Language Development and Advancement Strategies for English Language Learners (Grades 6–12)―Plano ISD

English Language Learners (ELL)

Plano Independent School District

Plano ISD (PISD) serves a student population (total = 54,683) that is 11% African American, 19% Hispanic, 50% White, 0.4% Native American, 21% Asian/Pacific Islander, 24% economically disadvantaged, 12% Limited English Proficient (LEP) and 23% at risk.

TAKS outcomes (all tests) for PISD LEP students at the secondary level were consistently above state averages for similar students (see Supporting Evidence for more information).

In this summary, find out how the district:

  • Uses Book Club and Writing Workshop strategies to engage secondary ELLs in intensive high-level explorations of texts and language practice
  • Promotes course completion and advanced coursetaking for ELLs
  • Offers free extended learning and enrichment opportunities tailored to ELL student needs
  • Provides support and equal access to educational opportunities for newcomers and other ELLs from diverse language backgrounds
  • Supports implementation of the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS)

Strategies that are aligned with research-based best practices in serving ELLs include (see Research Base for more information):

  • Ensuring alignment of curriculum to provide consistent and coherent approaches to literacy development
  • Emphasizing advanced literacy skills in reading and writing, including extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation
  • Promoting critical thinking and questioning strategies versus simple recall tasks
  • Organizing cooperative learning groups to negotiate meaning of content
  • Guiding writing through prompts, cues, and support to provide framework for structured writing activities
  • Planning varied formats for student oral practice
  • Engaging student learning through multi-sensory experiences
  • Integrating technology into instruction to engage students and contextualize instruction 


  • Plano ISD serves approximately 6,600 ELLs who speak 98 different languages as their home language.  The district offers bilingual, dual language, or English as a Second Language (ESL) programming at every campus.
  • Some elementary campuses offer dual language programs in Chinese (PreK–K) and Spanish (PreK–5). Staff reported that at the elementary level the district typically has enough ELLs who speak Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Urdu, and Vietnamese to offer dual language programs, if they could find the teachers and resources to do so.
  • The district serves secondary ELLs at the campus level through newcomer programs, ESL sheltered classes, and supplemental content-area support. An ESL team leader at each secondary campus coordinates campuswide training to support ELLs, ELL student monitoring, and service delivery, working closely with the district’s Multilingual Department staff.
  • At the secondary level, the district has developed programming based on an adapted Accelerated Learning (AL) model and language accommodations to support student learning at grade level. AL is a multi-sensory approach to language learning that incorporates use of visuals, music, and movement (for details, see A district-developed training for secondary newcomer and ESL teachers integrates an AL-based approach with multiple intelligences and learning style research with an emphasis on specific strategies to be used in content-area instruction. The district’s goal is to support secondary ELLs in becoming fluent in English, passing the state assessment in English, exiting LEP status, and being prepared for success in general education classes by the end of the third year in the ESL program.
  • Several of the more recent components of the district’s programming for ELLs at the secondary level (e.g., the development of ELL-specific curricula and access to advanced courses and alternative course taking opportunities) were added due to increased district emphasis on providing equal time and access to educational opportunities for ELLs.
  • At the high school level, the district has five campuses serving Grades 9–10 and three Grade 11–12 campuses. 
Demographics (2009-10)
Demographics Table. Grade levels served: ECE-12. District enrollment: 54,683. Ethnic Distribution: African American 6,127, 11.2%. Hispanic 10,268, 18.8%. White 26,724, 48.9%. Native American 231, 0.4%. Asian/Pacific Islander 11,333, 20.7%. Economically Disadvantaged: 12,900, 23.6%. Limited English Proficient (LEP): 6,655, 12.2%. At Risk: 12,633, 23.1%.
Source: Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS)

Accountability Rating:
Recognized (2009–10)

Implementation Highlights:

Implementation Highlights: 2005-06 Writing workshop for ELLs, pilot middle school AP Spanish opened to all; 2007-08 Book club, adopted Accelerated Learning model, summer book bag program. 2008-09 Project SAIL (Successful Achievement in Language) summer program.


