9 ELL Strategies for English Teachers To Use With Students

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 29, 2022 | Published July 7, 2021

Updated July 29, 2022

Published July 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

English language learner (ELL) strategies are techniques that teachers can use with students who are learning English as a second language. These strategies are especially effective with older students and in multilingual classrooms. If you are an ELL teacher, or if you want to become one, it might be helpful to learn more about ELL strategies.

In this article, we explain what ELL is and list nine essential ELL strategies for your classroom.

What is ELL?

An ELL is anyone who didn't learn English as their first and primary language. ELL replaced the term English as a Second Language (ESL) student, as many of them weren't learning English as a second language, but as a third or fourth. ELL instructors aim to prepare students of all ages to speak English quickly and proficiently.

ELL teachers typically work within schools and provide additional instruction to those students trying to learn English along with their other courses. Sometimes the ELL teacher may teach lessons solely in English, especially if the classroom contains students who speak different native languages. In other situations, the ELL is bilingual and provides instruction in both English and the student's native language.

Related: Becoming an English Tutor (With Steps)

9 essential ELL strategies

Below are 9 strategies that ELL instructors can use to help their students learn:

1. Get to know your students

ELL classrooms are like every other classroom in that it's important for students to feel comfortable. However, ensuring this may prove more challenging for ELL instructors, as their students must overcome a language barrier in addition to everything else they are learning. Therefore, it's even more important for ELL instructors to develop relationships with their students. A good way to do this is by taking the time to interact one-on-one with each student. Help them understand that while you're teaching them about a new language and culture, you're not trying to replace their current one.

Another option is visiting their home or meeting with their parents. This can give you more insight into their home life, including things such as their favorite hobbies or their pet's names. You can then use this personal connection when teaching the student new concepts. By developing a supporting environment, your students may feel more comfortable asking questions and getting engaged in the lesson plans.

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2. Go slowly

ELL teachers need to speak slowly so their students can more easily identify what they're saying. Speaking slowly includes not only taking the time to say each word but also allowing students time to think. For example, after asking a question, you can wait an additional few seconds as they try to process the question and prepare an answer.

A good exercise to try is recording yourself speaking. You may not realize how quickly you're speaking until you hear a recording of it. Talking slower to your students takes some practice, but it's a habit that can lead to significant improvements.

Related: How To Become an English Teacher

3. Encourage speaking

Through all your lessons, encourage your students to speak as much as possible. A common practice among ELL teachers is to focus primarily on reading comprehension first, then focus on speaking later. The idea is that if the student can improve their English reading skills, they'll be better able to follow written directions and learn on their own.

However, this system may also lead to students feeling uncomfortable speaking in English. It can be better to incorporate speaking lessons early on so that students can develop this skill. A good way to start with speaking skills is by providing your students with prompts and having them fill in the sentence. For example, you can ask your students to fill in the sentence, "Today at school I learned ___." This can help them in speaking the new language without overwhelming them.

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4. Use peer learning

When possible, pair students together for peer learning. Working in pairs can be beneficial for both students. A student may feel more comfortable asking a peer a question rather than the instructor. In addition, many students retain information better when they teach it to someone else.

To help students feel more comfortable in the classroom, try pairing them with other students of the same cultural background. This allows them to use their native language to ask a question. It's especially useful for younger children to work in a “buddy” system, as they may have a harder time making friends at a new school because of the language barrier.

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5. Incorporate English into other subjects

Ensure that your students are using their English language skills across multiple subjects and not just in English class. Surrounding the students with English lessons throughout the day, rather than just for a portion, helps the students to learn faster. In addition, learning the keywords of different subjects helps students to better understand the material in that class. For example, if you're teaching geography, introduce words like river, mountain and ocean. This is the best way to help students expand their vocabulary across multiple areas.

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6. Provide materials in their native language

To help students grasp the new concepts they are learning in other subjects, it's often helpful to provide new learning materials in their native language first. This allows them to better understand the topic, which you can then reinforce in English. For example, when you are first introducing a new topic, you can show the students a video covering it in their native language. They then have an example to work with when you teach the full lesson in English.

Along with previewing materials in their native language, you can also have students review new information in their native language. After you teach the lesson, provide them with some materials summarizing what they learned in their native language. By previewing and reviewing in the language they are most comfortable with, you help students better understand new material while still teaching them English.

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7. Use different types of lessons

Using different lesson formats can help English language learners stay engaged. For example, if you teach one lesson using a textbook, you can teach the next using a group activity or video presentation. Each student has their preferred way of obtaining new information, so by offering different lesson types, you ensure you are meeting all of their needs.

You can also use different lesson types within the same topic. For example, you can start with a video, then separate into small groups for an activity, then finish with a reading assignment. This helps students to engage with the material in different ways, which can help them keep the information.

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8. Make lessons fun

Students often learn better when they're having fun in the classroom. If you can make your lessons fun, students are more likely to stay engaged with the material throughout the entire lesson. There are several ways you can go about making your lessons more enjoyable. For example, you can play games based on the lesson of the day. You could also find fun videos in English that aren't necessarily educational but will help the students learn English.

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9. Use technology

There are many tools available that can help students with their language learning. For example, you can turn on the closed-captioning of a video to allow students to read the text as they watch. You could also encourage students to use online translation tools when they're looking for a word. Introducing these types of tools to your students can help them learn outside the classroom when there's not an instructor present to assist them.

However, while technology can help students learn English, it's important to ensure that they don't become overly reliant on it. For example, you want your students to practice remembering important words rather than opening a translation tool each time. As an ELL instructor, it's vital to help your students find a balance between using technology to learn and becoming too reliant on it.

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