Cult of Pedagogy Search

12 Ways to Support English Learners in the Mainstream Classroom


Can't find what you are looking for? Contact Us

Listen to this post as a podcast:

A note on terminology: The acronym ESL is used less often now in schools than it used to be, because we recognize that many students who are learning English already speak several other languages, so English would not be a “second” language. I use it several times in the post because schools sometimes refer to the teachers as ESL teachers, and the term is still widely used as a search term for this topic. My intent in using the acronym is to make this post easier to find online.

You have a new student, and he speaks no English. His family has just moved to your town from Japan, and though he receives English as a Second Language (ESL) support, he will also be sitting in your room every day to give him more exposure to his new language. How can you be a good teacher to someone who barely understands you?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an average of 9 percent of students in U.S. public schools are English Language Learners (ELLs); that number is closer to 14 percent in cities. Although many of these students start off in high-intensity, whole-day English programs, most are integrated into mainstream classrooms within a year, well before their English language skills would be considered proficient.

How prepared are you to teach these students? If you’re like most classroom teachers, you have little to no training in the most effective methods for working with English language learners (Walker, Shafer, & Iiams, 2004). So that means we have a problem here: Lots of ELL kids in regular classrooms, and no teacher training to ensure the success of that placement.

Below, three ESL teachers tell us what they know about the things regular classroom teachers can do to improve instruction for ELL students. These 12 strategies are simple, they are not very time consuming, and best of all, they will help everyone in your class learn better:

1. Make it Visual

“Avoid giving instructions in the air,” says Melissa Eddington, an Ohio-based ESL teacher. “ELL kids have a harder time processing spoken language.” So instructions – even basic directions for classroom procedures – should be written on the board whenever possible. Challenging concepts should be diagrammed or supported with pictures. And modeling the steps of a process or showing students what a finished product should look like can go a long way toward helping students understand. “Sometimes showing our students what to do is all they need in order to do it,” Eddington says. Not only will this kind of nonlinguistic representation improve comprehension for ELL students, it will help all of your students grasp concepts better.

2. Build in more group work.

“Kids aren’t just empty glasses that we pour stuff into and then at the end of the day they dump it back onto a test,” says Kim, an ESL teacher who was the subject of my very first podcast interview. “If you really want the kids to learn, they’ve got to be engaged.” That means less teacher-led, whole-class instruction, and more small groups, where students can practice language with their peers in a more personal, lower-risk setting. And if ELL students attend your class with a resource teacher, make use of that person: In most cases the resource teacher doesn’t have to work exclusively with the ESL students; they can work with smaller groups that happen to contain these students, helping to improve the teacher-student ratio and give kids more time to practice.

3. Communicate with the ESL teacher.

Mary Yurkosky, a former ESL teacher in Massachusetts, credits much of her students’ success to the strong relationship she had with the regular classroom teachers. “The classroom teachers were always talking to me about what they were doing in their classes,” she says. “They made it so easy for me to support them: If a teacher was going to be doing a unit on plants, I could make sure we used some of that same vocabulary in the ESL class.”

Ideally, this could be systematized, where ESL teachers could regularly get copies of lesson plans or collaborate with regular classroom teachers to build solid back-and-forth support, but “it doesn’t have to be that much work,” Yurkosky insists. “Just talk to each other. Talk about what’s going on in your classrooms, invite each other to special presentations, share what your students are learning, and the words will naturally find their way into the ESL class.”

4. Honor the “silent period.”

Many new language learners go through a silent period, during which they will speak very little, if at all. “Don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to,” says Eddington, “A lot of students who come from cultures outside of America want to be perfect when they speak, so they will not share until they feel they are at a point where they’re perfect.” Just knowing that this is a normal stage in second language acquisition should help relieve any pressure you feel to move them toward talking too quickly.

5. Allow some scaffolding with the native language.

Although it has been a hotly debated topic in the language-learning community, allowing students some use of their first language (L1) in second-language (L2) classrooms is gaining acceptance. When a student is still very new to a language, it’s okay to pair him with other students who speak his native language. “Some students are afraid to open their mouths at all for fear of sounding stupid or just not knowing the words to use,” Yurkosky says. “Letting them explain things or ask questions in their first language gets them to relax and feel like a part of the class.”

And this doesn’t only apply to spoken language. If you give students a written assignment, but the ELL student doesn’t yet have the proficiency to handle writing his response in English, “Don’t make them just sit there and do nothing,” Eddington says. “Allow them to write in their first language if they’re able. This allows them to still participate in journal writing or a math extended response, even if you can’t read what they write.” There has even been some evidence that allowing second-language learners to pre-write and brainstorm in L1 results in higher-quality writing in L2 in later stages of the writing process (Yigzaw, 2012).