Standardized district curricula and resources for ELLs at four proficiency levels with intensive reading and writing focus

  • To ensure equal access for ELLs to a grade-appropriate, TEKS-based curriculum, district multilingual staff developed a curriculum prototype and identified teams of strong teachers with AL training to develop curricula and resources for each of the four ELL proficiency levels (beginning, intermediate, advanced, advanced high). The teams, which had revolving membership but consistent leadership, met each summer to develop and refine curricula and resources. Throughout the year, a lead contact for each level reviewed and vetted ongoing additions and changes to the curriculum submitted by ESL teachers for final approval by the district department.
  • A key focus of the curricula across proficiency levels was the implementation of reading and writing strategies to promote language development through engaging in high-level cognitive tasks. Specifically, all ESL teachers were trained in district-developed ESL course components called Book Club and Writing Workshop. These strategies were developed to engage students in reading, writing, and discussion activities that supported language development and built student ownership, confidence, and high-level thinking skills.
  • Using the Book Club approach in reading/English language arts (ELA), during the second semester ELLs were able to choose a book to read with their peers over a two-week cycle. The group, typically comprised of 3-4 students, set reading goals and then had thematic discussions about the text using leveled discussion questions provided by the teacher. Each student then completed a task-based project related to the genre or a language example from the reading. Staff reported that through Book Club even beginners were able to engage in cognitive discussions about literature as opposed to simply answering end-of-chapter questions. Staff also reported that the small group setting provided opportunities for “safe” language practice before students were required to present their individual projects.
  • Key reading strategies promoted through Book Club included:
    • Student choice—Students were able to choose reading genres and material that included poetry, short stories, and novels, as well as non-fiction and textbook readings.
    • Small group—Students engaged in discussion with their peers in non-threatening environments.
    • Cooperative and collaborative learning—Students asked each other questions, debated topics, and shared ideas through student-led discussion groups.
    • Authentic experience—Students discussed real-world themes through discussion of literature or non-fiction (newspapers, magazines).
    • Varied reading support options and environments—Students could opt to listen to audio books, read a text in their native language, or engage in independent reading in comfortable sitting areas in the classroom. 
  • While newcomers and beginners used grade-level adapted texts, intermediates used regular English texts. Because students of lower proficiency levels were in small group settings and worked together to understand and translate ideas, staff reported that the students were capable of reading grade-level English texts. However, students did have the option, if their choice of reading selection was too hard, to make another selection.
  • The district initially trained one ESL teacher per campus in Book Club strategies but later shifted to training all ESL teachers, providing them with ongoing updates and opportunities to visit other teachers’ classrooms and observe Book Club instruction. Staff reported that teachers needed training to increase their comfort level with student-led groups in which reading discussions were often conducted in students’ native languages.
  • Staff also reported that the Book Club approach emphasized fiction genres (mystery, science fiction) and poetry as they were more engaging to students. However, non-fiction was regularly used for warm-ups, and students were free to choose non-fiction selections.
  • Some district middle and high schools offered a voluntary after-school Book Club program once a month. Program activities included reading logs, reward charts, and celebrations recognizing student readers.
  • Writing Workshop was another strategy that had been implemented as part of reading/ELA instruction across the district since 2000. ESL teachers were introduced to and trained in the method beginning in 2005–06, and the ESL curriculum was reworked to incorporate the strategy.
  • Writing activities focused on student choice in selecting writing topics, with emphasis on a writer’s notebook or diary that functioned as a portfolio of student writing as well as a reference for key instructional concepts. Examples of activities included in the writer’s notebook included the following:
    • Heart map/writing territories―Based on Nancy Atwell’s Lessons That Changed Writers, this exercise asked students to identify what was important to them and then create a list of territories or categories from their list. The exercise was designed to help students identify personal and important topics in their writing.
    • Grammar mini lessons―Using resources by Jeff Anderson (Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop and Everyday Editing: Inviting Students to Develop Skill and Craft in Writer's Workshop), teachers modeled the development of sentences for ELLs and introduced parts of speech, followed by meaningful interaction with the material with differentiation for ELLs who were at different stages of their grammar understanding. 
    • Craft mini lessons―Examples of mini lessons often included in writer’s notebooks were: Word Workout Details; Sentences Don’t Forget; Extra, Extra, Examples! Painting With Words; Writing from Reading; Adding Suspense; and The Big Event.
  • Another component of the ESL curricula was “Story Path” units developed by district multilingual staff and teacher teams to help make content “come alive.” The units were usually developed around social studies themes, and staff reported that the units were particularly effective with newcomers, helping them to understand historical content and context as well as story elements. For example, a unit used at Grade 7 called “Gone to Texas” used a structured format to explore story elements, such as setting, character, and plot. Students researched what Texas looked like back in Stephen F. Austin’s day and prepared a mural. They then developed questions for and conducted “interviews” with Austin and held a critical event town meeting playing character roles and engaging in conflict resolution. District staff and teacher teams developed additional units for Grades 8 and 10, which were integrated into the curricula and extended learning opportunities (see below) for ELLs.
  • District staff worked to identify high-quality resources and also developed digital resources in-house to support classroom reading and writing. For example, staff developed “PhotoStories” to preview story components and vocabulary and a “VocAvatars” series using avatars to introduce new grade-level vocabulary associated with the TEKS. The series involved interactive exercises that followed the AL model of preview, present, practice, and perform.  
  • Staff reported that at the newcomer level, in particular, these high-quality digital resources helped to teach vocabulary, put content in context, and explicate story structures. Students had access to these and additional resources (games, activities), through an icon on the desktop of the 6-9 student computers available in every classroom in the district. Teachers often assigned small groups to work at the computer learning stations during class. Students could also log-in remotely from the library or at home. Staff reported that the development of these online resources and remote access through technology was another way to extend instruction and learning time for ELLs in an engaging way.
  • The instructional course sequence at the middle school level (Grades 6-8) included double-blocked ESL reading/ELA courses for ELLs at both the beginner and intermediate level. At the high school level, beginners took English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL I) and an additional reading or writing class, with first-year newcomers also taking Reading I as part of their three-period block of newcomer classes. Second-year newcomers and intermediates took ESOL II and additional reading (Reading II) and writing (Practical Writing) classes.
  • In developing course sequences for ELLs, staff reported that the reading/ELA TEKS provided a wide variety of credit opportunities for ELLs. For example, staff reported that for a course such as Creative Writing, the TEKS were very general, and the district was able to design courses to provide beginning level writing practice while still meeting the TEKS. As a result, ELLs could take more credit-bearing courses that provided language development support in order to be successful in other core areas.

