Here’s how you can help your English-language learners make the most of class time.


Since the introduction of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2011, many teachers have seen their numbers of English-language learners (ELL) in mainstream classrooms skyrocket. If you find it challenging to make sure your ELL students are getting everything they need to succeed, you’re not alone. But there’s a lot you can do to help them thrive — and improve their English skills in the process.

Consider including the following strategies in your lessons to make sure every child in your classroom can build their communication skills. You might even find that the best ELL strategies are effective all-around approaches for your entire class.

1. Use visuals as often as possible

Visuals give your ELL students a more accessible way to engage. Try including icons or drawings with reading lessons, creating graphic representations of word problems, or by labeling everyday items. These strategies might even help visually-oriented English-speaking students feel more comfortable, too.

2. Leave your assumptions at the door

One of the simplest (and most important) tactics you can implement to support language learning is to avoid assumptions of prior knowledge. Your ELL students may not understand initial instructions or key vocabulary words. If you get too far ahead of them without realizing, they won’t be able to maximize their classroom time.

How can you solve this? Check in frequently to make sure your students are following along. Ask questions to gauge their level of engagement and allow them to respond however they feel comfortable.

3. Connect new words to movements

Just as you can incorporate graphics into lessons, why not use physical movements to teach new subject matter? Engaging the body is an effective way to commit new concepts to memory.

For example, if you’re working on “greater and less than” in math, ask students to represent bigger and smaller by imitating the symbols with their arms. Or ask your students to come up with their own poses to represent other ideas — they’ll likely come up with some out-of-the-box ideas.

4. Let your students talk during class

One of the biggest advantages you can give your ELL students is the opportunity for structured interaction with their English-speaking classmates. This will allow them to absorb natural language skills, which can build their confidence in social interactions and comprehension.

Provide your ELL students with the chance to work with multiple students and in small groups or pairs, without the stress of having to present in front of a group. Think: Worksheets in pairs, think-pair-share, and book groups. This is also a great opportunity to help your English speakers understand their ability to help their classmates. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your students improve simply by learning to interact with their peers.


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