6. Look out for culturally unique vocabulary.

“For most of these kids, their background knowledge is lacking, especially with things that are unique to American or westernized culture,” says Eddington. It’s important to directly teach certain vocabulary words: “Show them videos of what it looks like to toss pizza dough, show pictures of a juke box or a clothing rack – things that are not common in their own language.”

One way to differentiate for ELL students is to consider the whole list of terms you’re going to teach for a unit, and if you think an ELL student may be overwhelmed by such a long list, omit those that are not essential to understanding the larger topic at hand.

7. Use sentence frames to give students practice with academic language.

All students, not just English language learners, need practice with academic conversations. Sentence frames – partially completed sentences like “I disagree with what _________ said because…” – show students how to structure language in a formal way. Keep these posted in a highly visible spot in your classroom and require students to refer to them during discussions and while they write.

For this kind of language to really sink in, though, Kim says it has to become a regular part of class. “They won’t do it if it’s not the norm in the class, because they’ll be embarrassed to use it among their peers,” she says. “But if they can put it off on the teacher and say, Oh, well, you know, Miss Kim makes me talk like this, then they don’t look as hoity-toity as they would otherwise.”

8. Pre-teach whenever possible. 

If you’re going to be reading a certain article next week, give ESL students a copy of it now. If you plan to show a YouTube video tomorrow, send a link to your ESL students today. Any chance you can give these students to preview material will increase the odds that they’ll understand it on the day you present it to everyone else. “That kind of thing is wonderful,” Yurkosky says. “The kids feel so empowered if they’ve had a chance to look at the material ahead of time.”

9. Learn about the cultural background of your students…

Our second-language populations grow more diverse every year. Taking the time to learn the basics of where a child comes from — exactly, not ‘somewhere in the Middle East/South America/Asia/Africa’ — tells the student that you respect her enough to bother. Kim remembers one time when she had to set the record straight about the diverse South American population at her school: “I was listening to the teachers talking about the ‘Mexican’ kids in our building,” she says, “and I was like, ‘We don’t have any Mexicans.'” Not taking the time to at least correctly identify a child’s country of origin, much like not bothering to pronounce their name correctly, is a kind of microaggression, a small, subtle insult that communicates hostility toward people of color. Make a commitment to be someone who bothers to get it right.

Once you have the country straight, take things up a notch by learning about students’ religious and cultural practices. If he is a practicing Muslim, he should be told if one of the pizzas you ordered for the class party has sausage on it. If she comes from a culture where eye contact with adults is viewed as disrespectful, you’ll know not to force her to look you in the eye when she’s talking.

10. …but don’t make a child speak for his entire culture.

In her podcast interview, Kim shared a story about watching a teacher ask a new Iraqi student how he felt about the war in his country, right in the middle of class. “That’s not cultural inclusiveness,” she explains. “I’ve seen teachers do this and then pat themselves on the back.  The students’ English is limited so they can’t express themselves very well, and they don’t want to ‘represent’; they just want to be there.” If you anticipate a theme coming up in your class that’s going to be relevant to one of your students, have a conversation with them in advance, or check with your ESL teacher to see if they think it’s appropriate for in-class discussion.

11. Show them how to take themselves  less seriously…

By modeling the risk-taking that’s required to learn a new language, you help students develop the courage to take their own risks, and to have a sense of humor about it. “I tried to say the word ‘paint’ (pinta) in Portuguese and instead I said the word for ‘penis’ (pinto). They all roared with laughter while I stood there with a What?? look on my face,” Yurkosky says. “When they explained what I’d said, I laughed so hard! I told them that laughing was fine because sometimes mistakes are really funny, but ridicule is never okay.”

12. …but always take them  seriously.

One of Kim’s pet peeves about how teachers interact with English language learners is the way they often see students’ efforts as ‘cute,’ missing the whole point of what the student is trying to say. “A student will be desperate to communicate, and the teacher will get distracted by the delivery and miss the message,” she says. “That’s painful for me to watch.” It bothers her when teachers mistake a lack of language for a lack of intelligence or maturity. When a child can’t express themselves as well as they would in their native language, it’s far too easy to assume the concepts just aren’t in their heads.

“It breaks my heart when I hear teachers say (ELL kids) don’t know anything,” says Eddington. “These are brilliant kids and they know a lot. They just can’t tell us in English yet.” Make a conscious effort to see past the accent and the mispronunciations and treat every interaction — every student — with the respect they deserve.

“They’re doing twice the job of everybody else in the class,” Kim adds, “even though the result looks like half as much.” ♦

Further Reading

ESLThe ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide is one of the highest-rated books on teaching English-language learners available. In addition to offering an overview of the research on second-language learners and best practices in teaching ESL, it also includes a whole section on teaching ESL in the content areas and another specifically geared toward teaching ELL students in mainstream classrooms.


Walker, A., Shafer, J., & Iiams, M. (2004). “Not in my classroom”: Teacher attitudes towards English language learners in the mainstream classroomNABE Journal of Research and Practice2(1), 130-160.

