5 Easy Classroom Strategies to Support English Language Students
Many teachers experience frustration with English language learners, or ELLs, in their classrooms because they’re at a loss as to how to best meet their needs.
They want to help their students move forward academically but don’t know what to do when the new ELL student looks at them helplessly after a question is posed, or stares at them blankly when daily class lessons are presented.
Here are some easy strategies you can begin to implement immediately to help your ELLs succeed in your classroom!
1. Speak More Slowly and Clearly
Because many of your English language learners are not exposed to spoken English in their homes, you are the primary model of the English language for them!
Take full advantage of this opportunity to model appropriate grammar and pronunciation in the classroom.
Just as important is that you not speak too fast. Because English is not their first language, ELLs need more time to process what they hear in English in order to make sense of it. The faster you talk, the harder it is for them to process and make sense of what you say.
ELLs are very unlikely to ask you to speak more slowly, or to repeat or explain what you said because they don’t want to stand out from their peers. So they’ll often just sit there in silence when they don’t understand what’s going on in the classroom.
Make sure you enunciate clearly and if you're a fast talker, slow down!
Speaking more slowly and clearly is one of the most underrated yet most effective strategies you can use to help ELLs succeed in your classroom!
Don’t overdo it —this will be very obvious to your students. Your non-ELLS will become bored and impatient and your ELLs will realize right away that you’re changing your normal speaking style for them.
They’ll become self-conscious and shut down.
To maintain all students’ attention, demonstrate sincere enthusiasm in what you teach while you incorporate this strategy.
Your students will respect your desire to engage the whole class in the lessons.
2. Allow Sufficient Wait Time
Not only do English language learners need more time to process what they hear in English; they also need more time to formulate a response in English when asked a question.
This means you need to allow sufficient wait time after you pose a question.
Be patient. Pose the question to the whole class. Pause. Glance around the classroom at all of your students so you’re not singling anybody out. Then call on a specific student to answer the question.
When your ELLs know you’re offering everybody in the class sufficient wait time, they’ll feel more at ease raising their hand to volunteer a verbal response.
3. Use Many Visuals
Visual aides go a long way in helping ELLs grasp new material you present!
Posters, photographs, illustrations, tangible items—anything visual will enhance your students’ comprehension of subject matter.
When pre-teaching vocabulary, use sites like pixabay.com to download colorful, eye-catching photos. Keep dry erase markers handy at all times for sketching on the board to better explain concepts you present.
Graphic organizers are excellent visual tools for organizing information to facilitate understanding of new content. Display these on a doc cam or simply draw them on the board.
As you fill them in with your class, allow your students to fill in their own copies to help them make sense of what they’re learning.
4. Build on Background Knowledge
When you make connections between what your students already know and new concepts you present, lessons become relevant and meaningful to them.
Your English language learners will experience a boost of confidence when they realize what they already know in connection with what they’re currently being taught. This will pump them up to learn new material!
On the other hand, because of their diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, ELLS often lack background knowledge in academic subject areas .
Before presenting new material, review background knowledge with your entire class to lay the foundation for the new content.
This will refresh your non-ELLs' memories while at the same time help fill in the gaps for your English language learners.
It’s a win-win for all students.
5. Use Cooperative Learning Activities
Incorporate pair and small group activities in your classroom on a regular basis to increase student participation and to allow ELLs to practice speaking English in a natural context.
ELLs, particularly non-English and limited English speakers, are more comfortable speaking English in small groups than in front of the whole class.
Pair each non-English and limited English language learner with a native English speaker or a fluent English language learner. This allows ELLs to hear correct English modeled to them and to practice speaking English in a less intimidating setting within the classroom.
Cooperative learning activities have proven to be highly successful for engaging all students in the classroom.
Dr. Spencer Kagan's book, Kagan Cooperative Learning, is an excellent resource for cooperative learning activities as well as for grouping students, ensuring that they all participate equally within groups, and evaluating their work. Make sure you get the updated 2009 edition!
Have you used any of these strategies with your English language learners?
By implementing these five strategies, you are sure to see a gradual, notable improvement in your English language learners’ level of involvement and academic success in your classroom.
Be patient with your ELLs but also with yourself as you become accustomed to applying some of these strategies.
Be consistent in using these strategies. Your ELLs will appreciate your efforts to help them succeed and you will save yourself a lot of unnecessary frustration in the process.
Helping English Language Learners Succeed in the Classroom
© 2016 Geri McClymont