sustaining pedagogy seeks to perpetuate and foster – to sustain – linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling” (p. 93). Rather than focusing on creating a monocultural and monolingual society, we need to support students in the development of their culturally plural identities both inside and outside of schooling. In doing so, teachers and schools demonstrate respect and value young adolescents as called for in TWB. Ajayi (2006) found that Spanish-speaking students of various levels of English proficiency had a desire to learn the English language and American culture while at the same time retain their culture, heritage, and language. The data on different aspects of learners’ identities demonstrated that ELs desired for schools to be a place where the histories, cultures, languages, and needs of students are valued and incorporated into the curriculum. School policies and practices need to be inclusive of the ELs’ cultures’ shared knowledge and traditions because these are important parts of their identities and powerful tools for social interactions and learning. Almost all participants of this study (89.2%) stated that they would like their cultures and languages to be included in their schools’ curricula. Many of the participants (61.6%) also indicated that supports provided in their native languages would be helpful for their academic success. Finally, students in this study perceived multilingualism and multiculturalism as important factors affecting social participation at schools and in the community. A similar conclusion regarding inclusive school practices was reached by other researchers as well (e.g. Cummins, et al., 2005; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Moises Esteban-Guitart, 2019; Moll et al., 1992). Another study (Jia et al., 2014) also found that adolescents who immigrated from China would like to learn English and be assimilated enough to share the lifestyle and benefits of the dominant group, but simultaneously preserve their native culture, customs, traditions, and values. These studies found that it is important to support young adolescents with sustaining their culture and identity, while also allowing them to find connection and community with the dominant culture.

Culturally relevant or sustaining pedagogy can also increase participation in schooling which has positive outcomes for ELs. Yoon (2010b) and Yoon and Uliassi (2019) stated that although meeting the linguistic needs of the ELs is important, meeting their cultural and social needs is essential. Yoon (2010b) studied an approach of one successful EL teacher to increasing student participation in literacy learning which revealed that understanding and meeting ELs’ cultural and social needs improved middle school ELs’ levels of participation in literacy activities, which in turn improved their linguistic skills. Yoon (2010b) explained that the key to the success of the teacher was her implementation of culturally relevant pedagogy that included the following characteristics: (a) teacher’s strong sense of responsibility for the middle schoolers’ learning (b) teacher’s awareness of the social and cultural needs of the ELs and meeting these needs in her class through creating a safe environment where students’ culture and differences were valued and seen as assets. (c) teacher’s consistent consideration of the learners’ cultural and emotional needs before the learning goals (d) teacher’s efforts in building personal connections with her students (see also Yoon, 2008). These characteristics were responsible for creating a sense of belonging in students as well as a sense of being equally important participants in the classroom that led to better overall student success. Therefore, culturally sustaining practices are foundational to support English Learners’, as well as other non-dominant groups, identity development, sense of belonging, and overall growth. It helps acclimatization and integration of the ELs into the new societal context while helping them preserve their cultural identities, and fulfill students’ needs of being valued and appreciated for their differences as well as develop meaningful social connections with peers and teachers. An appropriate mindset and correlating culturally sustaining practices are essential components of this work and are considered to be precursors and/or methods by which more specific work related to identity and belongingness can be achieved through some of the more specific methods discussed below.

Identity Development and Support for Young Adolescent ELs

Identity is an influential factor in young adolescent development (Bishop & Harrison, 2020; Phinney, 2008; Umaña-Taylor, et al., 2020). Young adolescents often construct their identity in a nonlinear, varied, and complex way that is influenced by multiple factors (Danzak, 2011a; Danzak, 2011b; Phinney, 2008; Walqui et al., 2010). Like their peers, ELs are in the process of determining their identity, but ELs navigate not only typical aspects of identity development such as gender identity but also have to navigate their language identity and possibly identity as that of an immigrant in ways that their non-EL peers do not. We also know that having healthy connections to their identities is “…important for their social and academic well-being” (Bishop & Harrison, 2020; Cummins et al., 2005). For newcomers, immigration’s impact on ELs’ identity is so profound as to be the experience that defines an ELs’ identity before, during and even after the immigration experience (Danzak, 2011b). Therefore, schools must provide supports for students in these areas. The following sections will examine cultural and linguistic identity as well as immigration status as areas of identity development and discuss methods to help ELs navigate this process.

