February 2, 2021

10 Tips and Tools for Teaching ELL Students Online

If I could live my life over, I would be a French teacher. I am a lover of languages and find it impressive when people speak more than one. One experience that fascinated me was when I stood in line at the Nobel Peace Prize Museum in Oslo, Norway, and listened as the cashier conversed with customers switching from Arabic, to Chinese, to French, to Norwegian. Speaking different languages is an intellectual achievement that’s not only used to communicate, but to understand the cultures of the world. As teachers who teach students who are English Language Learners shifted to distance learning due to Covid-19, teachers discovered challenges. Below are 10 tips and tools to help teach ELL students online.   1. Learn How to Pronounce Students Names

Whether you are teaching over Zoom or face-to-face, learning students’ names and how to pronounce them is essential. Names tell the world our identity, often communicating where we come from and the language we speak. Our names are the first thing given to us by our birth parents and it is imperative that we pronounce students’ names correctly as a demonstration of respect and acknowledgement of students’ cultures. It is now easier than ever to learn how to pronounce names with tools like Cloud Name-Coach and this Guide for Non-English names.  

2. Use Visuals  

Apply the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words” by using visuals to ensure students learning English can connect with words that are new to them. When teaching online, consider providing students with a tour of where you live, your office, or an outdoor space and talk about the different things they are seeing. Students will enjoy getting to know you in a new and real way as they learn common words and language. And, if you need more visuals, take a look at BrainPopELL which is loaded with brightly colored and appealing games and activities to support language learning.  

3. Slow Down  

Our wonderful exchange student André lived with us for a summer. As we got to know him he sheepishly informed us that we spoke too fast for him to understand. His only request, besides to go to a baseball game, was to please S-L-O-W D-O-W-N when speaking. Remember, when speaking to students over the computer they will miss out on the physical nuances and body language we use when we communicate. This ELL Facebook group, organized and curated for ELL teachers, shares strategies that real, practicing teachers use with their own ELL students. As a reminder, check-in with students to see if you are speaking slowly enough, then make adjustments as you teach.

4. Repetition 

Repeat after me, “Repetition reinforces language and allows students to commit sounds and pronunciations to memory…” “Repetition reinforces language and allows students to commit sounds and pronunciation to memory…” “Repetition reinforces language and allows students to commit sounds and pronunciation to memory…” You’ve got it!  

5. TPR 

“Total Physical Response,” is a tool that combines the auditory system with the visual and kinesthetic systems. Imagine you are teaching the word “smile.” As you explain, you point to your mouth and smile, reinforcing learning and memory. TPR uses physical movement to solidify learning. Even if you are teaching online, you can still use TPR! These physical activities for ELL classes provide more ideas for moving to learn language.  

6. Music! 

Who doesn’t love to move and groove? Every culture uses music to celebrate and dance. When teaching online, try combining the best of movement and music and throw a virtual dance party! Colorin Colorado explains how putting words to music is a magnificent tool for learning languages.   

7Native Language  

There are two schools of thought about using students’ native language when teaching. Some encourage freedom of use, while others say judicious and careful use of students’ native language is helpful only when teaching complex topics. When teaching online, it can be beneficial to use native language to ensure engagement and understanding. Two free tools that can assist in translation and support are Google Translate and Duolingo.   

8. Interactive Activities  

One favorite tool for ELL teachers is Kahoot! If new to you, Kahoot is a game-based learning platform loved by teachers and adored by students. The games created using the platform are called “kahoots” and keep students energized and interested.  

9. Virtual Word Walls  

Virtual word walls work best when they are created collaboratively—with students—and are incorporated into daily activities. This tutorial on creating a virtual Word Wall from ReadySetCoTeach demonstrates how.  

10. Empatico 

If you haven’t heard of Empatico, today is your lucky day! Empatico is a tool that connects classrooms around the world, and using video, students visit with other students from different countries. What a beautiful way to learn languages! This video blog from Learners Edge provides the information you need to get started, and this Facebook group, Empatico Educators, offers ideas for using the tool with students.   

Teaching students who are ELL online invites us to expand our perspective and collection of teaching strategies. These tips and tools will ensure students learning English will excel as they learn in ways that are interesting, engaging and energizing.  


Digital Resources For EL Students. New America. (2020, March 30). https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/digital-resources-el-students/

Lee, L. (2020, September 4). 5 Ways to Build Connections with Students Online. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/5-ways-build-connections-students-online

Visual Aids. Learning Strategies for ELL’s. https://learningstrategieseng491.weebly.com/visual-aids.html  


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Course 5068: Going Above and Beyond Academics for English Learners 

Course 5025: Making Content Accessible for Your English Language Learners 

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