Effective Reading Programs for Spanish-Dominant English Language Learners (ELLs) in the Elementary Grades: A Synthesis of Research

Issue/Topic: English Language Learner/Bilingual
Author(s): Slavin, Robert; Cheung, Alan
Organization(s): Johns Hopkins University
Publication: Review of Educational Research
Published On: 12/12/2012

In the 1970s and 1980s, bilingual programs to teach ELLs (English Language Learners) were common in most states. With the English-only movement in the late 1990s, however, several states enacted polices against the use of bilingual education.

To review effective reading interventions for Spanish-dominant ELLs, including native-language instruction as one among an array of means of potentially improving English reading.


  • Common across the most promising interventions is the use of extensive professional development, coaching, and cooperative learning.
  • Another category of promising and scalable interventions includes small group and one-to-one tutoring for English language learners who are struggling in reading.
  • Effective programs provide explicit manuals, videos, and simulations to start teachers off in the right direction and then have experienced coaches visit teachers using new strategies to offer feedback and support.
  • Almost all of the effective strategies make extensive use of cooperative learning, which gives English language learners extensive, daily opportunities to use their developing language skills in meaningful contexts.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:

  • Quality of instruction is more important than language of instruction.
  • A focus on professional development in strategies such as cooperative learning, small group, and one-to-one tutoring and comprehensive school reform supports reading outcomes.
  • Providing competitive preference points in grants for schools proposing to implement proven programs with fidelity can be a boon for English language learners.

Research Design:
Research synthesis of 13 qualifying studies that met the inclusion criteria for language of instruction.

Approximately 2,000 elementary school children met the inclusion criteria for language instruction.

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
A total of 13 qualifying studies provided secondary data to be collected and analyzed.


Reference in this Web site to any specific commercial products, processes or services, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Education Commission of the States. Please contact Kathy Christie at 303-299-3613 or kchristie@ecs.org for further information regarding the information posting standards and user policies of the Education Commission of the States.