Cultural and Linguistic Identity

Cultural and linguistic identities cannot be easily disentangled (Danzak, 2011b; Rumberger & Larson, 1998). One challenge with the development of linguistic identity, especially in the process of learning English, is that it may imply a degree of assimilation that may threaten their cultural identity (Ajayi, 2006; Cone, et al., 2014). Additionally, EL identities are often marginalized by the dominant culture (Yoon & Uliassi, 2019). ELs often have competing identities forming through their language development and cultural interaction in and outside of the school setting. Therefore, there is a careful balance that needs to be maintained to avoid threatening the cultural identity while supporting integration and interaction within the dominant culture while learning English. This tension between wanting to fit in and learn English yet sustain one’s cultural identity is challenging to address, but there are methods to support students navigating this tension.

Identity as an Immigrant

Immigration status is another complicating factor in the lives and identity development of ELs, even if an EL is not an immigrant, but rather was born in the United States. Zong and Batalova (2015) stated that based on U.S. Census Bureau report in 2013, there were 61.6 million individuals who spoke a language other than English in their homes. Of students in grades Pre-K through 5th, 85% were native born and in grades 6th through 12th, 62 % of ELs were native born. Immigration status is considered so vastly influential as to be the major force shaping ELs’ identities even if these ELs are not immigrants themselves and were born to parents who immigrated (Danzak, 2011b). Being a language learner, regardless of the immigration status, subjects these students to racism, stereotypes, and largely influences the perception of these students by other people on the level of policy and in daily life (Harman & Varga-Dobai, 2012; Hoffman et al., 2018; Hos, 2020; Rodriguez, 2017; Yee, 2015) which can impact their identity development and sense of belonging. This was affirmed by a survey where English Language teachers and administrators identified social emotional learning challenges as the “biggest hurdle” for ELs and that 65% identified that conversations about immigration impacted the school/classroom environment (McGraw-Hill, 2019).

Supporting Identity Development in the School and Classroom

Inclusion and appreciation of students’ multicultural backgrounds are vital (Banks & Banks, 1995; Steen et al., 2018; Szpara & Ahmad, 2007; Harman & Varga-Dobai, 2012; Yoon, 2008; Yoon & Uliassi, 2019). To support young adolescent EL identity development, two interrelated practices will be discussed: honoring and leveraging native language and culture in the school and curriculum and storytelling. While storytelling is very much a part of honoring and leveraging native language and culture, the research base on this practice is particularly robust and deserves a more in-depth discussion.

Honoring and Leveraging Language and Culture in the School and Curriculum

One necessary component of appropriate practices for ELs is to ensure that first language(s) are honored and not excluded by a school, no matter the approach to educating ELs, whether this be in the lunchroom or the classroom to support both language learning and individual development (Cummins, et al., 2005; Genesee, n.d.). It requires curriculum to be diverse and serve the diverse students in the classroom (Bishop & Harrison, 2020). In the classroom, providing opportunities for bilingual learning or expression can be beneficial (Cummins et al., 2005), especially for those students who are struggling with their linguistic identity, as well as their sense of language competence. One such practice is creating a project like a bilingual autobiography as a way for students to express their identities and foster literacy development simultaneously and may be bolstered through multimodal approaches and arts integration (Cornett, 2015; Cummins, et al., 2005; Danzak, 2011a). The autobiography, which could take multiple forms such as a digital story, poster, or comic, would be written in both the native language and English and can include writings about personal experiences, family and friends, home country, etc. Danzak (2011b) highlighted the positive impact of creating graphic stories depicting the immigration experiences of the ELs on their identity formation, enhancement of group identities. She stressed another benefit of these stories for ELs that comes from the multiple modalities of expression that graphic novels provide. The artistic component involved in this project helps mitigate issues with language proficiency (Cornett, 2015). Danzak (2011b) also mentioned journaling and graphic novel read-alouds for young adolescent ELs’ self-expression, self-acceptance and acceptance of their desire to assimilate while keeping their authentic cultural identity.

Another way to support ELs and their linguistic identity development is through implementing culture and identity-oriented units of instruction that help young adolescent ELs analyze their identities. Often linguistic identity can be related to feelings of competence in the language. A student typically identifies themself as competent or incompetent in literacy and identifies with a similar group of peers as a result (Danzak, 2011a; Lopez & Musanti, 2019). Therefore, it is important to examine their identities in this domain. Danzak’s (2011a) study revealed that EL young adolescents identify themselves as either bilingual or monolingual, which meant that in the first case, the students felt competent at using both Spanish and English, and in the second case, they felt that they were lacking proficiency in English. Lopez and Musanti (2019) examined a unit that engaged students in discussing several texts focused on the issues related to identity and discovering one’s own voice followed by activities that fostered the discovery of their voices, such as journaling and responding to writing prompts like “The real me”. Lopez and Musanti (2019) stated that it is important to include opportunities for students to develop identities of “strong” learners by providing a curriculum that positions cultural and linguistic diversity as a value and an asset. In the unit, students acquired more positive identities as readers and writers as a result of this identity-oriented focus. Another outcome of this unit included ELs’ realization that their teacher was sincerely interested in and cared for them. This in turn created a safe space for the ELs to share that they genuinely cared about their schoolwork and negotiate their identities as learners (Lopez & Musanti, 2019).

