George Lucas Educational Foundation
English-Language Learners

9 Tips to Support English-Language Learners


If you are teaching English Language Learners, here are some tips and strategies that you can practice in the classroom to create a safe environment and support the students throughout their learning process:

1. Speak slower, not louder: Students need to process the words separately and form an understanding, for ELL students this requires some extra time. Speaking louder doesn't help and in fact sounds condescending.

2. Make sure to pause frequently and write out instructions on the board: This gives time for students to think about the instructions and ask questions if they have any. Use the pause time to write the information on the board in case a student has misheard a word or a sentence.

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3. Provide short instructions, preferably starting with action verbs, ex: "Write 5 adjectives to describe the main character". Long instructions overwhelm ELL students, as they will probably need to look up a few vocabulary words, as well as process chunks of information. Short instructions with action verbs are clear and concise.

4. Write key vocabulary on a word wall: The space will create a safe environment for ELL students to ask questions about unfamiliar vocabulary and as a result build their confidence in speaking and practicing their oral communication in the classroom.

5. Check for student understanding frequently: Do not ask "do you understand/is that clear?" Do ask questions about content/instruction: "will you present today or tomorrow?" "Is this list in the correct order?" 

By asking the latter students usually will default to "yes we understand". Instead, go over the material again and summarize it in the form of questions. By doing this you will see that students will start answering together and even explaining tasks/concepts to their classmates. This creates a safe and open culture in the classroom to ask questions.

6. Provide visual guides, and/or infographics: Visuals act as a supplement for unfamiliar vocabulary words as well as concepts. Using them will also support different learning styles in the classroom.

7. Use body language and gestures to express appropriate words: Don't be afraid to do this! Body language and gestures can help in explaining words, activities and even concepts.

8. Do not correct with negative expressions: For example, "No the verb seen is incorrect." Instead model correct usage, "Yes, that's true! We see things differently." Many ELL students are very shy, because they're afraid to make mistakes when speaking. By modeling correct communication skills you will be encouraging students to continue to practice their oral communication skills in a safe space free of judgment.

9. Avoid idiomatic expressions and/or sarcasm: These expressions can be confusing for ELL students to understand, because the meaning behind them is figurative as opposed to literal. Sarcastic expressions are especially misunderstood and often taken literally. That is because some cultures do not use sarcasm, and as a result the meaning is lost in translation. However, ELL students love learning about English idioms so devoting a class solely for idioms is encouraged and can be lots of fun!

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.