Enhanced opportunities to earn credits toward graduation

  • The district implemented a number of programs and policy changes to help ELLs gain the credits they needed to graduate as quickly as they could to encourage them not only to stay in school but to continue with more advanced coursework.
  • To help Spanish-speaking ELLs get a jump on high school credits, the district offered Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Language in a two-year sequence in middle school for Spanish III credit in Grade 7 and Spanish IV credit in Grade 8. The program was piloted in 2003–04 with academically successful students “handpicked” for participation and was opened up to anyone with intermediate fluency in Spanish at four middle school campuses in 2005–06. In 2010–11, the program was offered at six middle school campuses and served approximately 180 students annually. The goal was to develop primary language skills for Spanish speakers that could transfer to students’ second language as well as provide high school/college credits. Staff reported that the majority of participating students scored 3 or above (out of 5) on the AP Spanish Language exam, making them eligible for college credit.
  • In 2007–08, the district changed its credit-by-exam policy to ensure that more ELLs received credit toward graduation for previously completed instruction. With this change, instruction completed in a student’s home country was recognized as “prior instruction.” Additionally, students were only required to score a 70 on the exam to receive credit-by-exam, rather than the previous requirement of 90.
  • In summer 2010, the district implemented a scholarship summer course program, Native Spanish Speaker I and II, targeting intermediate ELLs in Grade 8 who did not yet have the reading and writing skills to be successful in AP Spanish. Students attended summer school for free, and those who completed the course received two high school credits in Spanish and were able to take Spanish III in Grade 9.  This strategy helped students who might not typically be on course for graduation under the Recommended High School Program (RHSP) because of language proficiency meet the requirements for the RHSP.  
  • Another policy change to benefit ELLs was open enrollment for AP classes. The Open Enrollment policy provided all students an opportunity to enroll in an AP class regardless of their language levels. Previously, ELLs were only allowed to take regular education classes, even if they excelled in a subject area.  
  • Another strategy to help ELLs acquire credits toward graduation at one district campus was a credit recovery program for ESL students offered during the school day that provided courses in health, world geography, and environmental systems translated into five of the most predominant first languages spoken by the district’s ELLs. This program was subsequently opened up to all students.  