Storytelling – To Honor Native Languages and Integrate Culture

While still an important aspect of honoring and integrating culture and native languages, storytelling has been shown to be particularly powerful in elevating the voices of young adolescent ELs. Including ELs’ personal stories in social studies lessons is beneficial for EL youth because it can help them see themselves as productive and important members of the school community (Lin, 2018). Personal storytelling can also contribute to ELs’ identity development (Harman & Varga-Dobai, 2012; Lin, 2018). Like Yin (2018), Danzak (2015) found that sharing the stories created by ELs with a wider audience facilitated introduction of other groups such as students and teachers to ELs’ experiences, which promoted interactions between the groups and resulted in creation of a more welcoming environment for the ELs. In another study, Enciso (2011) worked with middle school students in an ESL and a non-ESL course teaching curriculum related to literature and immigrant stories. She then brought a group of students from both classes together to meet for Story Club where she documented oral story telling among the students and where they co-created a group poem that addressed anti-immigrant fears and hatred. Enciso (2011) suggested the importance of teachers facilitating “dynamic spaces for critical textual production” both in formal and informal spaces to allow student voice to be heard which can support positive identity development. As part of a larger action-oriented project, Harman and Varga-Dobai (2012) worked with a group of middle school students on a series of co-constructed learning experiences over an extended period of time, with one of those focused on storytelling and sharing “cultural narratives that highlighted their complex social identities” (p. 6). Authors found that through student storytelling in a supportive context that students could share their contextualized stories and express their various identities.

According to these studies, in order to support development of the cultural and linguistic identity development of EL middle schoolers, a special attention and place needs to be given to the native languages, cultures, and as a result, identities, in academic curriculum and school as an institution (e.g., Ajayi, 2006; Cummins, et al., 2005; Danzak, 2011a; Harman & Varga-Dobai, 2012; Lopez & Musanti, 2019). Such approaches as autobiography, identity-oriented units of instruction and storytelling can help to integrate ELs’ native languages and cultures as assets for the school as a community, and the world in general through school being a microcosm of the larger society.

Creating Community and Supporting Interaction

Social interaction and a sense of belonging are essential for school success of all middle level students, and even more so for ELs (Bishop & Harrison, 2020; Johnson et al., 2020; Min Shim & Shur, 2018; Rudduck & Flutter, 2004; Shi & Watkinson, 2019; Markowitz, 2017; Wang & Holcombe, 2010; Yoon, 2008). Shi and Watkinson (2019) investigated ELs’ perceptions of what it means to “belong” at a school as well as the views on ELs’ experiences of the school personnel. The authors stated that the lack of a sense of belonging at school could negatively affect the academic success of ELs because they felt that their limited English proficiency caused them to be ostracized by peers at school and overlooked by teachers. ELs’ voices at schools are often discarded because of the limited English proficiency and teachers’ belief in ELs’ lack of ability to make a meaningful contribution, yet the inclusion of this group in the school community and its empowerment is vital for ELs (Min Shim & Shur, 2018; Yee, 2015). Tong (2014) stated that attending school in the United States is a highly impactful component of EL adolescents’ cultural adjustment and introduction to the new society as school represents a small-scale replica of the larger society with its values, cultures, ways of thinking and behaviors. Therefore, the fullest possible integration of the newcomers is essential to support their positive identity development and socialization keeping in mind the specific needs and challenges of the middle school age.

Beyond storytelling which was previously discussed as a method to support identity development, teacher’s grouping practices and the creation of clubs or organizations can facilitate a sense of belonging. Johnson et al. (2020) studied the degree of teachers’ influence on peer dynamics between ELs and non-ELs. They found that classroom organization, the grouping practices specifically, strongly affects peer dynamics and the creation of friendly relationships between ELs and non-ELs. Brinegar (2010) also found that grouping practices in the classroom such as having ELs in one section of the room can increase a sense of isolation or disconnectedness. This in turn can influence their language and academic development (Johnson et al., 2020). An increased (self-reported) engagement of teachers in bonding-focused activities with students helped ELs form friendships with other ELs. However, the teacher’s self-reported engagement in activities focused on building friendships between ELs and non-ELs did not increase the frequency of forming the said relationships. Therefore, there are possibly limitations to this type of activity.

