15 Tips for Teaching English Language Learners

Whether you are teaching abroad or in the United States, teaching English as a second language can be both challenging and rewarding. The students you teach are as varied as the acronyms we use to describe the job of teaching them; ELL(English Language Learners), ELD (English Language Development), ESL (English as a Second Language), TESOL (Teaching English….), TELL (Teaching English Language Learners). You provide help to these students who are often below grade level, to learn a new culture and play a unique role in their families as they help their family connect with a new culture.



Remind them, when they get discouraged, that they have a super power...they have the ability to speak two languages. This super power can open up so many opportunities for them in our ever increasingly global society.


So teachers and educators don't give up! Here are some tips and strategies to help empower you as you empower your students each and every day! Read on and find ways to assist English Language Learners.


1. Be familiar with the stages of Language Development. As you recognize the stages of development in your students, you will be better equipped to help them improve and grow.


2. Use Visuals to introduce concepts. This strategy, like many other english development strategies, is a great practice for all students. Using things like anchor charts, online resources, individual organizers (index card rings or vocabulary charts), google images, or hand gestures can help students stay focused during a lesson and bring better understanding to what is being talked about.


3. Have students keep track of words they are learning. Use things like word walls, word journals, vocab/spelling jars, index cards, or graphic organizers to help students organize and remember new words.


4. Have activities that help students learn syntax. Different languages organize words very differently. Have sentence formulas, sentence puzzles, grammar walls and sentence starters to encourage students to use complete sentences and understand how words are organized in English.


5. Explicitly teach figurative language. This is another concept that is difficult for many learners, but especially English Language Learners. Teach phrasal verbs (verbs added to a preposition to create an idiom with a new meaning. Examples: hang up, hang out, throw up, pull over, ect.), play idiom charades, read mentor texts that have imagery, and enjoy joke books (because they almost always are plays on words).


6. Create 0pportunities to talk in class and cultivate a culture of discussion. A teacher should never say something a student could’ve said. Have morning meetings, stick with names to call on kids randomly, use reading strategies during class that allows for everyone to be reading, and encourage partner talk. Check out my partner talks sentence starters and activities.


7. Give students resources so they can take responsibility for their learning. It can be so hard not to have learned spoon feeding in class, especially with English Language Learners.

Have resources that students can use when they need help and then require them to complete the tasks even if it's difficult by turning to those resources. Examples can be: Sentence starters, anchor charts, individual English helpers taped to specific students’ desks, word journals, reading strategies helpers (stretchy snake…), vocabulary helpers strategies, word walls, or student word journals. Check out my vocabulary strategies freebie for great strategies to use.


8. Explicitly teach each aspect of reading. Especially in older grades, English Language Learners may never have received explicit instruction in reading in English. They may need extra help with phonics, fluency and comprehension. Screen students and help fill in the learning gaps if their progress seems stagnant (remember in order to gauge their progress, you will need to know what the language development process entails).


9. Give exposure to many different kinds of language input. This is another great one for all students. There should be opportunities to listen, read, write and talk. There should also be exposure to all kinds of texts (lists, recipes, schedules, graphic novels, chapter books, informational texts, online texts, ect.).


10. Use Whole Brain Learning Strategies. There are lots of training and videos about Whole Brain Learning, but my favorite strategy to include is using gestures to remember concepts and vocabulary words.


11. Teach kids to break down text into manageable chunks. English Language Learners will probably be exposed to text that is way above their reading or comprehension level. Give them strategies to focus on the important parts of the text like; looking for key word and making a prediction strategies, teach text features and how to use them, create a sentence summary for each paragraph, look for keywords using nouns and verbs, or using syntax rules to break down sentences and gain information.


12. Keep going back to vocabulary. Teach vocabulary explicitly and then and give students chances to use it! Check out my vocabulary note pages/worksheets for strategies to teach vocabulary. I also love Magic Vocabulary: Making Words Real, strategies and philosophies.


13. Use ALL your class time. Practice vocabulary words and new concepts when you are in line, talk to students who are ready early from recess, make transitions smooth and quick so you really have lots of time for learning with your students.


14. Use whisper phones to help kids hear the way they say words as they read them. These are great to help students with pronunciation. They can be made with PVC pipes to be cheaper.


15. Do word activities in an engaging way. Kids can get so bogged down with language that it is important as educators that we make things engaging so students stay motivated. Use word ladders, partner work, spelling games, riddles and other small engagment strategies to help make learning words fun for students.


16. Differentiate what you do in class so it is accessible to all students. I have a passion for differentiation because of my work with English Language students. If you are becoming overwhelmed with the varied levels of learning that need to take place in your classroom, comment below. Also check out my store for differentiated resources in EVERY subject. As well as activities that will work with a variety of content.



17. Incorporate Centers within your classroom routine. Centers can be a wonderful way to address differentiation in the classroom. Centers allow for small group learning and shorter, more focused learning time (which can be great for young students and English Language Learners). It also is a great way to build up engagement and cultivate a culture of communication.


18. Help families connect to the community. You have the opportunity and ability to be an advocate for families of another culture. Do your best to translate newsletters and parent teacher conferences, help kids get public library cards or tell parents information about educational opportunities that come up in the community or at the school.


These are just a few ways that educators can assist students who are learning English as a second language.



Related Questions:


What qualifications do I need to teach English as a second language? How do I get certified to teach ESL?


There are many different organizations and opportunities to teach English as a second language. Typically these organizations look for teachers who have a Bachelor's degree. Beyond that, depending on the organization you may need special training or certificates in ESL or teaching. Some organizations only require a Bachelor's degree and then have an interview process to make sure you are able to use teaching strategies in a lesson.

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