More Effective Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners

Turning Frustration into Success for English Language Learners (Brice & Roseberry-McKibbin, 1999)

This article addresses the topic of English language learners with language-learning disabilities. These students are faced with the additional challenge of having an underlying language learning system that is inadequate for learning any language. It is noted that student progress is greater when a speech language pathologist and classroom teacher collaborate to coordinate regular classroom learning with small group learning. Progress is also greater when strategies are consistently employed in the classroom on a daily basis as opposed to once or twice a week in a pull-out program.

The authors offers a number of strategies to help classroom teachers enhance the success of ESL students with language learning disabilities. Teachers should check for understanding of expectations, instructions and relevant vocabulary before students begin a task. Students with similar backgrounds can be seated near each other so they can help each other with instructions and understanding. Advance organizers should be utilized to help students know what is going to occur, repeating as necessary. Teachers should employ good questioning techniques by asking a question, allowing ample wait time and then calling on someone. This should cause students to pay attention; and it will also give them a chance to develop an answer before being called on. Teachers should check for understanding of content with questions that are higher than knowledge level. They should speak slowly; avoid using slang and idiomatic speech; use multi-sensory instruction, hands-on activities and frequent modeling; relate information, as much as possible, to students' prior knowledge; and scaffold instruction.

Using Standards to Integrate Academic Language into ESL Fluency (Beckett & Haley, 2000)

This article speaks to curriculum alignment for ESL instruction. ESL standards can have a significant impact on ESL student achievement by integrating academic language into the ESL curriculum. This student population needs to focus on goals of academic competence, focusing on areas such as literacy, vocabulary, critical thinking, social skills and learning strategies. The ESL standards provide structure and guidance that can help to increase student academic success. By linking the ESL standards to state academic standards, we can ensure that ESL students will receive high quality instruction in English language and content areas.

The TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) standards were developed to provide teachers with scope and sequence of the language skills that ESL students need for success in our nation's classrooms. The standards are:

1) to use English to communicate in social settings,

2) to use English to achieve academically in all content areas, and

3) to use English in socially and culturally appropriate ways.

Several strategies are offered by the authors to develop competency in social use of English. They suggest the use of seating Arrangements (such as round tables, quads or pairs) to encourage social interaction. Teachers can also try to structure opportunities for students to use English outside of the classroom. Cooperative learning encourages the use of language in a social manner. Positive social interaction can help students perceive the classroom as a comfortable and friendly place, where they will feel safe using their new language skills and where they may find intrinsic motivation for communicating in English.

To enhance academic achievement, teachers can: create a language-rich classroom; provide students with advance organizers; label everything in the classroom to build vocabulary and help students make connections to their native language; and have different media available for student use (books, magazines, newspapers, audio-tapes, video tapes, computer software) to address different learning styles and also help build connections. To help students to use English in appropriate ways, teachers should teach what language is appropriate in what setting so students can determine when to speak and in what way (for example, formal speech or slang). Teachers should also recognize diversity and sameness in their classrooms, incorporate multicultural literature into the curriculum, and invite parents/family members to share their cultures and talents with the class. Students need to develop an understanding of and appreciation for others considering the diversity of society.

Analysis/Plans for Application to Teaching

While I will not be a certified ESL teacher when I begin my teaching career, I plan to pursue certification in this area. Regardless of whether I am in a regular classroom, special education classroom, ESL classroom or a bilingual classroom, the information contained in these articles will be of great value to me considering the diverse cultural population our schools serve. There will undoubtedly be children who are English language learners in my classes or in activities that I am involved in. I will encounter them when I perform the various duties teachers are assigned to (bus duty, lunch duty etc.). Additionally, the strategies recommended in these four articles seem to be effective strategies to use with all students, not just ESL students.

As time consuming as it may be, learning about the students, their cultures and their communities may be among the most important and productive developmental activities I can undertake as a teacher. This can provide a wealth of information about students and their worlds. While I am sure there would be many differences between their cultures and mine, I expect there would be some similarities as well. Attending or participating in community events or visiting families would very likely be a sensitizing experience for me. I would personally find out how it feels to be the "different" person. I think that this would help to deepen my respect for the students and their cultures. It would also send a message to students that I am committed to helping them and interested in them as people.

Relationships with families are critical. I suspect lack of parental involvement may often be misinterpreted as lack of caring. Non-English speaking parents may feel they have no way to communicate with teachers. They are in a new world too and are experiencing all of the things that their children are experiencing in addition to having the added responsibilities of work and caring for their families. Additional effort needs to be made to reach these parents and open the lines of communication. I would invite them to participate in meaningful activities in school, ask them to be class volunteers, and make a special effort to recognize the accomplishments of their children. I would make an extra effort to explain the expectations of both parents and students in our schools, especially if they are newcomers (Boothe, 2000). I would enlist the help of a translator when possible, if language is a barrier.