Another method of supporting belonging is through clubs that can also support navigating identity exploration. Rodriguez (2017) examined the development of a club for immigrant youth. She stressed the importance of school programs that provide undocumented youth with an opportunity to become a part of a community and gain a sense of belonging for positive identity formation. Immigration status played a role in low self-esteem, isolation, and anxiety for ELs. The study found that social spaces like the Dream Act Club allowed youth to combat the negative societal perception of their status and assert positive identities. This club was a safe space organized by a partnership of a school and the larger community to specifically allow undocumented youth to gain a sense of belonging and to discuss issues pertaining and relevant to them, and subsequently, develop a more positive sense of self. Although this club was conducted in high school, this could be done at the middle level as well. This is demonstrated given that Enciso (2011) did something similar by creating a club that used storytelling to help create belonging and navigate identity development.

Middle School Structures to Support a Sense of Belonging

Not only are classroom practices essential to support identity development and a sense of belonging for ELs, but larger scale supports would benefit these students, as well as their non-EL peers. Markowitz (2017) suggested that cultivating a sense of belonging at school can become a preventative measure for depression of even at-risk youth, including ELs and Chiu et al. (2012) found that school engagement was improved through a strong sense of belonging for Chinese immigrants. Specifically, structures that could potentially serve as supports include teaming, multiage grouping, and advisory programs. These can reinforce, when well implemented, the creation of community, peer supports, and provide an advocate for individual student needs. Brinegar (2010) found that teaming and multiage grouping created a sense of belonging for immigrant and refugee youth. However, effective implementation of these practices by administration and educators is essential, and the needs of all students should be considered in these practices. Some approaches to creating a community and supporting student sense of belonging in the classroom include a culturally responsive bibliography, purposeful grouping practices implemented by teachers, and use of storytelling during social studies lessons.


With the growing population of English Learners throughout the nation, it is essential for all schools and teachers, but specifically those serving young adolescents, to develop the supports and practices that will best meet their needs and support their academic and personal growth. These practices include an overall focus on culturally sustaining pedagogy, with more specific classroom and school-based practices that help to support identity development and a sense of belonging. Not only can these practices benefit English Learners, but they can also support the growth and development of their non-EL peers by developing an understanding of their identities and about those of others. This summary provides some guidance on supports for ELs, but one limitation of the literature on middle level ELs is its heavy reliance on the study of Spanish-speaking ELs (Cone, et al., 2014). Also, in general, there is limited research related to middle level ELs’ identity formation and their need to belong with which to examine or identify best practices (Hurd, Harrison, Brinegar, & Kennedy, 2018). Implementing these practices helps to achieve and/or demonstrates a commitment to the practices of TWB including valuing and respecting young adolescents, creating a welcoming, inclusive and affirming environment, and providing for curriculum that is diverse.

Ksenia S. Zhbanova, Ed.D, is an assistant professor of elementary education at Mississippi State University. She earned her doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Northern Iowa. Her interests include teacher preparation with an emphasis on the needs of diverse students and arts integration.

Nicole C. Miller, Ph.D., is an associate professor of middle level education at Mississippi State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Mississippi State University. She prepares teachers in the elementary/middle level education program to teach young adolescents. She was certified in California in cross cultural, language and academic development for teaching English Language Learners, social studies, and instructional technology. Her specific interests are middle level pre-service teacher preparation, teaching with primary sources for both pre and in-service educators, and integrating technology into teaching and learning.


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Wang, M. T., & Holcombe, R. (2010). Adolescents’ perceptions of school environment, engagement, and academic achievement in middle school. American Educational Research Journal, 47, 633-662.

Yee, M. (2015). What English language learners have to say about NCLB testing. National Society for the Study of Education, 114(1), 19-38.

Yoon, B. (2008). Uninvited guests: The influence of teachers’ roles and pedagogies on the positioning of English Language Learners in the regular classroom. American Educational Research Journal, 45(2), 495 – 522.

Yoon, B. (2010a). The lived experiences of middle level English language learners: Shifting identities between classrooms. In K. F. Malu (Ed.), Voices from the middle: Narrative inquiry by, for, and about middle level community (pp. 19-36). Information Age.

Yoon, B. (2010b). Meeting the cultural and social needs of English language learners: A middle school ESL teacher’s practice. Teacher Education and Practice, 23(1), 31-43.

