Skip to main

April 24, 2018

Strategies for English Language Learners

Classrooms have changed drastically in many parts of the United States over the years, and many teachers are challenged with teaching students with varying degrees of comprehension of the English language.

Jennifer Marks, a teacher in Ashland, Massachusetts, recently took Learners Edge Course 842: Achieving Success with English Language Learners. In her coursework were a number of activities designed to help ELL students with reading, vocabulary, and grammar. Read on to see how creatively Jennifer uses Sorting Activities(vegetables), Total Physical Response, and Vocabulary Role Playin her work with ELL students.

Go Jennifer and thanks for sharing a few of your great teaching tips! We hope these strategies can help you with your English Language Learners.

Sorting Activities:

AnasiOne early reading skill students need is to master syllables. I like to always begin a lesson with a story, to pique the students’ interest. I will read “Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock” by Eric Kimmel. In the book, there are lots of fruits and vegetables.

After we read the story, we can discuss which ones we like to eat the best and brainstorm some fruits and vegetables that weren’t in the story. I will then have a sheet of fruits and vegetables in little squares- there will be a colored picture of the fruit as well as the word underneath the picture. Then there will be a separate sheet with columns that consist of:

  • 2 syllables
  • 3 syllables
  • 4 or more syllables

VegatablesThe students will have to cut out the squares of fruits and vegetables and then glue them in the appropriate column. I will be able to determine if they have an understanding of syllables by looking at their finished products. At the same time, this is a great way for the ELL students to become familiar with the names of all our fruits and vegetables.

Total Physical Response:

One area where I think the Total Physical Response activity would be very useful is when I teach prepositions to my ELL students. A lot of times, the best way for them to learn is to act it out. The prepositions I will focus on are:


I will write each word on a card and slip it into the pocket chart. As I produce each word, I will say the word, use it in a sentence and then act it out.

Example: I will stand behind the chair.

prepositionsThen I will obviously do the activity. I will call for volunteers to demonstrate and then incorporate different commands and activities. (Ex: Put the pencil on the table, put the pencil under the chair, Joe stand between Molly and Darcy). This is a low pressure situation where an ELL student will be able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of prepositions. I will be able to informally assess them based on their physical responses. Hopefully, they will also have fun and easily master the concept of these important words.

Vocabulary Role-Play:

One area where I find ELL students’ vocabulary is lacking is everyday household items. They rarely know the words for oven, spatula, apron, etc. because they do not hear these English words at home. In addition, lots of times in school, there is so much emphasis on content curriculum that other important vocabulary gets brushed aside. Yet, when I work with my Non-English speakers, I make it a point to introduce them to the everyday vocabulary as I feel it will be useful for comprehension later on when they read stories, etc.

pancakesI will use the book “Pancakes for Breakfast” by Tomie dePaola to introduce cooking/kitchen vocabulary to my students. This is a wordless picture book in which a woman has to collect various ingredients and follow a recipe to make pancakes. The following is a list of vocabulary I want to focus on:


pancakes2Before I begin reading, I’ll ask the students to make predictions based on the cover and then ask them if they like to eat pancakes for breakfast. Hopefully, this will elicit conversation that the students can use as a frame of reference to build on their prior knowledge. Basically, as we “read” the book, I will point out these items on each page. I will ask the students how to say them in their native language and then provide the English word. I will write each word on a little post it note and stick it right next to the object in the picture. Once the key vocabulary has been identified and we’ve read the story, we can discuss the story and what happened in the book. I will then take our words and put them in a pocket chart to review. I will leave the words up in the pocket chart as we continue the next part of our lesson.

Since the book is a wordless picture book, it gives the students the opportunity to put their own words to the pictures. We will write, as a group, sentences to go with the pictures, making sure to incorporate the previously highlighted vocabulary. As we continue to create the story, students can take turns acting out “scenes” from the story with real life props that I will supply (ex: a real spatula, pan, etc). We could either act out each page as we write or act out the whole story as a culmination of our writing project when we finish the story. Either way I think this is a great activity that will engage the students while at the same time helping them to learn everyday vocabulary.


Search the K12 Hub

More From Teaching Channel

Nurturing the Whole Gifted Child

Students identified as gifted excel in academics, but their journey is not without challenges. While student’s intellectual abilities shine, it’s crucial to address their social-emotional

Want to partner with us?

We’re always looking for new authors! If you’re interested in writing an article, please get in touch with us.

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Get notified of new content added to K12 Hub.

Pay As You Learn with our flexible payment plan - starting from $75 per month! Learn More >>