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5 Classroom Tips to Support ELL Students

Wednesday, July 8, 2015 -- Sarah Cornelius

Providing effective, differentiated instruction in a multi-ability, multilingual classroom can be a juggling act, and at times, it may seem overwhelming. However, you can adopt some simple strategies which will make a big difference for your English language learners (ELLs). Read on for five tips to support your ELL students!

1.       Create a structured environment with regular procedures and expectations

A predictable routine and consistent classroom procedures can be very helpful to English language learners because they provide a safe foundation from which ELLs can build confidence. Simple things like a daily morning routine, defined procedures for putting away classroom supplies, and designated times for turning in homework help to make for an organized classroom where ELL students can focus on practicing their skills, instead of being worried about simply grasping what is going on around them.

2.       Provide short, clearly stated, and actionable instructions

When instructing ELL students, it is important to keep in mind their level of proficiency and language background. Keep your instructions brief and concise, and try to open with action verbs that will help your students understand what it is you want them to do. Avoid idiomatic or slang expressions, as their figurative meanings can often be confusing to ELLs. Similarly, keep in mind that your ELL students may not have the same background knowledge of American culture, history, and geography as their native English speaking peers and may not easily understand some references. 

3.       Make frequent checks for understanding

Providing effective feedback is a crucial part of ELL instruction, so it is important to check for understanding on a regular basis. Avoid simple “yes or no” questions, and instead, ask questions about the content that will provide a more accurate gauge of what your ELL students understand and what they are struggling with. Use this information to offer constructive feedback and encouragement.

4.       Identify unique ways to build student confidence in a group setting

Group work can be very beneficial to ELL students by promoting peer-to-peer interaction that helps in developing language skills and learning new concepts. However, it is important to make sure that ELL students feel comfortable and confident that they are contributing in these settings. Assign these students tasks and roles within the group that are appropriate for their proficiency level. As their proficiency increases, they can take on different roles and tasks in order to develop different skills. It may be helpful to have one-on-one conversations with your ELL students in advance to give them the opportunity to ask any questions and make sure they fully understand their part in the group. The key here is to give ELLs work that is appropriate for their ability, to increase their confidence, and to make them feel like a contributor.

5.       Never forget the power of pictures

Pictures are worth a thousand words, but it's sometimes easy to forget that images are also the most basic way to engage your students in what they are learning. Supplement your instruction with visuals like illustrations, photos, and infographics to help your ELL students decipher words and concepts that are new to them. Although this may require some extra effort and creativity, images can be a powerful tool to build understanding, and they will help support students’ different learning styles.  

For more tips on effective strategies to support ELLs, check out this article from Colorín Colorado or this post from Edutopia. Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s online programs for English language learners? Take a look at this brochure on our English Language Development Solutions!