Yigzaw, A. (2012). Impact of L1 use in L2 English writing classesEthiopian Journal of Education and Sciences, 8(1), 11-27.

If you thought this was helpful, stick around.
Join my mailing list and never miss another post. You’ll get weekly tips, tools, and inspiration — in quick, bite-sized packages — all geared toward making your teaching more effective and joyful. To thank you, I’ll send you a free copy of my new e-booklet, 20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half. I look forward to getting to know you better!

Click here to get a PDF of this article.


  1. Abby Morton says:

    The story about the Iraqi student reminds me of a kid I had last year, a girl from Syria. She was quiet, wore a headscarf, kind of blended into the background. The kids were working in informal groups one day, and as I walked around the room I noticed that she was talking to a few of the students about the war there. I stopped to listen, and within a few minutes the whole class was listening and asking questions. It was a golden moment. Most of the kids had no idea where Syria is or that anything is going on there. To hear it from another teenager was priceless. Once the kids heard her talk and they realized she was open to it, they’d ask her questions all the time. The girl ended up being rather popular. One time the kids were asking her about her headscarf and what the rules were. She said she would take it off for us if all the boys left the room. I arranged for that, and we had a Showing Of The Hair. It was touching, personal, and I’m sure all of the girls will remember it (and more importantly, the reasons behind it; their understanding will foster respect for the hijab).

    I don’t know the point of my telling this story… I guess it’s that when it’s done cautiously and respectfully and on the ELL student’s terms, we can learn SO much from them. All of us, not just the teachers. Most people like to talk about themselves.

    • Brittany says:

      Thank you so much for sharing that story Abby. That’s so beautiful. And thank you Jennifer for putting this website together. I’m an ELL tutor at my university and I always enjoy reading tips from the professionals. This is all very encouraging and helpful!

    • James says:

      This is the best blog post I’ve ever read about teaching ELL’s in public schools. I’ll be sharing this with new teachers who have not had a TESOL methods course or a sheltered instruction training.

    • Kelley says:

      Thank you for sharing that story. Many times Esl teacher only have negative stories to share to help mainstream teachers understand what not to do. This was a touching moment for all involved.

    • rola alsuwadi says:

      I read your story ,,, It touched me .
      You are a lovely teacher full of humanity ,, students are lucky to have you .

    • Canadian Classroom Space Cowboy says:

      I love that story! Thanks for sharing. Cultural understanding is paramount and I’m happy that took place in your class. Wonderful that you were able to facilitate environments and conditions to allowed the conversations to occur 🙂

    • Steph says:


    • That was an amazing story, thank you so much for sharing! I am sure that will be with you as well as your class for many years. I love that we all have so much to learn and share with one another.

  2. Thanks for that story, Abby. It sounds like your student gave tacit permission ahead of time for this conversation to take place (just by virtue of it happening organically and semi-privately, rather than you just putting her on the spot in front of everyone). You phrased it beautifully — when it’s done cautiously and respectfully, and on the student’s terms, we can most definitely ask questions and show interest in their background. I appreciate your adding this extra nuance to that point.

  3. Sarah T. says:

    Hi, I just looked that book up (ESL Manual), and it’s selling for over $300.00 in Amazon. Any chance you can find another book to recommend?

    • Wow. That is a LOT. I don’t think I realized that, or maybe something changed. I’ll see what else I can find!

    • Isabella Wolfram says:

      Hi, I just went on the link for the ESL manual and it’s about $24.00 on Amazon. Much more reasonable.

  4. Vera Dela Cruz says:

    Price on Amazon as of Nov 19, 2015 is $500 for spiral bound copy… pretty costly.

    • Yes Vera, I know. I have had others comment on this as well. I’m not sure how Amazon pricing works sometimes, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t this high when I initially recommended it. I am going to look for an alternative!

      • Laurie Hitzelberger says:

        I just looked, and it’s $23.52 on Amazon (paperback).

        • Thanks, Laurie! I’m now realizing that this conversation was in reference to a book I’d posted earlier, but I think I replaced it due to the high sticker price.

  5. Ashley says:

    This article is so helpful! Thank you for sharing. I am a college student about to start my student teaching. I am currently observing various teachers in my local middle school. It is a small town public school that has little to no diversity. This year they received their first student with no English background. There is no ESL teacher and from what I have seen, he gets no content ahead of time and the use of his first language is often discouraged. The school’s focus seems to be that he learn English and hopefully pick up content along the way rather than the other way around. He is fully mainstream and is pulled out for about 20 minutes every other day to practice English vocabulary (colors, body parts, etc). In Language Arts, he has a reading book and grammar workbook in his native language, but is given spelling words such as shirt, pants, big, little, and asked to read books on a first or second grade level to practice his English comprehension. In math, science, and history, he just sits in class. Google Translate is used to interpret some assignments, but that is about the extent of his instruction. I am not an ESL major and have very little experience with ESL students, but I feel like some things are being done backwards. I have worked with the student some and he is a very smart kid and picks up on things quickly. Being around him and observing him in class, I get the feeling that he is bored and is annoyed with the English vocabulary drills. So, I’ve said all of this to say I have been researching ways to help him and the teachers provide a more productive learning environment and this article was very informative. Again, thank you for sharing,

  6. Janet Dunkin says:

    I love these suggestions. I’d like to add that #10 should also apply to First Nations/aboriginal students, who, although they already speak English, also often are asked to be representative of their whole nation or culture. Or defend it.

