Module 2: Supporting ELLs as Knowledge Constructors

The internet can be overwhelming for adults to search, let alone asking 7-11 year olds to do their own online research.  Add in barriers such as limited English, unfamiliarity with using a keyboard, first time using the internet, language proficiency, first year of formal education and still learning what it means to participate in a classroom, and you have now walked into an ELL classroom. The student needs vary, yet they all deserve supportive strategies to help them access the same learning target.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a study conducted in 2013-14, concluded that on average, 9.3% of K-12 students in the United States are English Language Learners. In urban areas, the percentage is closer to 16%, that means an average of 4 students in a class out of 25 will need additional scaffolding and support.

This week we were asked to look at ISTE Standard 3: Knowledge Constructor. We ask students to “critically curate a variety or resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others”.

As an ELL teacher, this made me wonder, how can I offer autonomy to my struggling readers?  What scaffolds and tools will allow my students to navigate and engage with online texts in order to produce an evidence-based conclusion?

After scouring the internet for hours, I began to feel frustrated (probably like my students).  I asked a few people at school for input, but came up short. My interest however was peaked by reading about “internet inquiry”.  I like the idea of guiding students through narrowing down a question they want to answer rather than simply searching key terms.

In their article, Internet Inquiry, Kingsley and Tancock mentioned several points that resonated with me. The first was a reminder of how our students are required to take state mandated assessments where they are expected to engage with the text, evaluate, and create an evidence-based writing piece starting in third grade.  For students who are still learning to navigate vocabulary, this is a daunting task. Kingsley and Tancock go on to offer three phases of gradual release that a teacher can model to guide students towards independent internet inquiry (2014).

  • Phase 1 begin with teacher-led instruction
  • Phase 2 guided collaborative practice
  • Phase 3 leads students through an authentic inquiry question

Unlike books where you can go back and find your evidence, websites and information on the internet are constantly evolving. My own quest led me to resources that are no longer available or were published more than 5 years ago and I want current information to provide tools that are readily available to implement if I choose.  

My search led me all over the place until I stumbled on the site, Cool Tools for Teachers, a collection of resources from New York. Their site is user-friendly and led to great curation options for students, but I still needed to find search options for struggling readers.  

In 2013, Education Week shared an article, Teaching Students Better Online Research Skills. Understanding the needs of students and their lack of digital-literacy skills, research shows students need explicit instruction for how to curate texts (O’Hanlon, 2013). They recommended Google Scholar as a search engine. I loved the look immediately, but still didn’t feel that this was best suited for elementary ELL students.  The article did however, lead me back to Common Sense Media, where I could search reviews and ratings for various apps. That’s when I found KidRex.  The website appears kid friendly, is free, and has visual support.

Based on ITSE Standard 3a, I want to intentionally model internet searches and use inquiry-based questions to narrow down the abundance of sites students are inundated with. Taking advice from Kingsley and Tancock along with O’Hanlon’s advice on how to use a search engine, I now feel I have a better understanding on how to scaffold for ELLs.   Inspired by my third grade ELA unit right now, I typed in “wolves” both as a regular Google search and again using KidRex. The results were astonishing! Understanding how daunting internet searches can be for students when they are overwhelmed with too much information, I saw how quickly KidRex could narrow down the number of results (see chart below).

Thinking of my struggling readers, the page that popped up for KidRex still looked user friendly.  The first link took my to National Geographic for Kids, which is a great resource for ELLs due to their variety of media content and visual support.  Additional links were the BBC,,, and several other links that are applicable to the topic. However, it still offers more than 8 million links.  This led me to try narrowing down my search through inquiry.  What do I want my students to know?  We are looking at character traits found across genres, so I typed in “What are character traits of wolves?”  Now I only less than 300,000 results.  I could also clearly see the sites popping up offered key words related to my question, thus making it easier to model for students how to choose a link to investigate without getting overwhelmed.

As I move forward, I need to create intentional moments where I not only model how to search, but also how to gradually release control to students and empower them with opportunities to understand how search engines and curating can help them navigate their learning. My next step will be looking for or creating graphic organizers to help students collect, sort, and prioritize the information they gather. For elementary students, I want to begin this quest on paper, before trying digital tools.  


Kingsley, T., & Tancock, S. (2014). Internet inquiry. The Reading Teacher, 67(5), 389-399.

O’Hanlon, L. H. (2016, April 30). Teaching students better online research skills. . Retrieved from

Teachers: Teach digital citizenship and discover the best apps, games, and websites rated for learning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2017, from

ISTE Standards FOR STUDENTS. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2017, from

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