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ELL Strategies for the Mainstream Classroom

Rosshalde Pak

ELL Strategies for the Mainstream Classroom

As classroom sizes continue to grow, it can become difficult for students who need 1:1 or pullout instruction time to receive the proper attention they need. 


With that in mind, here are some tips on how to best reach and teach your ELL students in a mainstream classroom.

Learn Their Background

Everyone wants to feel special, unique, and important.  Too often, we are so focused on teaching these students English that we forget there is a deep cultural heritage connected to them. Spend some time with your ELL students getting to know their cultural background. 

The following questions can help get to know and better understand your ELL students. 

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•  How long have you and/or your family been in this country?

•  Does your family enjoy their new home?

•  How is it different from your/their old home?

•  What are some of the special days celebrated in your country, culture, and with your family? 

•  What are the popular games or sports in your country? 

•  Who lives at home with you? 

By taking these small quick moments to solely get to know your students’ background, you are expressing that you value who they are. This will allow them to open up more to you. It will also influence them to want to win your approval and work harder to grasp those English language skills.

Integrate Their Language

Understanding your English language learners' background is closely connected to the idea of integrating their home language into current lessons.  Some students, especially younger ones, may be confused as to why they are learning another language.  Some can be afraid of learning a new language and forgetting their native one.  This is especially common for students whose family lives with them and/or speak the native tongue.

As the teacher, you can easily integrate your learners' home language into their lessons.  The following examples are easy ways to incorporate the students' native language into your lessons. 

  • • create flashcards that have words/phrases/sentences with English on one side and the home language on the other. 
  • • Let students teach you how to say social greetings in their language. 
  • • Have students say what you want them to learn in English, and then you try to say that same thing in their home language. 

By taking these small steps, you are demonstrating to your ELL students that you are interested in their first language and are not trying to erase it.

Utilize Peer Support

As an ELL teacher, I’ve come to appreciate how much it can help to have my students support their peers. I’ve never had a year where there weren’t several students eager to help one another. For ELL students, this is great news. 

By spending time with students who are more proficient in English (and perhaps another language), your English language learners can work on their reading fluency and pronunciation skills with their peers, rather than you.  This can be beneficial, especially if students are embarrassed or nervous about this lack of understanding with the English language.  When they can have classmates listen to them read, or vice versa, it helps build up their confidence.  Also, they are not as worried about ‘disappointing’ the teacher with any errors they might make.


Bring an expert ELL instructor to your school for in-service professional development training.

Chunk Assignments

Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed when faced with reading five chapters in an Ancient Civilizations text?  Or frustrated when you have to write a 10-page paper on why David Bowie is a modern Renaissance man?  Now imagine having to do that in a foreign language.  It's not that easy. 

By allowing your students to complete assignments in smaller chunks, you’re giving them the chance to be successful and feel a sense of pride in what they have been able to accomplish rather than falling further behind. You can also provide your students with a checklist of the work that they need to complete.  This is a useful tool for any learner.

Incorporate Colors & Images

After a while, a grey pencil or blue pen can become monotonous.  Adding a splash of color can help to liven up more mundane material. Using images is also key for your students who are working to develop their English language skills.


A book with pictures can provide more entertainment than a textbook without pictures. Colors and images can also diversify the work. Try to utilize colors and images more when having your ELL students do their class work.  For instance, have them write different parts of grammar with certain colored pencils. Utilize those same colors to identify parts of speech within whole sentences and paragraphs.  Colors can also distinguish between spelling and vocabulary terms and then how to conjugate those terms. 

Use 4 Core Components

There are four key steps to fully acquiring a language.  Listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  It is crucial to keep this in mind when aiding your English Language Learners.

1.  LISTENING is the easiest to do and takes very little effort on the part of the person listening.  It is the most basic of the steps.


2.  SPEAKING is just beyond listening. Instead of just nodding along in agreement, the student has to respond to what the other person is saying.  They have to have a basic understanding of the sounds of words in order to pronounce them correctly.

3.  READING is the beginning of the advanced skills.  With reading, a student has to know spelling, grammar, phonics, pronunciation, and sentence structures.

4.  WRITING is the most difficult and advanced component of learning a language.  There is not as much flexibility with writing – either your students know it or they don’t.  Here all the previous components come into play.


Think about when you were taking foreign language classes in high school and college.  Remember how much time it took to practice those verbs and conjugation?  Or how difficult it was to ‘trill’ your Rs just the right way?  Those same frustrations are happening to your English Language Learning students. Those frustrations are even more prominent in young children who are trying to learn the fundamentals of any language, let alone two. Plus, as they become older, people who are proficient in multiple languages have distinct advantages and opportunities that are not open to people who only speak one language.

Give it time, put the work into smaller chunks, and keep in mind that they are learning all those required subjects, as well as English.  It’s going to take time, but with your patience and support your students will get there.


What strategies do you use when working with ELL students? Share in the comments section!


Rosshalde Pak is an education entrepreneur based out of Portland, Oregon.  Visit her blog, Education Shortlist, to check out more of her resources.

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