Free extended-year learning and enrichment opportunities for ELLs

  • The district also offered a range of free summer school learning opportunities that were designed to meet student needs and to provide enrichment and prevent summer “language loss” for ELLs. The program, called Project SAIL (Successful Achievement in Language), was initiated in summer 2008 using Title III funds. Examples of SAIL offerings included the following:
    • The district piloted a range of transition courses for ELLs moving from Grades 5 to 6, 8 to 9, and 10 to 11 to give them a preview of the next grade, including instructional strategies, such as Book Club, so that they were ready and prepared to start learning without an adjustment period.
    • A variety of free for-credit courses were offered tailored to ESL students so that newcomers and other ELLs could move forward in gaining credits needed for graduation. Course offerings included: Spanish for Native Speakers, geometry (sheltered), economics/government for beginner and intermediate ELLs, a variety of for-credit English courses, and physical education foundations classes. A non-credit algebra readiness course was also offered for ELLs.
    • The district also offered summer enrichment “camps” just prior to the start of the school year for ELLs who passed TAKS or camps for students who were still TAKS exempt. Instructional focus was determined by need. For example, a recent camp was based on science content with a language development focus and was structured around Gifted/Talented strategies and project work. Another newcomer camp was based on a secondary “story path.” A modified Book Club course for students who were not improving on TELPAS was developed to give these students a chance to practice reading and writing skills targeting their specific areas of need.
  • Teachers identified to teach summer and enrichment programming for ELLs were selected based on their experience with ELLs and were typically ESL- or bilingual-certified. When teachers identified to teach courses did not have ESL/bilingual certification, the district provided training in language accommodations as needed. An ESL “headmaster” who oversaw Project SAIL also provided ongoing support to teachers over the summer and reported to district curriculum coordinators as needed.  
  • Additional ways the district extended learning opportunities for ELLs included the following:
    • In 2006–07, the district Multilingual Department developed a summer book bag program to encourage continued student reading over summer vacation. The program was funded using Title III funds and was initiated based on the results of an ELL student survey about home reading material. Responses indicated that students did not typically read outside of school and that many did not have many books at home to read, if at all. Each year, district multilingual staff ordered a wide variety of books, including books in Spanish and English, age-appropriate readers, graphic novels, and adapted texts.  Department staff sorted and hand packed Ziploc bags that included 5-10 books. Additionally, a suggested reading list for the grade level, reading log, and a few puzzle pages were included. Staff reported that when books were purchased in pre-bagged, book bag sets, they cost about $12 each. By hand bagging, the district could purchase more books and include more per bag at a cost of approximately $4 each. The book bag program was implemented in all bilingual schools Grades K–5, newcomer programs Grades K–12, and middle school/high school campuses that offered the after-school Book Club program.
    • Staff reported that a key district emphasis in training for ESL teachers was on use of technology to engage and extend student learning. Teachers were trained in the use of resources such as wikis, sketchpads, and Animoto. In addition, the district piloted the use of iPods and netbooks for ESL students to offer engaging instructional activities and provide home access to the digital resources developed by the Multilingual Department. In 2010, all middle school ESL programs were given 4-6 Flip Video cameras and a projection device to design student projects. To date, projects have included a beginners’ tour of their school and a book “trailer” highlighting the key components of a novel students were reading.
    • The district was also in the process of enrolling ELLs in the Plano ISD e-school program, which offers the opportunity for anyone anywhere to take online courses for high school credit (for details, see  Plano ISD students could take up to two courses a semester, but previously, ELLs were not encouraged to do so. Beginning in 2010–11, ESL students were being encouraged to enroll, and the district was working on developing language accommodations for course materials or adapting course settings (e.g., in-school labs with teacher support) to support ELLs working to gain additional high school credits. Staff reported that this was another example of the district’s effort to provide equal access to learning opportunities for ELLs.

ELPS training and monitoring

  • With statewide implementation of the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS), the district delivered ELPS training to campus principals and developed an online training module for teachers. The online module included an introduction to the ELPS with video and opportunities to practice strategies in the classroom and return to the module to reflect on the effectiveness of the strategies. The course was designed to take approximately 4-6 hours, including the classroom practice.
  • The ESL team leader at each campus was responsible for providing ELPS training at their campuses to all staff, using the online module as needed.
  • ESL team leaders were also responsible for distributing and collecting from all non-ESL teachers on their campuses a district-developed worksheet describing recommended adaptations for ELLs that required a signature indicating that the teacher had been informed of accommodations, understood the ELPS, and recognized that they were required to provide adapted instruction for ELLs.
  • Campus ESL team leaders and ESL teachers also worked on a weekly basis with non-ESL staff members in planning and implementation of the ELPS in the core areas.


