According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 9 percent of students in U.S. public schools are English Language Learners (ELL), and that number is closer to 14 percent in major cities.
As classroom demographics continue to shift, student diversity is an important topic for teachers to address. Especially since most ELLs will be in regular-content classrooms, it’s important to ensure these students learn subject matter content while also improving their skills in English.
We recently asked Advancement Courses’ instructional designers Pamela Scharf and Lisa Cox to provide some expert insight into how educators can set ELL students up for ongoing success.
It’s more important than ever for teachers to be skilled in incorporating language development into their curriculum. “That doesn’t mean a science teacher must teach grammar or sentence structure, but he or she does need to support language learning in the science classroom,” Cox and Scharf explained. “Strategies to teach ELLs not only help students learn the language and perform successfully in all areas of academics, but can also help build their confidence.” One of the best ways to get started is to connect with your school’s ELL or ELS team, if available, they added.
Understanding the Unique Needs of ELL Students
Having ELL students in your classroom often means varying proficiency levels, as well as potential gaps in formal education. Students learning English may still be developing their native languages, too, especially in primary grades.
“The task of listening to a teacher’s lesson, decoding the message, identifying relevant information, and then responding may be a stressful experience for learners. ELLs often need additional time to process information and structure their response before participating,” Cox and Scharf noted. It’s also important to take challenges like homesickness, making new friends, and experiencing an unfamiliar education system for the first time into consideration when developing lesson plans.
Six ELL Teaching Strategies
Strategies that work for native speakers could be lost on ELL students. To help create a supportive classroom atmosphere, you can celebrate students’ cultures by encouraging them to teach their peers about elements such as holidays, food, and language.
It’s also important to use supportive language when discussing different languages and cultures in the classroom, especially when providing feedback on students’ work. “For instance, if a student is not following U.S. standards for academic writing, never tell them that the way they are writing is wrong or bad. This implies that standards for writing in their culture are inferior,” Cox and Scharf explained. The following are some other great strategies to help ELL students learn.
Use Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers help students organize complex information from a text or lecture. They are ideal for group work and collaboration because they allow students to collectively understand the order and hierarchy of what they read. Finally, graphic organizers can help teachers assess if students have grasped a reading assignment or lecture.
When teachers scaffold lessons, they break down concepts into manageable pieces so that ELL students can get the necessary support to fully grasp the information provided in lessons. For more information about scaffolding, check out our Building Blocks for Success: Scaffolding in the Classroom course! It offers you valuable strategies for assessing students’ baseline knowledge and planning scaffolded instruction as part of your lesson plans.
Visuals are an ideal way to reinforce the written word. When ELL students can visually map out what they learn, it makes it easier for them to learn without a language barrier, and make connections between what they see and what they read or write.
Build in More Group Work
Group work builds a classroom community as students play games, role play, and work on projects together. It also builds skills like problem solving, decision making, brainstorming, and more. Group projects can also help ELL students become more comfortable with their peers.
Pre-Teach When Possible
Pre-teaching is ideal because ELL students often need models of what they are supposed to do before work is assigned. “Don’t just provide a template — model thought processes for students by thinking out loud while you demonstrate how to complete an activity,” Cox and Scharf suggested. You can also use collaborative writing techniques to show students how an assignment should be completed.
Encourage Classroom Participation
Rewarding students for participating in class encourages ELLs to use their target language. It also sets a clear expectation that students should participate in class. Consider offering immediate verbal praise when students raise a good point or offer a new perspective. This goes a long way in building confidence.
Getting Started: Learning to Incorporate ELL Strategies
All of these strategies point to one simple way to approach teaching ELL students: Get to know them, and understand the value of their diversity. If you can do this, ELLs will be some of your most impactful students. As Cox and Scharf noted:
- ELLs typically have a high motivation to learn and succeed.
- ELLs want instructor feedback.
- ELLs want instructors to be involved in their learning process.