    • Thank you, Janet. You’re right. Same for English-speaking Muslim students, Hispanic students, Asian students…

      • 12 ways to support English language learners is an excellent resource for all teachers to hear. Most importantly it was broken down into simplistic terms for a non-ESL teacher. I hope to take it back and I have colleagues here the podcast and understand that most importantly it is important to collaborate and use these 12 strategies as a guideline.

    • James says:

      My daughter’s 2nd grade teacher asked her to “Speak some Korean (her 1st language) to the class.” What a silly teacher!

  7. I have to also join some of the groups like you.

  8. Lisa says:

    I have been teaching for 18 years in a Hispanic neighborhood and usually only knew how to pronounce a students first name. This article has made me realize that it is a sign of respect. I never thought of it like that. I am going to make a conscious effort to know and memorize the first and last name of each student in my classroom. You have change my point of view regarding this topic. Thank you. I never understood the importance of someone’s name. Although, my students know that it is difficult to memorize all the last names, that is no excuse. I know that I can do better and I will do better from now on due to your article!

    • Donna Gilbert says:

      Good Evening,
      I used to teach at a Christian preschool, in an area of MA, that started having a very high influx of Indian Families. Yes, from India. The dads came to the US for a job. The children’s names were very hard to pronounce but this was their just like our names are our names. We would not want people to continually mess up our name. Therefore I made a very high concerted effort in pronouncing the child’s first name correctly, first only though, as I could never get both right. The parent would say, “It’s ok to call them…” and would tell me a “close enough” American name for their child. I assured them that I would pronounce their child’s first name correctly, as this was their given name. This pleased them. So, kudos to you Lisa for making sure you pronounced your students first AND last names correctly!

      • Sabrina Sutton says:

        in the elementary school I work in we have tons of students coming from Puerto Rico and many of them have not been exposed to the English language. I would pair an English language student with an ELL student and provide them visual aids and other items to assist in helping the student become more understanding of English words and their meanings

  9. Lisa says:

    I really like what you are doing. Please keep sharing these ideas with teachers. It is essential that we share and reflect on how we approach our profession. I appreciate your hard work and look forward to hearing more of your ideas.

  10. Workneh E. Woldehana says:

    This is so wonderful that I am going to share it with teachers in our school that works with ESL students. Thanks ever so much. It is so powerful and resourceful to especially international teachers who travels to poor countries across the ocean where resources are not easy to find.

  11. What a helpful article! My favourite tip is number twelve. I’ve written an article which you might also like, it gives 13 tips on how to change the way you speak so that your non-native listener can catch what you’re saying.!Speak-and-be-understood-How-to-have-a-meaningful-exchange-with-someone-who-knows-very-little-English/gn84i/56ab63ef0cf205a1e854b0f1

  12. Tess Daigle says:

    Supporting opportunities for practice and social exchanges between ELL students and their same-age peers is something that I value in my practice as a Speech Language Pathologist. My colleague in the field of special education and I plan integration activities for our ELL special education students with students in the community preschool program. This exposes them to peer role models and group practice in activities featuring age-level vocabulary and langue concepts.

  13. susangoldstein says:

    I teach a self-contained, developmentally delayed preschool classroom. I found that tip number 9 (Learn About the Culture Background of my Students) is very important. A good understanding of my ELL students’ cultures is important for effectively establishing a good rapport with their parents and caregivers. This helps build a level of trust so that we can work collaboratively to improve their child’s access to the special education curriculum.

    • Julie says:

      Just a note: El Salvador and Guatemala are Central American countries not South American.

  14. Erica says:

    This article was very helpful for me because I am doing an assignment that is based on differentiated instruction and has something to do with ESL learners and what are different ways to teach them and meet there needs

  15. Susanne says:

    Dear ladies and gents, In Canada, I could borrow this book with ease from one of our public libraries. I prefer that to the $500 cost of the book. I would imagine that in the US, your library services would be the same. Thank you Jennifer for some great tips, quite useful as am a French language teacher, with smatterings of ESL teaching via Skype. All suggestions can be used or adapted in all forms of teaching. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Hi, Jenny! Again, you produce great content that is immediately implementable! As a teacher of English learners (ELs), these ideas are very appropriate practices. The two pratices that I like the most in this list are #1 and #2. I especially like #2 because when ELs are solving problems in a group, they’re actively using language for a purpose and engaged because they are using their critical thinking skills.

