Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

How to Differentiate Instruction for Dual Language Learners [Grades 1–2]

By Juanita Ramírez-Robertson, Ph.D. Literacy Specialist, Guest Blogger

Are you feeling overwhelmed with curriculum objectives and meeting the demands of teaching a class of students with varied academic needs and abilities? Planning a unit of study for dual language learners provides exciting opportunities to differentiate instruction. If you are searching for ideas about how to differentiate instruction for dual language learners, this blog post is especially for you!

As a novice teacher, I naively believed all my students would arrive with some academic knowledge within a general learning range, where we would all move along at a moderate pace with my undisputed instructional abilities. In the classroom, I quickly learned that in education, each group of students is unique in all respects: academic levels, learning styles, cultural backgrounds, and interests, as well as different languages.

We must be observant and ready to make in-the-moment instructional decisions to include all learners and provide equal access to academic learning for everyone. The following tips are suggestions for differentiated instruction for dual language learners in any classroom.

Differentiating Whole Group Instruction in a Dual Language Classroom

The curriculum for any grade level is the common denominator, which is the content each learner must have access to. During whole group instruction, you deliver the curriculum objectives, but how the content is delivered allows you to creatively engage your students.

Be consistent to maintain structure for lessons (i.e.,  introduce new lessons with a mentor text and a mini-lesson). Consistency with the language of instruction will also help students feel secure with the classroom structure and expectations. However, as the teacher, there is room for flexibility, so remember the countless supports that can assist learners, such as anchor charts, big books , labels in different languages, realia, gestures, as well as student peers. Utilize the many resources available in order to make instruction accessible to all learners.

La gallinita roja provides an engaging traditional story with dialogue that you can use as a mentor text. Through this narrative text, students will learn the language of the story, how characters speak, and the steps involved in growing plants, and the processes in preparing food. Read for enjoyment and to plant the language.

Differentiating Small Group Instruction in a Dual Language Classroom

Once the class has received a lesson in the whole group, there will be students who benefit from additional reteaching or further explanation. Grouping learners in smaller configurations allows for the opportunity to collaborate in order to peer teach, check for understanding, or provide more insight. Groupings can be of similar ability or mixed ability, and groupings can be changed as often as necessary in order to help learners be successful.

Smaller reading groups can explore informational texts. Some students may be more outgoing and willing to share publicly, while others are shy, and prefer to only share in smaller settings. Small group configurations enable you to see how students work together, which students are better suited as partners, and which students need more time or practice to gain a better understanding, while providing the space to develop a safer learning community.

To keep kids engaged during guided reading, you can pair nonfiction books for kids with narrative texts to stimulate real-world connections. ¿Quién hizo nuestro almuerzo? and Diferentes tipos de pan to learn more about the topics presented in La gallinita roja . These paired texts provide effective reading practice at levels I–K that deepen comprehension.

Use Questions to Tap into Students’ Funds of Knowledge

Consider the cultural and linguistic resources students provide as you group them in your class. Some students have a natural understanding of the content, and they provide the leverage to get the class through content and language. Then there are students who provide other points of view because of their lived experiences. Time and space for students to share their experiences relating to content will have a positive impact.

This will enable all learners to gain a more global perspective of the content rather than just what is gained from the curriculum and books. Include the students who bring different languages even if you do not speak the same language because these learners will enhance the linguistic repertoire for all of your students, whether it be in English, Spanish, or other languages in a dual language program. Here are some questions you can ask students after reading the narrative or informational text:

  • What connections/experiences have you had that relate to the story/book?
  • If you could add to this book, what information would you add and why?
  • How is this story/book similar or different from other stories you have heard?

Encourage Student Reflection

Model reflection and making real-world connections to encourage all students to think about how the content material impacts them, and how it applies to their lives, families, and communities. Be prepared to model how to reflect on your own thinking out loud. This particular process is valuable in that it puts the teacher in a vulnerable position, but also provides a priceless opportunity to build community.

The more honest you are in this process, the more invested the students will be too in their reflections. Here are some sentence stems to try with your students:

  • I liked/disliked this story/book because . . .
  • I think the author’s purpose in this book was . . .
  • I might have written the end differently to include . . .
  • As the reader, I would like to know more information about . . .

Encourage Students to Share

Remember to include a time for students to share each day when you're lesson planning. One opportunity could be at the end of a lesson for students to share their learning or their thinking process with their peers. Begin by modeling how much, and how deeply, you want them to share. By encouraging learners to hear what their peers are thinking and providing time to verbalize, they can lift the content learning, as well as the linguistic language utilized in class. During share time, students will know that learning is valued and appreciated with time included to acknowledge new understandings.

It is imperative that all students be engaged in their learning processes and active participants in their education. As educators, we have the power to make curriculum content accessible by the practices we incorporate in our lessons, including differentiated instruction for dual language learners and multilingual students. Teach the content, motivate your students through engaging practices that include all learners, value each learner as a contributing resource to the learning community, and incorporate practices that build the learners and class community.

Dime algo, y lo olvidaré.
Enséname algo, y lo recordaré.
Hazme partícipe de algo, y lo aprenderé. – Confucio
Tell me, I forget.
how me, I remember.
Involve me, I understand. – Confucius


Be sure to visit our blog soon for more ideas to use in your dual language/bilingual classroom.


Dr. Juanita Ramírez-Robertson has been a Reading Recovery/Descubriendo la Lectura teacher for the past fifteen years. She has been in education since 2001 with experience in the bilingual kindergarten classroom and a literacy specialist in all areas of reading and writing with young learners (K–5). Oral language development, composing stories and developing writers in their craft is a passion and hobby of hers. If you like what you read here, be sure to check back for more of her guest blog posts in the future.