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 students who cannot read their culture’s written language recently join their classes. The teachers have asked me for suggestions for how they can work with these new arrivals effectively. The term used to often describe them are Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFEs).

Many of my “The Best…” lists can provide helpful resources.

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

Over twenty 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.

You might also be interested in The Best Resources For Supporting Spanish-Speakers Not Literate In Their Home Language.


Here are my picks for The Best Online Resources For Teachers of Pre-Literate ELL’s & Those Not Literate In Their Home Language:

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

Learning Chocolate

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.”

How to Support ELL Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFEs) is from Colorin Colorado.

New Book Excerpt: Supporting ELL Students With Interrupted Formal Education

SLIFE: Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education is from WIDA.

Play and Learn has introductory activities for Spanish-speakers who are not literate in Spanish.

StoryPlace Espanol is another good place for Spanish-speakers not literate in Spanish. It also teaches some English words.

For about $100 per year, teachers can access lot of printable books in Spanish from Reading A-Z. They have some in other languages, too, but they’re not in any languages secondary students not literate in their home languages will be speaking.

I like this WordPie play list to learn Spanish, particularly because it’s musical. My students who need this support really enjoy listening to music, so I’m sure they’ll be more engaged by them. Here’s a sample:


I’m less sure about this Spanish Lessons Paco playlist. Here’s a sample:

Google’s voice typing tech adds support for 30 more languages is from TechCrunch. I’ve sometimes used this feature with ELLs (see The New Voice Typing Feature In Google Docs Is Great – I Wonder If ELLs Can Use It For Pronunciation Practice?). But the TechCrunch got me wondering if it could be an effective tool to help students who are not literate in their home language? Obviously, it couldn’t be the primary strategy for them to develop that literacy, but it seems to me that it certainly couldn’t hurt. I’m going to give it a try with some of my students in that situation. I’m adding this info to The Best Online Resources For Teachers of Pre-Literate ELL’s & Those Not Literate In Their Home Language.

Supporting Students With Interrupted Educations is from Edutopia.

ProLiteracy has unveiled a new program to teach older Spanish-speaking learners basic literacy skills.  It costs $60 per student, but I know it would be worth it if I and when I get more students who are not literate in their home language.  It’s been a challenge in the past.

Stories of SLIFE shares a number of useful resources that I’m adding to The Best Online Resources For Teachers of Pre-Literate ELL’s & Those Not Literate In Their Home Language:

Useful resources from MALP.

Teaching Refugees

Supporting Latino Students With Limited Formal Education

The Professional Educator: Teaching Students with Interrupted Formal Education is from The American Educator.

Students with Interrupted Formal Education is from The American Educator.


10 Things Educators Need to Know about Unaccompanied Minors is the best thing I’ve seen written on the topic. It’s from Immigrant Connections.

SLIFE Lessons: How Schools Can Draw on Strategies Designed for Students with Interrupted/limited Formal Education to Help English Learners in the Aftermath of COVID-19 is from New America.

SLIFE Guidebook is from the State of Virginia.

Supporting Latino Students with Interrupted Formal Education: A Guide for Teachers is from Columbia University.

As always, feedback is welcome.

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