    I use group work to help ELs develop reading, speaking, and critical thinking skills. The process is called Visible Reading. I model the process of deconstructing comolex texts. Then, I let students practice that skill in small pairs. Finally, we compare our ideas as a whole class to clarify misunderstandings.

    I worte about the process in this article . I hope it helps your readers strategically use group work to develop reading, speaking, and thinking skills in an enagung way.


    Thanks very helpful.

  18. Lindsay Manzella says:

    All of these are excellent strategies for supporting ELLs. I have to say though, as an EAL teacher of more than 12 years, I really cringed reading this line from the introduction: “and though he receives English as a Second Language (ESL) support, he will also be sitting in your room every day to give him more exposure to his new language.” ELLs are not just “sitting in our classrooms” to get more “exposure” to English. From day one one students are in our schools to learn content AND language. If we think of our students (even in just the first year) as being there to learn English and absorb some language (as if they were auditing our class) then we are doing a major disservice to them. The whole point of these strategies is to make content comprehensible so that students can access the content. Use of home language (L1) becomes a huge asset here.

    I have been reading this blog for quite a while, so I know that it is not the feeling of the author that students should just sit in class and listen, but the wording used here was very unfortunate.

    • Hey Lindsay,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m pretty sure that was not the first time I heard a teacher use those words to describe the decision to place a newcomer in a class with no supports, so I would appreciate a suggestion for how teachers might phrase their description of this kind of arrangement to better reflect the goals. Unfortunately, in some schools, where the newcomer population has been a much more recent phenomenon, a more sophisticated plan isn’t even in place, so that unfortunate language may not be far off from what’s actually happening. If you have links to resources that can help schools better serve newcomers, I would love for you to share them with us!

      • Alvin Brinson says:

        I cannot seem to convince my school district that 9th grade newcomers from countries with insufficient foundations of learning (Guatemala, Honduras, etc) should NOT be “mainstreamed” to “sink or swim” in their math, science & social studies classes. I have them for ESOL and READING but the rest of the day they’re sitting like clueless bumps on a log in classes of 30-35+ Non-ELLs with teachers who have no time for them. Most of them drop out. Rips my heart out that my district blatantly refuses to support these students.

  19. This article is spot on. I work as an ELL teacher and also provide support to our mainstream classes that contain ELLs. These are the very things I teach our content area teachers. I think I may just use this article as a resource for them next school year. Thanks!

  20. Johanna says:

    The book is listed as 19.72 on Amazon as of 10/12/17.

  21. Hi, thank you for this post, which has been really useful for me to think about in relation to teaching ELL students! One minor thing I wanted to offer here is that El Salvador and Honduras are in what is typically considered to be Central America, and not South America. Mexico is considered part of North America or part of Central America, depending on who you’re talking to.

  22. Albert Franklin says:

    Every college today has a classroom, which allows students to enhance and maintain their day to day English language learning development. Their required daily journal, will reflect those students whom are able to grow in that practice.

  23. Julie says:

    What a fantastic article! I live and work in southern China (going on 8 years now) and use many of these tactics. All of my students are ELL (some speak three or more languages) and kind support goes a long way. I often tell my students to use a dictionary to look up words and I have them do pre-work in their first language then, change it over to English. Most of my students speak Mandarin Chinese and there are times that I will make a fun joke or help them with vocabulary in this language. Although many people have different ideas about this, I have noticed it has helped me build strong student-teacher relationships and I am learning more and more everyday about the many cultures here. Thank you for another great article!

  24. Chris White says:

    Is there a good place to look for a master list of sentence frames from step 7? I am stressing academic language in discussion with freshman and would love to give them a resource.

    • Hi Chris! I’m Holly, a Customer Experience Manager for Cult of Pedagogy. I did a little searching and came up with a few things that might help your students:
      –The first thing I’d do is search Teachers Pay Teachers. I found a few free downloads that may work.
      This article from TeachThought kept coming up.
      –Lastly, HERE’s an abbreviated, easy-to-print PDF that could get you started.

      Hope this helps!

  25. says:

    Thanks for this article, Jennifer. I agree with all of your advice, except for “Honor the silent period.” We need to get our ELLs speaking as soon as possible. We can’t wait for them to feel totally confident before participating in class discussions. By providing sentence starters and sentence frames, guiding the discussion, and allowing the use of translators in the classroom, ELLs can contribute almost immediately.

    • Hi Rochelle! Thanks for taking the time to come over here and post this. I would love to hear what other teachers of English learners think about this. I wonder if it’s just a matter of timing–how long is the silent period, technically? I’m sure it differs for each student, but on average, are we talking about a week? A month? I think getting students to try speaking early isn’t a bad idea, but I wonder what the consequences are if a teacher is unaware of the “silent period” and pushes too hard? The supports you listed sound like the kinds of things that could get students comfortable more quickly without undue stress.

