Teacher and students interacting.

Before I can give you examples that I use for my ELL (English Language Learners) students, you should be familiar with terms such as ELL, BICS, and CALP.


ELLEnglish Language Learners. A person who is in the process of learning English as a second language.

BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills)

What is BICS? It refers to a linguistic skill needed in everyday situations in life. For example, talking to a friend, talking on a cell phone, social face-to-face interactions, are some of the interactions that students who have completed BICS or have become proficient with BICS can do. Typically, these interactions are meaningful, cognitive undemanding, and not specialized in anything. These skills will normally take an ELL about six months to about two years to develop BICS.

CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency)

CALP stands for Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency and it focuses on proficiency in academic language or language used in the classroom in many content areas. Academic language is specialized, can be abstract, and it is context reduced. Learners who are CALP proficient, will need to have developed skills such as comparing, classifying, synthesizing, evaluating, and inferring when developing academic competency. Typically, it takes learners five years to develop CALP. Additionally, research from Collier and thomas (1995) have shown that,children with no prior instruction, or no support in native language development at least seven years to develop CALP.”

So why BICS and CALP?

As you can see, there is a huge difference between BICS and CALP. Knowing at what stage a student is, will help teachers understand the appropriate curriculum to provide those students as well as the correct support. Typically, a student is in the process of acquiring BICS will fall into level 1 or a level 2 student. However, a student who has acquired BICS and is or has acquired CALP will be in level 3, 4, or level 5.

The biggest issue with teachers that teach ELL students, and I include myself in this group, is that many times we hear a ELL student talking to other students while having a conversation and we tend to think that they are proficient in understanding and speaking the English language. When we do this, we might classify a student as “fluent” in English. However, the issue with this is that teachers will misjudge the level of academic understanding and when they are analyzing the students work, it’s possible that to the teacher the student is not working at the level that they should be or what their estimated ability should be. This of course has negative consequences which can lead to false interpretations of a ELL’s intelligence level and or motivational levels. This is why it is so important to understand where ELL students knowledge level fall; either it falls on BICS or CALP.

What assignments can I offer my beginning BICS students?

Students who are currently still trying to acquire BICS or are students who have been trying to learn English for less than two years will require picture/word base matching. Many of these students will fall to level 1 or level 2.  Obviously, as the teacher, you will have to determine the level of complexity that the student will need. For example, one of my students recently arrived to the US from a middle eastern country. He didn’t speak any English other than to understand the numbers 1 – 10. For students like this, the best path for them to start getting acclimated to the English language is to start using a computer with the alphabet where students can hear the sound of the letters; interactive alphabet. This is especially true for students who, for example, their primary language is Arabic or another language that doesn’t use the English language alphabet. One website that I have found to be extremely useful is

The website has many different topics to be covered for ELL students. Some of those topics include: Assignments

  • The alphabe
  • Classroom words
  • Classroom tasks
  • Numbers 1- 12
  • and many more…

Primary Use of Home Language

Another option available to students that are just beginning to acquire English is to translate pages on a computer to their first language. There has been some controversy over ELL’s using their home language in class and some educators have argued that using their L1 or home language might be a barrier to them learning English. However, recent research has shown that careful use of students primary language has shown to be beneficial whether, through translation, peer tutoring, bilingual aid, or by assistance from students themselves can help English language learners. It can help in understanding grammar concepts, vocabulary, and instructions.

Assignments for more Advance BICS students

For those students almost proficient in BICS and are ready to move on to CALP there are many assignments that they can complete. Many of those assignments are offered as well by the site and range from pre-intermediate to advance. The include:

  • Reading activities
  • Listening lesson activities
  • Spelling and vocabulary activities
  • and many more lessons provided.


  • Esol courses online Free English Lessons Online (Retrieved from )
  • Ferlazo, Larry Response: ELL Students’ Home Language Is an Asset, Not a ‘Barrier’ Retrieved from (

Additional References