English Language Learner Support Initiative

On this page:

What is the English Language Learner Support Initiative (ELLI)?

The English Language Learner Support Initiative (ELLI) provides financial support for instructors who wish to implement specific ELL programming within their courses. Much of this support is directed at supplemental TA hours, which could allow for additional training, workshops, marking of written materials or assessment of oral communication. We are looking for instructors who are committed to working with students to help them not only improve their communication skills, but also integrate into the UTM community in more meaningful ways.

Objective: To contribute to the support of ELL students at UTM through projects that explore innovative pedagogy and approaches to language development.

Core Message: Funds are available to support departments who want to develop and deliver innovative activities, workshops, tasks or other interventions designed to support ELL students at the undergraduate level.

Back to top

Background & Guiding Principles

students sitting in instructional centre building

The students at UTM are becoming more linguistically and culturally diverse with international students comprising more than 20 per cent of our undergraduate population; there are also many more students who do not speak English as a first language. The Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (RGASC) and the Office of the Dean would like to help departments, faculty and staff provide enhanced support for English Language Learners (ELLs) in the four core areas of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The goals of this initiative are to provide ELL students with the communication skills they need to succeed at university and to help them gain confidence as they establish relationships within the larger UTM community. Building upon existing RGASC programming for ELL students, the ELL Support Initiative seeks to develop students’ foundational communication skills as outlined in UTM’s Academic Plan 2017 (see Goal #1).

We know that language learning is most effective when it occurs in a discipline-specific context where the student must learn and use the language. An effective way to achieve this is to have an ELL Specialist collaborate with disciplinary faculty and TAs to ensure that the language support is tailored to the disciplinary context. Thus, this initiative seeks to promote systematic language learning support embedded within appropriate courses across the curriculum. It also seeks to offer professional development opportunities for those faculty members and TAs wishing to improve their ability to address the challenges facing our ELL population.

The program is guided by several principles, including:

  • English language support should address a range of core skills (listening, reading, writing and speaking)
  • English language programming should support the needs of ELL students at all levels of proficiency
  • English language skills should be focused within the discipline and related to a subject-specific context
  • English language learning happens over time and students must continue to develop their skills over the duration of their time at UTM.

We believe that departments are most aware of the challenges their ELL students face and the different contexts that exist within each program of study. Therefore, instructors are encouraged to submit proposals for projects that will help ELL students enhance their listening, reading, writing and speaking skills within the discipline. Successful past initiatives have most commonly been directed at reading comprehension of course related materials. This has included aspects of vocabulary instruction paired with critical reading strategies. Because not all students at UTM are ELL students, the ELLI differs from other RGASC offerings, such as the Writing Development Initiative which targets in-class writing projects applicable to all students.

Back to top

Application Process & Documents


Proposals for new projects should be submitted as a Word document to Laura Taylor at laura.taylor@utoronto.ca by April 16, 2021.

Funding Decisions

Decisions on funding will be made by June 12, 2021. Funding for projects is determined in part by the number of students enrolled in the target course(s). Funding preference is given to projects where multiple core skills are targeted.

Application Information

Instructors requesting funds from the ELLI are required to estimate the demand (i.e., approximate number of students impacted) for the project they are proposing. They also need to ensure that the TAs participating in this initiative will be available for a minimum of three hours of supplemental training on ELL pedagogy, though more training can be implemented if the execution of the proposal requires it. This training is paid by the ELLI and is offered each September and January through the RGASC. It focuses on:

  • grammar/vocabulary support
  • oral communication strategies
  • providing effective feedback on written work 
  • sensitivity / inclusion practices

Not only does this training benefit the undergraduate ELL students at UTM, but it also serves as useful professional development for the TAs themselves.

Please review the following before submitting an application:

Back to top

RGASC Support for Successful Proposals

We currently offer a variety of programming and services for faculty seeking to pursue ELL support in their classes, and these might be used as inspiration for instructors seeking to implement further/new ELL initiatives.

Support for students includes:

  • generic and subject-specific Professional English Language Skills (PELS) workshops for ELL students
  • drop-in 'help sessions' for ELL students 
  • regularly scheduled 30-minute appointments for ELL students

Our English Language Learner (ELL) Specialist and our Educational Developer can support instructors with:

  • assignment design
  • classroom instruction
  • activities that can make their classes more inclusive or accessible for students from all linguistic backgrounds

Back to top

Assessment of Efficacy of Successful Proposals

It is crucial to measure the efficacy of successful proposals. Assessment provides clear evidence of the value of the instruction; it guides instructors and other stakeholders in their ongoing reflection on, and efforts to improve, the support that students are given; and it provides data for ongoing research into language pedagogy and context related language support in the disciplines. Using the tools and methods developed to assess the Writing Development Initiative, the RGASC will organize and carry out assessment of the efficacy of funded projects. A Final Report template will be provided to instructors to document the details of the assessment of, reflection on and changes to the project. Final reports for 2021-2022 projects will be due by May 31, 2022.

Back to top

Example of the ELLI Applied in a Course

To help potential applicants conceptualize a project, we are including the following example.

An instructor of a large first-year course with a diverse student population notices that many of her ELL students are struggling to understand some parts of the course textbook.

This instructor could apply to the ELLI for funding to help support students’ critical reading through the provision of additional small-group workshops. These weekly workshops would be scheduled outside of regular class times and facilitated by a TA who has been given ELL training by the RGASC. The TA would teach strategies for critically reading the course text. The TA would require students to use the strategies taught during the workshop to take notes on course readings.

At the end of the term, students would submit their notes to the TA for evaluation. These scores would then comprise a part of the students’ participation grade. (Alternative options for this 'participation grade' would be made available for students in the course who do not take advantage of the critical reading workshops.)

This is just one of many examples of ELL support programs that have already proven effective in other courses at UTM.

Back to top

Questions about the ELLI?

Laura Taylor, English Language Learner (ELL) Specialist, would be happy to discuss the kind of support most appropriate for the students in your course. Please contact her at laura.taylor@utoronto.ca.

Back to top