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Strategies for Teaching ELL Students in the Mainstream Classroom

Educators know that the needs of each student can be different and there is no one-size fits all approach to teaching. While the same can be said for the English Language Learners (ELLs) in the classroom, there are a few techniques that may help them succeed and master the content being taught in the mainstream classroom.

  • Use visual aids.  ELL students often have a more difficult time processing spoken language over written language. When possible, write simple, clear instructions on the board. You can also add pictures and diagrams for more complex topics when teaching to help aid their understanding of the topic. If it’s something you can demonstrate or show them how to do first, even better!
     
  • Respect that there may be times when your ELL students wish to remain silent. Don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to during these periods. Chances are, as long as ELL students pay attention and feel encouraged in other areas, they will be happy to participate in oral discussions once they feel more confident in their language abilities.
     
  • Work with an ESL teacher if available to help determine English proficiency. An ESL instructor can be a valuable resource for determining what may or may not be too advanced for a particular student based on where they are in the learning process. You may also be able to work with this ESL teacher to let them know what topics you plan to cover in class, and they can incorporate some of that vocabulary in the ESL class, as well.
     
  • Let them use their native language as needed to help them work through a problem or question. Obviously, you don’t want their native language to be the only one your student speaks in the classroom, but using it to help think through a problem and come to a solution can be a great tool for proper understanding. An ELL student may need to count in their primary language, for example, in order to solve a math problem. This is natural and shouldn’t be discouraged.
     
  • Speak clearly and a little more slowly. Modify your vocabulary for ELLs when possible, being sure not to use slang or expressions that are only common in the U.S., as these will not necessarily be mastered yet by your student. Also be careful not to simply speak loudly. Remember, ELL students can hear you just as well as your native English-speaking students. ;)
     
  • Try not to correct oral grammar mistakes in front of peers. If you need an ELL student to clarify something, it’s okay to ask. However, correcting grammar in front of the rest of the class may result in the student no longer feeling comfortable speaking up and participating in class. You can sometimes correct grammar with your responses to the statement, though. If, for example, an ELL student tells you, “I go to the park yesterday” you can say something along the lines of, “Oh, you went to the park yesterday? How fun!” These types of corrections can be helpful as long as they are integrated into a conversation. Students will pick up on the differences and will incorporate them over time.

Above all else, it is important to take ELLs seriously. They are usually working harder to master concepts than the rest of the class, since processing information in a second (or third!) language can take two to three times as long as it does to process in their native language. Feel free to communicate directly with your students and their parents to determine if you need to make any adjustments to your teaching technique with them, since, like any other student, their individual needs may vary significantly from someone else’s.