    • Sue says:

      Rochelle and Jennifer, I have only one year under my belt of teaching ELL students so I am certainly not an expert. However, I would like to weigh in on this conversation.
      I agree with both of your opinions and personally do not feel there is one exact answer but rather a case-by-case approach should be taken. Let me explain a couple of things that I do every day in my third grade classroom. When I take attendance, I look directly at every student making sure to have eye contact and say, “Good morning ___.” In return, the student must look at me making eye contact and say, “Good morning Mrs. D.” It has been my glorious experience, since the ELL student(s) have watched everyone in the class do this and while their personal peer interpreter quietly guides them (if needed), they will respond appropriately. Often this is one of the few times in the day I can clearly understand them and everyone can hear them! I, of course have the universal sign of approval on, a HUGE smile. I also do a formal morning meeting in a circle, one portion of the meeting is, each student sharing out a response to a question that I have posed. At the beginning of the year and whenever I receive a new student, rather than an academic share out I return to things like, “My favorite color is ___.” or “My favorite food is ___.” etc…, they can reference the sentence frame response, as it is always written on the board. I have found with the support of a peer interpreter that my ELL’s will share with us even if it means repeating after their interpreter. As the ELL’s progress and answer on their own the rest of the class often will give a round of applause. I work hard on building classroom community and the ELL’s can see this so, they smile as they get their round of applause.
      In addition, I taught an ELL this year that had already attended school in my building for 8-9 months in second grade. After about a month in my room I felt that he had had more than enough “Silent Period” time, especially since he constantly asked me questions in English like, “Can I pass out those papers?”, “Can I change the date?”, and so forth. So for this situation I spoke with the student privately and also gave mom a call discussing how it was time to start speaking in English. Thank goodness mom and I both agreed that we would push on the student a bit more forcefully which we both did in our respective locations. I also made sure to have this student sit next to someone who would support (interpret) him as needed. This approach did help, along with the, you can’t opt out approach. If he didn’t have an answer ready when I called on him I would say, “If you’re not prepared to answer I will come back to you in a minute/after 2 more people share/at the end, etc….” I stayed true to my word and once he realized this was the case he was ready to answer much more often. Finally, this particular student loved math and did very well in the subject. I would be sure to get him speaking and praise him often during math which helped boost his confidence. This eventually with time began to transfer in to writing and oral reading comprehension.
      In summation, I feel each student must be taken on a case-by-case basis, draw on the area(s) the student excels and boost their confidence at every chance you can and hopefully with tender loving care that confidence will transfer to the areas where they struggle more with English.
      Final note, my school does not have a designated ELL teacher to partner with.

  26. Kathi McComb says:

    Thank you for all these tips and reminders. I am an ESL tutor for grades 1 and 2 and I know these modifications will help all our learners and will benefit our classroom teachers so much!

  27. Lizbeth says:

    This was a powerful post i really enjoyed reading it. I was able to gain a lot of knowledge about how i can be more helpful to my future ELL students. I think its important that we are aware of what methods to use because all of our students learn in different ways. Having visuals was a great idea not only for ELL students but for all students who may be visual learners.

  28. jocelyn kelly says:

    Does anyone know of a good ELL professional development opportunity to send general education teachers to? It could be over the summer, an online program, an annual conference – anything. Thanks.

    • Hey Jocelyn,

      I work with Cult of Pedagogy, and although I don’t know of any PD opportunities off-hand, you might want to check out our Teaching ESL/ELL board on Pinterest where you can find a collection of resources — we’re adding to the board all the time. Also, at the bottom of this post, take a look at The ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide by Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski, which comes highly recommended. Hopefully others who see your comment will be able to jump in and offer some ideas.

    • ETHEL EDWARDS says:

      I am an ESOL teacher in a school district in Georgia and we use the SIOP model.

      Please check out SIOP for professional development opportunities and conferences.

      (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol)

      SIOP® National Conference
      Seattle, WA | July 10-11, 2018
      Pre-Conference Workshops on July 9th

      “It includes 8 major components and 30 features for teaching grade-level content while developing students’ English language skills. Developed by the author team of Dr. Jana Echevarría, Dr. MaryEllen Vogt, and Dr. Deborah Short, the SIOP® Model helps teachers develop students’ academic language skills.”

      “What characterizes a SIOP classroom is the systematic, consistent, and concurrent focus on teaching both content concepts and academic language – at the same time.”

      The website also has great resources and professional development opportunities listed.

  29. Great article. I really like how you pointed out how we can systematically work with general Ed teachers to support the content. When the woman mentioned chatting with teachers I thought that was good, but… But then the next paragraph talks about the systmeitizimg.

