Start Using the ELL Teacher’s Toolbox Now!

The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox: Hundreds of Practical Ideas to Support Your Students
By Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski
(Jossey-Bass, 2018 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Rita Platt

This is the book every teacher who serves English language learners (ELLs) has been waiting for! Did you read Jennifer Serravallo’s Reading or Writing Strategies books? Of course you did. Everyone did and we loved them.

Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski’s The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox is similar in that is offers literally hundreds of effective strategies to help your ELLs learn both language and content. If you don’t have time, skip the rest of this review – just go buy the book. You’ll be glad you did.

Don’t Know Ferlazzo & Hull Sypnieski? You Should!

Before I go further, I have to share that I am Larry’s biggest fan. Not in an Annie Wilkes from Misery kind of way (don’t worry, Larry) but the kind of fandom that compels me to do a happy dance whenever he publishes something new. I also read his blog and Twitter postings daily with serious anticipation and appreciation for what I know I’m going to learn from them.

Additionally (full disclosure), I write for Ferlazzo’s Education Week Teacher Classroom Q & A Column and chat with him as a guest on his Classroom Q & A Podcast with some frequency. But, don’t take that as an indication that I am a biased reviewer; I spend so much (virtual time) learning with Ferlazzo because I trust him as a teacher, a leader, a mentor, and a practical-minded dispenser of good ideas. When he writes on ELL topics with Katie Hull Sypnieski, that brilliance is doubled.

This book never disappoints. Most important, this book is not just for ESL teachers. It is for any general teacher who serves ELLs in the classroom. In fact, even if you don’t have ELLs in your care, the book is filled with wonderful student-friendly strategies and is very easy to navigate.

The Structure of the Book

The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox is all meat. After a super short introduction there are over 400 pages of strategies, which the authors define as “a teaching tactic, technique, or method that can be used in a class as a part of multiple lessons and across content areas” (p. 1).

The strategies are organized into three main categories: Reading and Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Additional Key Strategies. Within each category strategies are offered; there are a total of 45 of them! See the table below for a listing or download a copy of the strategies here. My favorites are bolded.

Each strategy is laid out in a consistent manner that makes the plethora of information embedded easy to follow, apply, and even modify. For every strategy, Hull Sypnieski and Ferlazzo offer the following helpful points.

  1. What is it? A description of the strategy.
  2. Why we like it. A discussion of why it is good for students.
  3. Supporting research. A list of evidence for using the strategy.
  4. Common Core Connections. A discussion of how it fits into the Common Core State Standards framework (for more on that read Ferlazzo and Hull Sypnieski’s last great book, Navigating the Common Core with English Language Learners.)
  5. Ideas for using the strategy in class.
  6. Student Handouts and Examples (when possible). Handy forms for you to print and use!
  7. What Could Go Wrong? Helpful hints to avoid or move through roadblocks to using the strategy.
  8. Technology Connections (when applicable). Links to online tools.
  9. Attribution (when needed). A shout out to the source for the strategy.
  10. Images to help you see the strategy as it might be used.

Perfect for Summer Professional Development and Planning

Again, I want to reinforce that this is a great book for EVERY teacher. The strategies are practical and have the potential for high impact. You can read the book from front to back or open to any page to pick and choose which idea to try. However you choose to read it, I can almost guarantee that your copy, like mine, will be well-worn quickly as you highlight, fold pages, and make notes in the margins.

Moreover, if you have questions or ideas or compliments, reach out to Larry. He is INCREDIBLY accessible. A tweet or an email generally brings a quick response. He and Hull Sypnieski clearly love teaching and helping other teachers love it too.

In the last words of the introduction the authors write, “Good ELL teaching is good teaching for everyone, and we hope you will read our book and implement its suggestions in that spirit!” (p. 2). I did and I will continue to, and I hope you will too.

As an educator and book reviewer, I give the highest marks for The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox. After you get your copy be sure to tell MiddleWeb readers what YOU love about it, here in the comments!


Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a National Board Certified teacher with master’s degrees in reading, library, and leadership. Her experience includes teaching learners in remote Alaskan villages, inner cities, and rural communities. She currently is a school principal, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute and blogs at Heart of the School for MiddleWeb.



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