Three Strategies to Elevate Instruction for Multilingual Learners in Secondary Career and Technical Education Programs

Part 3 of ​​​​​Supporting Multilingual Learners’ Participation in Secondary Career and Technical Education Programs Series

Part one of this series outlined the urgency around supporting Multilingual Learners (MLs) enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, and part two included an overview of embedding scaffolds into CTE curriculum and instruction. You may be familiar with the terms English Language Learner (ELL) or English Learner (EL). ML is a more inclusive, assets-based term to represent all students whose parents or guardians report speaking one or more language(s) other than or in addition to English at home¹

In part three, I recommend three specific strategies for embedding targeted scaffolds into CTE curricula and instruction. For each strategy recommendation, I outline the reasoning for the recommendation and provide an authentic CTE program example. 

Embed Peer Learning Opportunities into Instruction 

Peer learning requires students to interact with each other and discuss their ideas². Unlike many of their monolingual peers, MLs may have yet to experience functional language such as making requests, providing explanations, and discussing problems needed to participate in the career for which they are studying³. Integrating role plays and simulations to practice using functional language is necessary to prepare students for the situations they will encounter in the workplace. These oral language activities can be beneficial to all students but are essential for MLs. One benefit of oral language practice and academic conversations is that students have opportunities to hear and practice discipline-specific language that will support them in their learning of content and passing certification exams. Discussing technical content enhances students’ learning and retention of new content as they are able to talk about and think about content in different ways. In addition, peer learning activities are engaging for students, build classroom community, and support connections with peers.

Physical Therapy Example

In a Physical Therapy course, students engage in role-play activities related to authentic patient scenarios. MLs are strategically paired with students that speak the same home language and they are presented with various therapeutic exercise scenarios. One student acts as the physical therapist, and the other student acts as the client. The student, acting as the physical therapist, selects a therapeutic exercise scenario card and role-plays the interaction. While engaging in the role-play scenarios, students can reference sentence starters and a word bank (Figure 1) as supports. After each student has acted as the physical therapist at least twice, the class comes back together as a whole group to debrief the activity. This activity provides students with the opportunity to engage in authentic interactions around the concepts they are learning about in class. It also sets up a structure for students to hear and use complex, technical language multiple times.  

Figure 1. Physical Therapy Role Play Activity 

Career and technical education for English Learners

Incorporate Explicit Vocabulary Development into ​​Instruction

 CTE classrooms are full of technical, program-specific vocabulary, and we know that vocabulary development is an important part of effective education for MLs in all content areas⁴. For example, in a cosmetology program, students must learn technical vocabulary such as collagen, elastin, and hyperpigmentation. Research shows that knowledge of academic vocabulary in English supports students’ proficiency in reading and writing. In order for MLs to effectively engage with the complex technical concepts presented in CTE classrooms, they need to develop an understanding of the academic vocabulary related to those subject areas.  

To incorporate explicit vocabulary development into instruction, teachers can begin by introducing the new vocabulary. There are many ways to introduce a new word to students, and it is best to use multiple strategies to ensure that students understand the new word. Depending on the word, teachers can use visuals, including real objects that are often available in CTE classrooms, to bring the word to life. For example, in a culinary class, the instructor can use real tools and ingredients available in the kitchen to model the term mise en place (to have all your ingredients and equipment prepared before you start cooking) for students. Student-friendly definitions are important to ensure that the definition of the new vocabulary is not more confusing than the word itself. Additional strategies for introducing new words include using examples and non-examples, synonyms, antonyms, and translations when appropriate. After introducing new vocabulary, it is essential that MLs spend time practicing and using the words in context. There are numerous activities to practice new vocabulary, and it is important that students have an opportunity to practice new vocabulary across all modalities – listening, speaking, reading, and writing. 

Welding Technology Example

After introducing key vocabulary in a Welding Technology course, students work in small groups to practice using the new words in context. Roll a Word is anactivity the teacher uses to provide practice with the new vocabulary. Students work in teams of four and take turns selecting a word card.Then the student who selected the card rolls a die and responds to the prompt that corresponds to the number they rolled, such as “Describe how you would use this word in conversation with a coworker.” The other group members then determine if the answer is correct. Players continue to take turns rolling the die until the teacher determines time is up. This activity provides students with the opportunity to use vocabulary across modalities as they are reading, listening, and speaking throughout. For MLs that need additional support, the teacher could add scaffolds such as images on the word cards, sentence frames to support each Roll a Word prompt, and an answer key with definitions of the words. Figure 2 shows the prompts that correspond to each number on the die, along with sample Roll a Word Cards.  

