Wendy Farr, Ph.D.

Working with dually classified learners can pose distinctive challenges for educators. Those diagnosed with special needs who are also English language learners (ELLs) have specific, unique needs (specifically struggles with language). These dually classified learners are identified with a disability and are eligible for both special education and English as a second language or bilingual services.

To overcome these obstacles within a PBELL lesson format we make the following suggestions for implementation. Reminder: a PBELL lesson is intentionally focused on language. Within a PBELL environment students utilize language collaboratively in order to access prior knowledge, research new topics, brainstorm and discuss potential solutions. Students share their individual knowledge, experiences, and understanding through presentation of their findings to a specifically targeted audience.

The three strategies below are good for all learners and allow for ongoing strategic support for our students. 

Collaboration: Students are organized into collaborative groups in the inquiry process to support one another’s learning. This can include small groups, pairs, or partners intentionally grouped together based on their primary language. Students may read and gather information together or pair up after the inquiry process to share the new learning they have discovered.

Graphic organization of learning: Students utilize charts, tables, or graphic organizers to help understand new ideas and organize their new learning.

During the inquiry phase, for example, students may use a KWL graphic organizer to help process their new learning. They can brainstorm what they already know about a topic related to the meaningful problem, and then as a class they may form questions to represent what they want to know. These questions then drive the inquiry experience, and students complete the graphic organizer by noting the new learning they discover related to those questions.

Sensory strategies: Manipulatives, visuals, video, and real-world objects are used throughout the inquiry process to ensure that all students have access to new learning. Teachers can bring in real-world items to support student learning and understanding (Farr, 2019).

It is imperative that our nation’s teachers are supported with instructional strategies that provide students with opportunities to develop language through meaningful social interactions with peers and teachers, no matter who they are and what their differences may be.

For more information on supporting dually classified learners or students with special needs in a PBELL lesson, please contact Wendy Farr, Director of iTeachELLs at

Please visit the iTeachELLs resource page for lesson plans, research articles, a suite of free modules that highlight the role of language in instruction, access to our Pinterest page and more.