English language learners (ELLs) in the intermediate grades display a wide range of language and literacy levels. For some students, English reading is at or close to grade level, while others are just beginning to read English. Some students are highly literate in their primary or home language, but not in English. ELL students who have not yet learned to read in their primary or home language face the enormous challenge of acquiring the initial concepts and skills of literacy in English, a language they have not fully mastered. Others who have already developed literacy and academic skills in their home languages must apply their literacy knowledge to the task of reading English, with its distinct sound system, spelling patterns, vocabulary, and sentence structure. ELLs often have to make meaning from texts that require cultural knowledge different from their own. Finally, many ELLs find reading difficult because they have not previously experienced consistent schooling or appropriate instruction.
Teachers of ELLs in grades 4-6 often face the challenge of providing reading instruction at a basic level while at the same time acknowledging students' age and maturity. To help build and maintain students' self-esteem, teachers try to avoid books and activities that seem "babyish."
It is important to realize that many ELLs may be under considerable stress. Newcomers are trying hard to understand and function well in an unfamiliar environment, wanting (like all children) to grow more competent, yet finding themselves in a new setting where they are less capable. Some ELLs who have been in an English-speaking environment for a long time may feel frustrated that they still cannot read with fluency and comprehension. These students need skillful, dedicated teachers who take time to know them, believe in their abilities, and are well informed about ELL instructional strategies.