    But those relationships with the teachers and organically hearing what’s going on and brainstorming is invaluable as a learning support teacher. I keep trying to build those relationships everyday.

  30. Jo Ann Gregorowicz says:

    I love the recommendation on helping ESL students take themselves less seriously. Too often, I find that students are afraid of making the smallest mistakes. Teaching them some humor can lift their anxiety.

  31. Courtnie says:

    WOW! I absolutely loved your podcast. I am a teacher and honestly this is the first podcast I have ever listened to. I am working on my master’s degree and needed to find articles on how to improve our ESL… or now ELs scores on our state assessment. I came across your podcast and thought I’d give it a shot. I loved it. Thank you for sharing your interviews! I enjoyed hearing about the 12 ways to help them improve. And I agree with all of them!

  32. Lynore says:

    I have worked with English Language Learners and their teachers for over 3 decades. I find one of the most common challenges is differentiation between language level and content knowledge, particularly with regard to secondary students. High School students at low levels of language proficiency studying Geometry may need the teacher to explain the concepts in simple S-V-O sentences rather than complex sentences. Make a parallel to high school students studying Spanish I. Even though they read complex sentences in English we would never begin Spanish instruction with Don Quixote. The language needs to be built for comprehension. I have found the best tool to use as a model is the WIDA framework for Grades 9-12. The framework ( outlines how to address a secondary standards based concept across content topics at various levels of language proficiency.

  33. David says:

    I have been training to be an ESL Teacher for Japanese students for almost 3 months now and somehow I feel like I can’t seem to be an ESL teacher as my principal keeps stating I love teaching this way but I feel that my supervisor might be insinuating that this is not the profession for me … Can I please get some advice on how I can be a better ESL teacher?

    • Eric Wenninger says:

      Hey David,
      As an ESL teacher myself, I can tell you it is a very rewarding field to work in. I would suggest talking more with your supervisor about how you are progressing with your training and what specific areas you can improve in. In addition to focusing on the great points in this blog post, you could also listen to Jenn’s very first podcast, Interview with an ESL Teacher. In the podcast, Kim (an ESL teacher) discusses several best practices for teaching ESL students, along with some good commentary on the important roles ESL teachers take on with their students and within the school community. I would also recommend checking out Colorín Colorado’s ELL Strategies and Best Practices and Jenn’s Pinterest board on Teaching English Learners. If there’s something specific you’d like to work on, let us know, and we’ll try to steer you in the right direction. Thanks!

  34. I enjoyed the video in Box 1, “12 ways to support English Learners in the Mainstream Classroom.” I learned so much. It reminded me of an exchange student, Yoshiyaki, that I had years ago. I learned that I did the right thing by providing him pictures of our vocabulary terms. Actually, he drew an understanding of the words and wrote the words in his language words, along with the English. I didn’t, however, have enough foresight, then, to provide him with material ahead of time and it took much longer for him to complete the list, and he, as the author of the video states, did more than everyone else, but his results showed, half as much! I shared this thought with an older, retired teacher friend and we had a great discussion on our oversights. 2/18/19

  35. Ray S. says:

    Through experience the allowing of a “Silent Period” seems intuitive. A teacher cannot make an ESL student talk if the student does not want to. The problem comes from distinguishing this typical reluctance from an intentional reluctance — an example being that the student is not engaged in the material or subject matter. The intentional reluctance is a signal to the teacher that the instruction is not maximally effective and some adaptation is needed. The typical reluctance requires no action from the teacher, where the intentional does suggest action. Could there be other reasons for the intentional reluctance of a student, and would those also suggest teacher action?

  36. Susan says:

    What a wonderful read!

  37. WalterismyEnglishname says:

    Thanks for your wonderful shares and espeically your native-voice audio. It takes me years to find out this such wonderful website.

  38. Mehvesh Madda says:

    WOW!!! Each and every strategy touched my heart. English being my second language too, I can relate to the children who struggle to speak in English at first. These strategies can definitely help the children!!


  39. I love how thoughtful and accurate your tips are for teaching ESL and students of color. Thank you SO MUCH for being and encouraging others to be inclusive and culturally responsive! We deeply need more of it in schools everywhere.

  40. Grace Arreneke says:

    In 2020, your tips on how to provide help to ELL students is remains priceless. I have a student who is really struggling to access content in English. Sentence frames are going to be a great way for me to help this student practice academic language.

  41. Natan Brown says:

    Wonderful article!
    This is what I need now. I never thought I’d work with teenagers who don’t understand English at all. But now I have one such student, and a few others have very poor knowledge of the language and are afraid to talk (although they write very well). I feel like a bad teacher when I can’t find an understanding with them. So I try very hard to make the lessons easier and more interesting. I found some interesting ideas on how to plan lessons and start communicating with these students. (If anyone is interested, here is a list of lesson plans and useful resources to offer your students:
    Your advice has added to my confidence that I’m going in the right direction. Thank you!

