Teaching English Language Learners Remotely

As you decide how to migrate your courses to remote teaching, please consider how your choices of instructional delivery may impact your linguistically-diverse multilingual/ESL/ELL students. 

Like classroom teaching, it is important to ensure that linguistically-diverse students have full access to the content of your materials, delivery, and activities in all virtual formats you choose to use. This document created at MICA provides a short and accessible overview of general considerations for classroom teaching for linguistically-diverse students. These considerations are equally relevant in this remote teaching context.

Written Materials

If you are planning to communicate with your students primarily through written materials such as sending assignment instructions and/or lecture notes via email, please be aware of your language use.

Learner’s Dictionaries 

If you are defining key terms in for any written material, consider consulting a learner’s dictionary. Learner’s dictionaries are designed specifically for linguistically-diverse students. Here is more information about them. Below are links to three learner’s recommended dictionaries:

Assignment Instructions

For assignment instructions, consider checking the difficulty level of your language using Rewordify. You can copy and paste your assignment instructions in the text area and Rewordify will offer alternative word choices. It is not recommended to use the Rewordify rewritten text as is; rather, it can be useful to help you to identify specific words/sections of your directions that you might want to modify or rewrite to increase clarity. 

Lecture Notes

If you plan to share your lecture notes with your students, consider reviewing your notes for abbreviations. For example, if you have terms like “in gen” that appear repeatedly in your notes as an abbreviation for “in general,” you may want to provide a key of these abbreviations.

If your lecture notes are handwritten and scanned rather than typed, consider the legibility of your handwriting. Keep in mind that linguistically-diverse students may find it difficult to read cursive.

Video Conferencing 

If you are planning to use Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts Meet, or another video conferencing platform, consider exploring live-captioning, chat-in-video, and chat translation features; however, keep in mind that these features probably won’t produce accurate language and therefore may be more confusing than beneficial for your students. If you plan to test them out, encourage your students to inform you if they are or are not helpful.


Live or real-time captioning provides a text transcription of oral language as it is being spoken. Most live-captioning for video in these platforms is limited to English and usually will not be visible later in recordings of the session. Additionally, each of these platforms has slightly different ways to turn live-captioning on. Sometimes there is a button option visible directly on the video screen while other times you may have to do a deep dive into the platform’s settings to activate this option. Usually each participant will need to turn on live-captioning themselves in order to see it on their screens, e.g., there usually isn’t a master setting that you as the meeting creator can select to make live-captioning automatically visible for all participants.


Most platforms provide a chat area next to the video screen that you can type into as the meeting is happening. Consider using this space to type out key artist/designer/performer names/terms as they come up in discussion so that your students have the spellings of these names/terms and can look them up later as needed.

Chat Translation

Skype offers translation in its regular, non-video chat feature. If you are meeting one-on-one with students, you may want to consider exploring this option. Skype provides information to set up chat translation here.