Yoon, B. & Uliassi, C. (2019). Educators’ practice for English Language Learners’ critical consciousness: From marginalized identities to active agents. In K. Brinegar, L. Harrison, & E. Hurd (Eds.), Equity & Cultural Responsiveness in the Middle Grades (pp. 239-253). Information Age Publishing.

Zong, J. & Batalova, J. (2015). The Limited English Proficient population in the United States. Migration Policy Institute.


Ajayi, L. J. (2006). Multiple voices, multiple realities. Education, 126(3), 468-480.

This research study investigated how the construction of identities of middle school ELLs is affected by sociopolitical, cultural, and linguistic contexts. Data on various sides of student identities were collected using a Likert-type 5-point scale and essays with the topic “My life and my future”. The data analysis yielded the following results: (a) ELLs would like to become more assimilated in the new American culture, yet keep the strong connection with their heritage, language, traditions, etc.; (b) ELLs want multiculturalism to be the core characteristic of schools. (c) ELLs see multiculturalism and multilingualism as advantageous characteristics; and (d) ELLs perceive multiculturalism and multilingualism as the main components needed for their active participation in the lives of school and community. Based on the results, authors advocated for middle schools to be more attentive to the students’ identity construction and ways in which ELL’s perceptions of themselves affect their learning.

Brinegar, K. (2010). I feel like I’m safe again: A discussion of middle grades organizational structures from the perspective of immigrant youth and their teachers. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 33(9), 1–14.

Brineagar’s ethnographic research examined the role of middle school structures, specifically teaming and multiage grouping, for immigrant and refugee youth and their teachers, providing implications for both research and practice. This research was particularly important for understanding the role of middle school structures in the context of meeting the needs of immigrant and refugee youth, all classified as ELL, and how the implementation of such structures impacted these students and because research in this area is so limited. Brinegar concluded that the environment and a school dedicated to democratic principles are both necessary to support these students. Certain limitations to the structures were also identified. Specifically, the limitation of teaming possibly separating youth from their friends or other speakers of their native language on other teams was widely cited as a limitation of the teaming structure.

Yoon, B. (2010b). Meeting the cultural and social needs of English language learners: A middle school ESL teacher’s practice. Teacher Education and Practice, 23(1), 31-43.

This research focused on effective teaching practices aimed at increasing ELL middle schoolers’ participation in classroom activities. During this case study, the researcher investigated the teaching practices of an ESL teacher by determining their impact on six focal students. The researcher analyzed interviews with the teacher, interviews with students, classroom observations, and other data sources. Two major findings of this study included: (a) culturally responsive pedagogy is an effective approach to increase ELL’s involvement in classroom activities (b) meeting the cultural and social needs of young adolescents influences ELL’s level of participation more than meeting the linguistic needs of ELLs. This article included descriptions, excerpts from lessons, and an analysis of the teacher’s approach to working with ELLs. These can serve as a model of culturally responsive pedagogy for practicing teachers. Suggestions for actions based on the study results are also provided.

Recommended Resources

Colorín Colorado! A bilingual site for educators and families of English Language Learners

This website provides extensive resources for teachers and families to support English Language Learners. In particular, the section on creating a welcoming classroom environment would be valuable as one examines how to create belonging to support student social interaction and identity development.

Useable Knowledge – Relevant Research for Today’s Educators – Welcoming Newcomers

This section of the web site that is devoted to disseminating research-based information on pressing problems of today is another resource for teachers and parents of English Language Learners. It is focused on addressing the social-emotional needs of these students and best practices of creating a culturally responsive classroom.

Critical Practices – Learning for Justice

This site includes a framework for Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education. It also includes resources and practices related to each of the four areas of the framework including instruction, classroom culture, family and community engagement, and teacher leadership.


  1. When it comes to english language learners (ELL students) it is so important to correctly implement them in the classroom. I saw in many of my practicum placements these students being misplaced or forgotten entirely. Adapting lesson plans, activities, or even just turning subtitles on for them goes a long way in trying to meet them halfway in their learning process. One of my professors said it best, “They are going to learn verbal english from just being around it.” So it is not always about the auditory aspect of it really boils down to the reading and writing half of working with ELL students to best support them in their education. As for the community aspect of it, making sure they are included in your classroom and they are actively supported like all other students goes a long way in working with the student. I would advise caution on over-relying on them for personal examples of different cultures and “putting them on the spot” to describe aspects of the culture. Always work with the student when you want to call on their experience. Having that communication will help that student know that you are interested as the educator and want them to feel included in the classroom. This a great resource discussing many of those points.