Figure 2. Welding Technology Roll A Word Vocabulary Practice 

Provide Writing Support Based on Individual Students’ Strengths and Needs

In our work with various schools and districts, teachers of MLs often report the need for strategies to support their MLs in the domain of writing. In CTE courses, students write for a variety of purposes, including technical writing, composing emails, and developing a resume. Additionally, in some CTE programs, writing assignments may be used to meet English Language Arts standards. To support MLs in becoming successful writers, CTE teachers should incorporate explicit writing lessons with appropriate scaffolds that align with individual students’ strengths and needs, including their English proficiency level in writing and home language literacy skills. Depending on the individual ML, a number of scaffolds may be needed in order for them to successfully access and complete the writing assignment. For instance, MLs at the beginning level of English language proficiency may benefit from the use of a model essay, graphic organizer, word bank, and paragraph or essay frame when composing an extended writing piece. In part two of this series, you will find additional details on model essays and graphic organizers to support writing. 

Criminal Justice Example

In a Criminal Justice class, students write an essay to describe four types of cybercrimes. In order to support MLs with this writing assignment, the teacher built several scaffolded materials for the assignment. First, students work in small groups to brainstorm ideas related to cybercrime. MLs are grouped by home language for this activity so that they can discuss ideas in their preferred language. Then, the teacher provides students with a graphic organizer (Figure 3) to support MLs in gathering information for their essays before writing. In addition, MLs at the beginning and intermediate stages of English language proficiency are provided with sample sentence structures (Figure 4), which include both sentence frames and sentence stems. Directions for completing the sentences are color-coded and included in parentheses. The teacher pulls a small group of MLs to model how to pull information from their graphic organizer into the sentence structures to organize their essay. Students are encouraged to use the sentence structures as a guide to writing their own sentences. By embedding these scaffolds into the assignment, all MLs, including those at the beginning stages of English language proficiency, have the supports they need to complete the essay.  

Figure 3: Criminal Justice Essay Graphic Organizer 

Figure 4: Criminal Justice Essay Sample Sentence Structures 

In part three of this series, I shared three strategy recommendations for embedding targeted scaffolds into CTE curricula and instruction. These strategy recommendations included peer learning activities, explicit vocabulary instruction, and writing support. Be sure to read part four of the series, where I explore our final two strategy recommendations – using academic language mini-lessons and CTE exam preparation for MLs. Links to additional resources for supporting MLs in CTE programs are on our Supporting MLs in Secondary CTE Programs Padlet. 


¹ Snyder, S., Staehr Fenner, D., Smith, S., & Singh, J. (2023, March). Terminology to describe multilingual learners: labels and their implications. SupportEd.

² Snyder, S. (February 5, 2019). Four Practices for Fostering ELs’ Oral Language Development. SupportEd.

³ WIDA. (2020). WIDA English Language Development Standards Framework, 2020 Edition Kindergarten–Grade 12. WIDA.

⁴ Snyder, S. (September 13, 2018). Teaching Academic Vocabulary to English Learners: A Q&A with Sydney Snyder. SupportEd.

⁵ Baker, S., Lesaux, N., Jayanthi, M., Dimino, J., Proctor, C. P., Morris, J., Gersten, R., Haymond, K., Kieffer, M. J., Linan-Thompson, S., & Newman-Gonchar, R. (2014). Teaching academic content and literacy to English learners in elementary and middle school (NCEE 2014-4012). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

⁶ Staehr Fenner, D., & Snyder, S. (2017). Unlocking English Learners’ Potential: Strategies for Making Content Accessible. Corwin.

About SupportEd

SupportEd is a woman-owned business based in Fairfax, Virginia providing Multilingual Learner (ML) professional development, personalized coaching, technical assistance, and resources for educators across the United States and Canada. Founded in 2011 by Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, four-time best-selling author and ML expert, SupportEd builds authentic partner relationships and meticulously crafts customized solutions to fit every partner’s strengths and goals. SupportEd equips teachers and administrators with the practical tools and strategies necessary to champion MLs’ success within and beyond the classroom. Visit or call (202) 660-1444 to learn more.

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