  • District and Accelerated Learning (AL) training for newcomer and ESL teachers with emphasis on implementation of the district-developed curricula and resources for ESL instruction, engagement strategies, and use of adaptations/accommodations in delivery of on grade-level instruction
  • Other district trainings adapted for ESL teachers to focus on language learners with emphasis on maintaining rigor and use of high-level cognitive tasks using linguistically accommodated instruction
  • Content-area specific ESL strategy training for new teachers with follow-up from Multilingual Department staff
  • Ongoing campus training delivered by ESL team leaders to campus core content-area teams
  • ELPS training for principals and staff 

Resources, Cost Components, and Sources of Funding: 
The practice was implemented using a combination of local funds (campus/district), Title I, and Title III. Staffing was locally funded, rather than tied to Title III funds, freeing up those funds to support other program components.

Cost components included the following:

  • Staffing
  • Stipends for ESL team leaders
  • Training
  • Summer enrichment and enrollment in e-school (free for ELLs)
  • Book bag program
  • Technology

Lessons Learned 

  • Staff reported that the district’s emphasis on providing equal access to a rigorous curricula and instructional opportunities spurred creative thinking about extending district resources to expand opportunities for ELLs without additional funding. It also promoted a philosophical shift across the district. With district dissemination of language accommodation strategies, training, and provision of supplemental student support, campus administrators were more comfortable offering new learning opportunities for ELLs (enrolling a newcomer in general education classes, for example).
  • Staff also reported that with the training on the ESL curricula and resources, the district had seen a great deal of professional growth in their ESL teaching staff. Teachers who might previously have focused on use of textbooks and traditional English grammar lessons were now more focused on engaging students in natural language practice with emphasis on extensive reading, more substantive writing tasks, and varied speaking opportunities. 

Supporting Evidence

Evidence Type: 
Established Best Practice

Overview of Evidence:
The percentage of Plano ISD LEP students in Grades 6–11 passing TAKS (all tests) was consistently higher than state averages for similar students, and all comparisons were statistically significant (p<.05).1 In 2009–10, the percentage of Plano ISD LEP students in Grades 6–11 passing TAKS (all tests) was 50%, compared to the state average for similar students of 39%.2 Chart 1 shows trend data comparing the percentage of Plano ISD LEP students passing TAKS (all tests) compared to state averages for similar students from 2005–06 to 2009–10.

Chart 1: Percentage of Plano ISD LEP Students Passing All TAKS Compared to State Averages Across School Years (Grades 6–11) In 2005–06, 42% the district's secondary LEP students passed all TAKS tests, compared to the secondary LEP state average of 29%.  In 2006–07, 46% the district's secondary LEP students passed all TAKS tests, compared to the secondary LEP state average of 32%.  In 2007–08, 47% the district's secondary LEP students passed all TAKS tests, compared to the secondary LEP state average of 36%.  In 2008–09, 50% the district's secondary LEP students passed all TAKS tests, compared to the secondary LEP state average of 38%.  In 2009–10, 50% the district's secondary LEP students passed all TAKS tests, compared to the secondary LEP state average of 39%.
Source: Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS)

Research Base:

  • Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., and Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A practice guide (NCEE #2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from
  • Meltzer, J., and Hamann, E. (2005). Meeting the literacy development needs of adolescent English language learners through content-area learning; Part two: Focus on developing academic literacy habits and skills across the content areas. Providence, RI: The Education Alliance. Retrieved from
  • Texas Education Agency (2006). The Institute for Second Language Achievement, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Best practices for English language learners. Austin, TX: Author. Retrieved from

Contact Information

Plano Independent School District
2700 W. 15th Street
Plano, TX 75075
(469) 752-8213

End Notes 

1Comparisons with a peer district comparison group matched on urbanicity and a +/- 10% range on demographics were not statistically significant.

2Averages are weighted averages reflecting the grade level(s) of the practice.