5 Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners

An English Language Learner or ELL is the term used to describe an individual who is learning to speak English, but whose native language is not that of English. They are often described as individuals or students who are learning English as a secondary or additional language, or someone who has limited proficiency with it. While these individuals learn the language the same way as their native-English speaking peers, they do benefit from certain teaching strategies that allow them to develop their skills in a patient, productive, and comfortable environment.

Using Diversity Appreciation to Create Comfort in the Classroom.

Before we jump into the 5 strategies for teaching English Language Learners, it is important to first look at how a successful classroom is created. The key here is to ensure that the students feel appreciated, comfortable, and culturally embraced. For this to happen, educators should make sure of 2 major things:

  1. That it is clear to all ELL students in the classroom that their native language and culture is the foundation of who they are, and that it is not being threatened or taken away by the learning of a new language.
  2. That by learning English as a second language, it does not subtract away from their origins, who they are, or their culture, but instead adds to them.
  3. Incorporate a student’s home language in lessons via their favorite sports or animal, to help them feel a personal connection, while letting them slowly learn at their own pace.

In doing these 3 things, an ELL educator can foster a comfortable and supportive environment that reflects a student’s diverse background and cultural identity, while giving them the room and time to learn the new language. Now that we know what makes a classroom successful, here are 5 strategies that ELL educators like to use to make it easier on ELL students.

  1. Use All Subjects in a Curriculum to Teach Language. It is important that ELL students are not learning English in isolation or as the sole subject. You can bring the fundamentals of English and apply them across the curriculum by teaching the students what unfamiliar vocabulary looks and sounds like in other subjects like math and music.
  2. Understand the Path to Fluency & Use Productive Language. A common misconception is that beginner ELL students who are able to follow written, or verbal directions should be able to also produce oral or written language. This is simply not the case, as the path to fluency often begins with listening and reading first. If a student does not feel completely confident in their listening and reading skills, they may also be hesitant to verbalize as well. To help support students struggling with speaking, use fill-in the blank sentences to help them think through what they are going to say.
  3. Increase Wait Time on Responses. While this change is very small, it is a vital one for ELL students who need more time to translate what is being said, process the information, and then translate it back into English in order to provide an answer. It is recommended that you add 3-5 seconds to your wait time, so that students can find the courage to raise their hands and provide an answer after working through the question. If you move too quickly, students may become anxious or provide sub-par answers.
  4. Deepen Understanding Through Multiple Modalities. By using multiple modalities or ways that the students can learn, you create opportunities for deeper understanding. Some students may learn better by speaking or drawing, while others may learn better by writing or listening. By providing multiple ways to engage, it gives the students the time they need to learn in the way that best suits them.
  5. Embrace Video & Translation Technology. Consider using your student’s native language as the foundation for learning English. A great way to do this is to provide a preview of the lesson in the student’s home language, then teach the lesson in English. This allows the students to draw familiarities and understanding from the preview, during the actual lesson.
    Also consider using translation technology, like Google Translate, to aid students in the “hearing” of certain words or phrases that may be difficult. Just make sure that this doesn’t become a dependency or crutch.

With more than 5 million English Language Learners [1] in the United States as of 2018, it is critical that educators continue to implement strategies and address ELL students’ educational needs by creating a classroom that is productive, comfortable, and welcoming to those of all diversities.

[1] https://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/english-learners-k-12-education-state