ELL Strategies that Work for the Whole Class

Kim Haynes

Does your staff need ELL/ESL training? The K-12 Teachers Alliance can help you plan your in-service professional development at no additional cost.

ELL Strategies that Work for the Whole ClassEnglish-Language Learners are one of the fastest growing student populations in the United States: in fact, the percentage of ELL students grew 60% between 1995 and 2005, according to the New York Times.

Many teachers worry about effectively teaching English learners while still meeting the needs of their other students. Here are some classroom strategies are actually good for both types of students.

Develop Strong Classroom Procedures

Related Articles
Young girl writing notes while looking at a laptop with open books around her.
With the move to eLearning, educators must find creative ways to keep student...
Two young boys reading a book together in their elementary classroom.
Differentiated literacy instruction is vital in elementary classrooms to reach...
Young boy working at a table listening to a video lesson with his teacher and classmates.
Remote learning can make assessment of student learning more difficult but not...
Student working on math problems watching her teacher on a laptop.
The sudden shift to online learning presented many teachers with end-of-year...
Young boy sitting at a table drawing on paper with a marker.
Remote learning causes challenges for all students but especially special ed....

Surprised? It may not sound like an ELL strategy, but it really helps.

Imagine an ELL student in your classroom – does she know where you post important reminders? Does he understand when to turn in his homework? If you use recognizable procedures to handle these tasks, you allow English learners to save their concentration and energy for the content you’re teaching – plus, your whole classroom will run more efficiently. 

Provide “Triple Exposure”

Think of teaching a concept in three steps: introduce it, teach it, review it. This gives students – especially English learners – three opportunities to understand the material.

Offer a few guiding questions or “headlines” to help students identify the most crucial information, then teach the lesson as you normally would. Allow a few minutes at the end of class to go over the material once more to solidify their understanding. Bonus points if you can provide the introduction or review section in ELL students’ primary languages (for example, have a bilingual aide review the material or have a handout translated to help students with homework).

Incorporate Visuals

To help English learners and hold all your students’ attention, just add images.

The Internet makes it easy to find photographs, maps, drawings, or diagrams for any subject or grade level. Make a PowerPoint presentation of images, add them to a handout, or just post them around the room. As you teach, point to the images so that students connect your words with the picture or diagram. This helps ELL students, who may understand the image more easily than the words, and activates all students’ multiple intelligences.

Actively Teach Vocabulary

Some teachers dread vocabulary. What do you do besides tell them to memorize and then give them a test? They forget the words as soon as the test is over, anyway. But increasing vocabulary is crucial to students’ future success, and it’s especially important for English learners.

To improve instruction for English Language Learners and the rest of your students, make vocabulary active – play charades where students act out the vocabulary words, or use a word wall (yes, even in upper grades). Keep English learners involved by focusing on team activities; for example, don’t ask an ELL student to do a vocabulary charade alone, but send up a team of ELL and non-ELL students to act it out together. They will learn from each other and it will increase interaction between groups of students who might otherwise not collaborate.

Use Rubrics

A rubric, or tool used to evaluate student work, is useful in multiple ways: grade a complex assignment, ask students to evaluate their participation levels, or even have them identify how much help they needed on their homework.  Rubrics help students and teachers define what a “good” assignment looks like.

For English learners, rubrics can be translated into their primary languages or even created with images (smiley faces, number of thumbs up) to help them understand what good work looks like. To design your own rubrics, try the free tool at Rubistar.

Teach Students to “Stop and Think”

Teach the “Stop and Think” strategy to help students evaluate their own learning. If you observe a student having difficulty in class, ask them to stop their work and think about the following questions: What am I struggling with? What can I do differently? What questions do I have? Who can help me answer those questions?

Translate these questions into English learners’ primary languages, if necessary. This self-evaluation process can help every student in any course, with any homework assignment, and for years after they leave your classroom.

Develop a Classroom Library

Students with limited English proficiency may benefit from having reading materials in their primary language, but a classroom library is helpful in many ways. Collect books and magazines at a wide range of reading levels.

These can be used for extra credit assignments, for silent reading time, or in-class projects. Having books at multiple reading levels allows you to differentiate instruction for students by assigning them a book that suits their skill level. Here are some tips on creating an inviting classroom library.

Work on Communication Skills

Communication is clearly one of the biggest challenges for English learners, but all students can benefit from exercises that teach appropriate and effective communication skills. Visit EMPATHY, a listserv moderated by Columbus State University, or check out this article for good communication exercises.

Model for Students

Even native English speakers may not have good models of how to speak properly, how to read effectively, or how to work through a problem. English learners face additional challenges, as many classroom activities that are common in the U.S. may not be used in overseas schools.

Taking a few minutes to provide a model for students by “thinking aloud” through an activity or assignment instructions. What do you do when you read an unfamiliar word? How do you approach a complex set of instructions? Show your students and encourage them to copy your process.

Use Structured Class Discussions

ELL students benefit from speaking practice and by hearing their peers using the academic language they are struggling to learn. But students who don’t speak good English may “lurk” rather than participate. So use structured discussion approaches like the Fishbowl or Socratic Seminar to ensure broader student interaction.

To encourage participation, give students questions or talking points to prepare in advance, or have students work in pairs or groups to share their answers with the class. This allows English learners to practice their answers in English and increases their chance of success.

Use Organizers and Frames

Many students need help making sense of what they are learning. For ELL students, an organizer also helps them to understand how information in organized in English. Use graphic organizers and writing frames to provide students with the structure for their content.

Think of it this way: first, give them a structure and let them fill in the information (for example, give them a cloze paragraph or fill in the blank activity). Then have them repeat the same information, but create their own structure (for example, ask them to summarize what they learned in their own words).

Celebrate Each Student as Unique

English Language Learners face many challenges. They may be adjusting to a totally new culture or may feel excluded because they can’t speak the language well. They may face discrimination, and may hear one set of attitudes and values at home and a different one at school.

You can’t solve all these problems, but making an effort to celebrate each student as unique and special can help English learners to feel safe and welcome in your classroom.

Many of these ideas have been adapted from the following books:

·         Fifty Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners by Adrienne L. Herrell and Michael Jordan

·         Classroom Instruction That Works with English Language Learners by Jane D. Hill and Kathleen M. Flynn

·         English Language Learners: The Essential Guide by David and Yvonne Freeman


Consider adding one or more of these to your professional library. The tools you learn may help English-Language Learners and non-ELL students alike!

Learn about more ELL and Instructional Strategies perfect for your classroom by having an ELL Instruction Expert lead your next in-service!



Today's Poll

Which types of articles would you like to see from us in 2020?
Classroom Management
Classroom Activities/Games
Teaching Strategies
Technology in the Classroom
Professional Development
Total votes: 246