5 Simple Ways to Help Your English Language Learners

June 14, 2018

Alexandra Mercer

Ed.D. in Leadership


There is a rising population of English language learners, or ELLs, in our schools. As a teacher, you will need to find ways to serve these students and provide an inclusive atmosphere within your classroom. This can seem like a daunting task, but I’ve found that these five small, simple approaches can help accommodate these students while teaching your whole class.

1. Act Out Concepts for ELLs

Have you ever watched a foreign movie or visited a country where you didn’t speak the language? You might have had to mime I am cold or do a little dance to ask, Where is the bathroom? The same technique applies to teaching ELLs. They will be much more likely to understand your meaning AND connect this meaning to the words you are using if you act it out. Will you look a little silly? Sure, but that’s a good thing.Your students are already in unfamiliar territory and feeling intimidated; it wouldn’t hurt to make them smile!

2. Review Academic Vocabulary with ELLs

Many people assume that English language learners don’t understand academic concepts. In reality, they may simply lack the language to express what they know. So, before you start the next math lesson or dive into a science unit, take a little class time to review the basic vocabulary needed. It will give your ELLs the tools to succeed in their tasks, and a little review couldn’t hurt the rest of your students either.

3. Let ELLs Talk a Lot

Any language learner will tell you that the most difficult and most daunting part of learning a language is speaking it. Your ELLs may be hesitant at first, but practice makes perfect. Create a classroom full of noise. Engage students in discussions on various topics, and encourage them to talk to one other using group projects and partner work. The more your English language learners speak, the better.

4. Include Visuals in ELL Lessons

Classroom posters and photographs in textbooks are not there for decoration. They serve a purpose and, for ELLs, they are essential. Use visuals whenever possible. Discussing a math problem? Draw a representation on the board. Describing the steps of a science experiment? Demonstrate and photograph the steps for students’ reference. Explaining classroom rules? Hang posters that illustrate positive and negative examples of expected behaviors. When you see your ELLs look at you with question marks in their eyes, be able to point to something to help make your meaning clear.

5. Embrace ELL Students’ Home Cultures

English language learners can feel out-of-place, outcast, different. You would too if your home life and your school life were worlds apart.

Build a bridge between the two by asking your students to teach you and their peers a few phrases in their native language. Introduce culturally diverse texts into your classroom library, and take time to learn about and recognize native holidays.

Don’t forget to check in with the families of your English language learners and see if they would like to get involved. Finally, let your students bring a little piece of home to school, and see how their newfound comfort and confidence will help them flourish!

English language learners are going to be in your classrooms, and they are going to need your support to succeed. Take a few extra steps to help them; you’ll be amazed at the difference it can make.

And don’t forget (Secret Step #6!) to arm yourself with research on English language education and students’ backgrounds. Knowledge of proven teaching strategies is key and American College of Education offers a variety of different programs that focus on how to teach students with Teaching English Learners.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Alexandra Mercer
Alexandra Mercer, Ed.D. in Leadership

Alex has been teaching for six years, leading classrooms abroad in Korea, Japan, Thailand and Morocco. She continues to be active in the global English education community and loves writing about what she's learned along the way.

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