Life After High School: Preparing ELLs for Graduation

It’s that time of the year when the days are longer and sleeves are shorter. We think about our final tests while reflecting on what worked and what didn’t during the school year. Students and teachers alike are counting down the last days of school.

For the ELL specialist, that means measuring the progress students made since September and considering where to place them next year. But we’ll see some students who may not be ready to exit ELL programs yet are still set to graduate because they’ve earned enough credits, are about to “age out” of the educational system, or passed through goals-based requirements. This is especially problematic for students with special needs or who came to the country in their late teens without the benefit of previous English classes.

In these situations, we need to focus our final lessons on the students’ needs outside of school. Here are some methods I found to be effective.

1. English for Job Applications. We may do all kinds of reading activities and writing prompts, but how well will that prepare our students to fill out a basic job application? The vocabulary can be confusing for lower level students, intermediate students need to be extra careful when writing short answers and spelling, and advanced students may be ready to draft a résumé. Whatever the situation, some of the activities on this page may help your students do well in job interviews.

2. Job shadowing. Students concerned about the specific language skills they’ll need in their dream careers can see what they need to know by following a professional for a while. This can help them become motivated to learn specific skills, such as listening and reading, and having them compose a summary or giving a presentation allows for writing and speaking activities. For more information about what this would entail, check out this page on

3. College resources. Having taught and tutored at colleges, I know that most offer many resources to ELL students, but for many reasons these largely go unused. It’s possible that the students feel they don’t need help, or they are sensitive to the stigma of being language learners, or that they simply don’t know what their options are. We can most effectively address the last issue by having students look at their planned college and what options they have for help, such as where the writing center is located and what adaptations they can get for their language and special needs. More advanced students should familiarize themselves with resources like the Purdue Online Writing Lab so they can get quick answers to tricky academic style questions, such as how to write citations.

4. Adapt the graduation requirements. Whatever your students’ plans, you may find yourself advocating for adaptations to the conventional final exams or other work. Once it’s clear what the ultimate goal or demonstrated knowledge is for the students, find ways to prove the students can prove their learning and knowledge with a project within their language abilities. In my school, we have allowed lower level students to present mostly in their native languages while using English on the materials or in their written work. This has proven effective—and helpful for the students, because every successful public speaking experience makes the rest seem less scary.

About Nathan Hall

Nathan Hall
Nathan Hall, MA TESOL, MS Education, lives in Pottstown, PA with his wife and two daughters. He has been involved in ESL since he volunteered as a tutor in 2001, which inspired him to leave the field of journalism for education. He has since taught English language learners in a variety of settings ranging from community programs to colleges as well as in several different types of middle schools and high schools. He is currently an ELL specialist at Achievement House Cyber Charter School in Exton, PA.
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