  42. Also, I have found this book is great for young ESL learners:
    Welcome to America English Language Learners Starting Strong by Julie Gamwell. I got it on Amazon.

  43. Dear Jennifer,
    I have discovered your blog and your podcasts just this year and they quickly became my teaching bible 🙂 Thanks for your expertise and your commitment to curating resources on a multitude of topics, all super useful in the classroom and beyond.
    I wanted to share an anecdote about the importance of learning your EAL students’ background. Not just cultural, but background in general. In 2010 I was teaching Year 2 in a small school in Uganda. About a month into the school year I got a new student from Libya. I am an experienced EAL teacher and primary school teacher but when Belkis joined my class I made a grave mistake of not asking enough questions, of simply not learning enough about my new student.
    Within 2 weeks of Beliks starting school, we had a duck and cover drill. I had discussed all drills with my class in great length at the beginning of the school year. But Belkis was not there at the time… When we heard the loud siren, mid-lesson, all children knew what to do. All except for Belkis, who completely freaked out. She was horrified – sobbing and shaking. I had no language to describe to her what was happening and I could not seek a translator during the drill. All I could do was to hold her tight and keep saying all was OK.
    Had I known about the horrific experiences in Libya which forced her family to flee the country, I would have made sure someone would explain to her what a drill was way in advance and I would have made sure she knew when it was going to happen. I will never forget how horrible I felt afterwards….
    Since then I tend to ask questions which can be perhaps perceived as too detailed and nosy but I don’t care. It is better to be nosy that to traumatize a child because of your lack of their background knowledge….

  44. Ivan Carroll says:

    This training helps teachers build and show empathy in their approach to servicing the needs of a vulnerable population. I have taught quite a few ESL and ELL students over the years. It never fells right when I can’t fully communicate to them or relate on a more organic level. Maybe on day we’ll receive our Universal Translator Implants.

  45. Alvaro Cortes says:

    As a former ESOL student in middle school, it helped me to have personable, empathetic and competent teachers who met me where I was academically and emotionally to encourage and challenge me to do better. Learning English and american culture was the focus and my hard work was noticed, celebrated and has paid off! I love ESOL teachers and population!

  46. Cynthia Elliott says:

    It is a great reminder to be empathetic and understanding to the difficulties non English speaking students have in the school setting. This was very informative.

  47. Shannon Payne says:

    What a good read. This gives us some insight and tools to help us support our ESL students in the classroom. Helps us to understand how they are feeling.

  48. Tanyette Hill says:

    This gives us some insight and tools to help us support our ESL students in the classroom.

  49. Lorrie Maddox (Sprayberry) says:

    Really eye-opening…I’m going to use the information in this to help me stay sensitive towards the needs of my ESOL students.

  50. Tina Stevenson says:

    Gives a lot of insight. After years of teaching you sometimes forget things.

  51. I thought the article was very informative and wished that every person would listen and read this article.

  52. Karen D Richards says:

    These articles provide a wealth of knowledge. Teachers and providers can definitely utilize some of these ideas.

  53. Jessica Thornton says:

    This was awesome!

  54. Voice typing in “Google Docs” (under the Tools menu) provides students with a voice-to-text option that can help learners who have some oral language but struggle with spelling and writing. By clicking the arrow next to the language, students can even dictate a text in their native language, if need be, and then use “Google” Translate to translate it.

  55. Marylin Richardson-Pryor says:

    I really appreciate voice typing in “Google Docs’. This is an opportunity to enhance the student that is experiencing challenges with spelling, writing and a lack of confidence in understanding. The opportunity to use a voice-to text option could be inspiring and build confidence in their learning ability.

  56. Donna Gilbert says:

    Thank you so much for a very informative podcast about ELL students. I really liked #10 but especially the statement in #12 saying, “Don’t take a child’s inability to express themselves as a lack of intelligence or maturity.” They just can’t express themselves in English, YET!
    Also the statement by Kim was great, ” ELL students are doing twice the job of everybody else in class, even though the result looks like half as much.”

    Thanks again,
    Donna Gilbert

    • Andrea Castellano says:

      Thanks, Donna. We’re so glad this episode resonated with you!

  57. sabrina Sutton says:

    This is an awesome video. I love the option of talk to text for these students as it alleviates some of the stress that a student can feel because they are not sure how to spell or write a word.

    • Andrea Castellano says:

      You’re spot on about the way that modifications can alleviate stress for students and help them focus on the skill being taught. Lessons can be academically rigorous without being overwhelming!

  58. Dominga Arevalo says:

    Yes I agree, the ELL students are learning English as their second language and just because the students are silent doesn’t mean they aren’t learning. I like the part where it said to pair the student with a native English speaker. This will help the non-English speaker learn while the teacher is busy teaching and helping other students.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.