Successful ELL Day connects students, future teachers

UNL and ELL students participate in an icebreaker activity
UNL and ELL students participate in an icebreaker activity

Successful ELL Day connects students, future teachers

28 Apr 2015    

More than 200 middle school students—all English language learners (ELLs)—spent the day on the UNL campus Thursday, April 23, for UNL’s first ELL Day. The event celebrated the work ELL students have been doing in their classrooms all semester and gave elementary and secondary English education majors at UNL a chance to gain experience working with an underserved student population.

“They’ll see [ELL students] in their future classrooms,” said Associate Professor Jenelle Reeves, one of the organizers of the event. “This event provides them experience and helps them be more confident that they’re ready to interact with those students.”

The student leaders began planning and preparing for the ELL Day event in August. They created icebreaker activities for the ELL students and helped to organize the day. They say they appreciate the opportunity to apply what they’ve been learning and to interact with a key student population as part of their education.

“It was an incredible learning experience for both the ELLs and the education majors involved,” said Kilah Deaver, a sophomore elementary education major. “Helping with ELL Day gave me the chance to apply everything I have learned about ELLs this semester. I learned so much about what it means to prepare activities that are accessible and appropriate…”

Sophomore elementary education major Anna Mandel said she thinks the day was a valuable way to encourage ELL students to consider college more seriously.

“It was so fun to be able to walk around campus and answer questions they had about college,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to share with them how cool college really is.”

ELL students spend part of their days at school learning English, a language that is not their native tongue. The learning itself can be challenging, but when combined with cultural differences and life circumstances, it becomes just one of many obstacles these students face. Many of them end up not attending a university at all, and those who do don’t often choose to pursue a degree in education. ELL Day gives them the opportunity to see themselves as future university students and opens their minds to the possibilities of helping other students as future teachers.

Part of the day included a celebration of digital stories created by some of the attending students. English narration combined with video, these stories are based on persuasive essays the students wrote in their home classrooms. They then submitted them as part of an ELL Day contest.

“We wanted to incorporate technology with our writing project for this quarter, which was persuasive,” said Anne Hubbell, an ELL coach with Lincoln Public Schools. “Digital storytelling gives the ELL students the opportunity to work on their writing skills as well as their speaking skills and their technology skills. They are able to choose their own topic, do the research to support their ideas, organize their ideas, edit their work, and produce a quality product… I also think an additional benefit was the modeling and examples. Students were able to view the digital projects that exemplified quality work at each level of language proficiency.”

ELL students are divided into four different levels based on their English language proficiency. The digital stories were submitted by level, and winners for three different categories in each level were announced at ELL Day. The winners were

Level 1

Most persuasive: Thu Le, Park Middle School

Most creative: Tabarek Al Dulaimi, Goodrich Middle School

Best of level: Say Kay Paw, Park Middle School


Level 2

Most persuasive: Naw Eh Bue, Park Middle School

Most creative: Thi Hoang, Park Middle School

Best of level: Aras Ahmed, Culler Middle School


Level 3

Most persuasive: Jonathan Luna-Medina, Goodrich Middle School

Most creative: Shuaieb Abdullah, Culler Middle School

Best of level: Fatima Ayal, Culler Middle School


Level 4

Best of level (group story): Loughrist, Immigration Reform, Park Middle School

Best of level (individual story): Mohamed Ehaj, Goodrich Middle School

Attending students also voted for a “Student’s Choice Award” for each level at the event. The choice award winners were:

Level 1: Mumtaz Blaseeni

Level 2: Audrey Traore

Level 3: Jonathan Luna-Medina

Level 4: Sarah Hussein

Students also completed a “Flat Herbie” scavenger hunt and created digital stories based on the hunt during ELL Day.

“The hope is that students will form a connection with the university while also learning and practicing their English,” said Reeves. “We want them to feel comfortable here, to think about UNL as a real possibility for them. The Flat Herbie stories are a fun way to do that—to get them thinking about one day attending college.”

The 2015 ELL Day is the first event of its kind, but the organizers hope to secure permanent funding for an annual event.

“It would be wonderful if we could provide this opportunity for ELL students, and for our students in Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education, on an ongoing basis” said Reeves. “It’s important to us to connect with diverse student populations, and our education majors benefit greatly by having the chance to work with those groups as much as possible before they get to their own classrooms.”

Teaching, Learning & Teacher Education