Written communications sent home should be translated into their native language, whenever possible. There are resources available on the internet that provide translations at no cost. Alta Vista ( offers free translations of text in the following languages: Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian. Research-it ( offers free translation of web pages into Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese and Chinese. Once my class web site is developed, I will also be able to use it to further communication with parents. Just because they are non-English speaking does not mean they do not have access to computers. Depending on socio-economic status, they may have computers at home. If not, they have access at local libraries or other community agencies. Contacts made in the community, foreign language instructors and other staff members in our schools could also help with translation. I would try to arrange partnerships between bi-lingual families and non-English speaking families, depending on their languages and encourage parents and family members who do not speak English to learn English by informing them of resources available in the community.

I believe that cultivating caring, engaged relationships with students and their families will help my students to feel connected to their school and, hopefully, enhance their feelings about school and their self-esteem. I would like to be remembered as a teacher that cared, one that made a difference in their lives. By learning about students, their cultures, and their communities I will be better able to identify what resources the students bring to the learning experience. I will also be better able to draw on prior knowledge, experiences and strengths to help build new knowledge and build connections for students (Lucas, 2000).

There are so many factors that influence the lives and learning of ESL students: immigration history, language use, socio-economic status, educational history and leisure activities. There are so many questions to find out answers to. What kind of responsibilities do they have at home? Are they considered adults or children? Are they recent immigrants? Were they born here? Where else have they lived? What is their schooling history? By finding out more about my students, I can personalize their experience at school and in my classroom to a greater extent.

Because of the great difficulties and challenges faced by ESL students, I plan to develop and incorporate activities into my lessons to encourage an appreciation for diversity among students. I will find ways to celebrate diversity of all students to: enrich learning; foster peer relationships; create respect for differences; create an understanding of other cultures; and instill a sense of belonging or membership (Shore, 2001). I intend to approach each student (ESL, regular education or special needs) as an individual, taking into consideration personality characteristics (shy or outgoing for example), learning style, educational experience, special talents and interests, social and familial situation.

I plan to use cooperative learning as a means to promote interaction among students. This will allow students time for social interaction and enable them to develop confidence in their language skills (Boothe, 2000). Through participation in cooperative learning they will have a chance to speak and listen. Verbal activities promote collaboration among students. Verbal interaction is fundamental to learning both language and content. ESL students need the opportunity to use language in interaction with both peers and teachers who are competent in the language and serve as models (Egbert & Simich-Dudgeon, 2001). Cooperative learning will afford the opportunity to develop relationships with their peers; and their peers will, hopefully, begin to value the ESL students for who they are as opposed to just "kids who don't speak English." I plan to utilize some sensitizing activities in class as well, regardless of whether I have ESL or inclusion class or a regular education class. I feel that these are profound exeriences that give those involved a taste of humanity and a taste of humility, both of which can help us gain a better understanding of ourselves and the diverse people we live, work and learn with (Rudnick, 1995).

I plan to develop scaffolding activities and accommodations that will help my students to: organize their thoughts, develop study skills, organize their schedules, consistently follow classroom procedures, and track their progress throughout the school year (Boothe, 2000). By assigning classroom jobs or responsibilities to ESL or special needs students I will involve them in the class and help them to feel as if they belong and have value. I will encourage them to share any personal experiences with the class that they feel comfortable sharing and to also maintain a personal journal about themselves and their experiences (written in English or their native language).

Through all of the articles I have read, I think it was quite clear that ESL students should be encouraged to maintain their native language. The benefits of a maintenance program as opposed to a transition program seem to be paramount. It is so critical for children to have a strong sense of self in order to achieve. Their native language is part of their "self." They need confidence to develop friendships, problem solve, and master skills in language and content areas. They should not be ashamed of who they are or their origins. They need their native language in order to maintain valuable relationships with family members and friends who do not speak English.

The role that a teacher plays in the lives of students and the teacher's potential to improve the quality of life for students cannot be underestimated. Elementary school teachers have a major effect on how children will view school, possibly for the next twelve years of their lives. This effect can be compounded when students do not speak English. In order to foster acceptance, self-confidence, learning, and achievement, teachers of ESL students need to make the classroom a haven for children, create meaningful learning situations for their students, and never give up on them (Thompson, 2000).


By: Karen Pellino

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  • Egbert, J and Simich-Dudgeon, C. 2001. Providing support for non-native learners of English in the social studies classroom. The Social Studies, 92, 1, 22-25. Accessed through Wilson Web on-line database on June 4, 2001.
  • Lucas, T. 2000. Facilitating the transitions of secondary English language learners: Priorities for principals. NASSP Bulletin, 84, 619, 2-16. Accessed through WilsonWeb on-line database on June 10, 2001.
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  • Thompson, G. 2000. The real deal on bilingual education: Former language-minority students discuss effective and ineffective instructional practices. Educational Horizons, 78, 2, 80-92. Accessed through WilsonWeb on-line database on June 10, 2001.