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4 Tips for Instructors to Support Adult English Language Learners

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 -- Chloe Roberts

Instructing adult English language learners (ELLs) can be both an exciting and overwhelming adventure. These classrooms are diverse learning environments full of motivated individuals from all walks of life with a common goal of mastering the English language. As students, they tend to be enthusiastic and highly motivated because they are in the classroom to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to make their own lives and their families’ lives better. However, these varied experiences, backgrounds, and needs of students can pose a challenge for educators when it comes to lesson planning and finding effective instructional approaches. Here are four tips to help you address these challenges and equip your adult ELLs for success in the classroom and beyond.

Set clear objectives

It is essential to start teaching with the end goal in mind. Mastering the English language requires four skill sets—listening, speaking, reading, and writing. These skill sets should be the foundation for all of your lesson planning. Beyond establishing objectives for the material you will cover, it’s also important to set clear expectations for your classroom. Establish regular processes for assignments, discussions, group work, etc., and always communicate the goal of the day’s lessons. Define the learning environment of your classroom as one where everyone has a voice and the collective goal is participation and collaboration. Prioritize community building, and make your classroom a supportive space to encourage learners who may have been away from a classroom environment for some time. If these expectations are established within the first week of class, students will more likely be able to take full advantage of the classroom experience and walk away with a valuable skill set.

Assess your students’ needs

One of the greatest challenges of teaching in any adult education classroom is the wide variation of the skill levels of learners. To address this, it is critical to monitor your adult ELL students’ progress toward mastering each objective within your lesson plan on a regular and frequent basis to ensure that no students fall behind. This can take the form of a formal written test or informal classroom observations. When teaching adult learners, it’s also important to remain aware of their obligations outside of the classroom to work and family. Make sure that your learners know you respect their other responsibilities, and clearly communicate the importance of class attendance and doing what you can to see that they have the resources they need at home to be successful in the classroom.

Consider your students’ academic histories and educational cultures

Remember to respect the different cultures and life experiences that your adult ELL learners bring to the classroom. You may have some learners who have obtained advanced degrees in their native countries and languages, as well as others who have received little formal education. The different levels of prior learning throughout your class is something to keep at the forefront of your mind when making instructional decisions. Your learners are striving to become more comfortable with the basics of American culture while also working toward English-language proficiency. This can be a daunting task in addition to the everyday stresses of work and home life. Keep your classroom an open and inviting environment where your learners feel safe, supported, and respected.

Keep lessons life applicable

For adult ELLs, making connections between the classroom and their real world is key. They’re looking to gain knowledge that they can immediately implement in their everyday lives. So, keep your lesson plans practical and applicable. For example, base vocabulary lessons around common activities, like ordering food at a restaurant, shopping at a department store, or using public transportation. Use your daily life as a template for defining and designing lessons that require your students to actively work on their English-language proficiency, and expand from there.

Looking for an online resource to help provide your adult English language learners with individualized practice in language arts and reading skills? Check out Edmentum’s ESL ReadingSmart!