Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

The Best Online Resources For Teachers of Pre-Literate ELL’s & Those Not Literate In Their Home Language


I’ve recently received emails from teachers who have had pre-literate (coming from a culture that does not have a written language, or that has only very recently developed one) or illiterate (coming from a culture that does have a written language, but the student cannot read it) students recently join their classes. The teachers have asked me for suggestions for how they can work with these new arrivals effectively.

Many of my “The Best…” lists can provide helpful resources — both on-and-offline — especially The Best Resource Sites For ESL/EFL Teachers.

In addition, I thought people might find a few other materials helpful.

Thirteen years ago, two thousand Hmong refugees came to Sacramento, and most of them who were high-school age came to our school.  It was my first year teaching after spending nineteen years as a community organizer.  How often can a high school teacher say that his students have never attended a school before?

It was an extraordinary, and unforgettable, experience.

I thought I would share in this list a few of the sites that I found especially helpful when I began teaching that class — in addition to some of the sites I listed on The Best Resource Sites For ESL/EFL Teachers.

Here are my picks for The Best Online Resources For Teachers of Pre-Literate ELL’s:

The ESOL Curriculum Resource Book was developed by a number of organizations, including the University of Tennessee.

Making It Real: Teaching Pre-Literate Adult Refugee Students was created by the Tacoma Community House Training Project.

Here are some useful online student activities:


Raz-Kids (paid subscription required)

Language Guide

Online TPR Exercises by Henny Jellema

I’ve found the ESL Writing Wizard useful to create sheets to assist students who don’t have literacy in their home language, or students who come from very different handwriting systems.

Lyrics2Learn is a music video program to teach early readers. It feels to me something like a StarFall (the famous site for early readers) put to music. You can create a virtual classroom with it, and can try it out for a month. Then you have to pay $150 per year (you can also pay a monthly charge, instead). I’ve been having a few of my lowest English-proficient and least engaged Beginning ELLs use it, and it seems to be going well.

StoryWorld is a new site that has about forty bilingual stories (English/Spanish or English/Chinese) with audio support for the text. Teachers can easily create virtual classrooms. You can get a thirty-day free trial (no credit card number required). Then, it costs $69 per year for a classroom. I think it might be particularly useful for my Spanish-speaking students who are not literate in their home language. I’m going to try it out this month and see.

Even for Late Learners, Starting to Read Changes the Brain Fast is an article from Ed Week that has a nice graphic. I’m going to to show it to my ELL students who are not literate in their home language. It goes along with lessons I do about how learning new things makes the brain “grow.”

As always, feedback is welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at previous “The Best…” lists and also consider subscribing to this blog for free.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Hi Larry,

    Just wanted to say that although meant for younger kids, has become a favorite among many ESL teachers and students because it was developed to help no readers/writers develop their skills in a non threatening, fun way. Because you can record you voice, it means students can listen to instruction, or speak and record their answers, even if they can’t read it. We have new features due late summer that will make it possible for teachers to create assignments, which will help language learners even more!

    Many adult and teen students create their first reports in English, using LBT and because they can hear themselves speaking back, they can also distinguish when they are mispronouncing sounds more easily, and work on it till they get it right.

    Hope that helps someone out there!

  2. This is a great resource. I can use this with my beginner ELLs. Thanks for sharing!

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