The Art of Teaching English Language Learners!
It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
― Albert Einstein
I might edit dear Einstein just a bit to indicate “art of the ESL teacher” instead! Because isn’t it true that what we do as English as a Second Language (ESL) or English Language Development (ELD) teachers is an art to awaken joy in our students? Whether you are the content teacher or the ESL teacher teaching English language learners in your classroom the goal is to encourage and to support students, and ultimately – hopefully – to awaken joy.
There are many ways you can do that! Read on for some tried and true strategies and activities for English Language Learners (ELLs) in your classroom.
The 4 D’s of Teaching English Language Learners
What are English language learners? The 4Ds of demographics, definitions, decrees, and development included below provide the parameters and background definitions for teaching English language learners.
Did you know that English language learners (ELLs) comprise approximately 10.4% of the students in the United States Public Schools K-12? That’s over 5.1 million students! That percentage can be substantially higher depending on where you are in the US but it goes to show that no matter where you teach, there are likely ELLs in your school and your classroom (IES National Center for Education Statistics).
Although each state creates its own definition, the federal government defines an ELL as a student who comes from a language background other than English and whose limited comprehension of English is sufficient to create academic difficulties. The Office of Civil Rights says “ELL: English language learner. A national-origin-minority student who is limited-English-proficient.” This term (ELL) is often preferred over limited-English-proficient (LEP) as it highlights accomplishments rather than deficits.
In 1970, the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a memo regarding school districts’ responsibilities under civil rights law to provide an equal educational opportunity to ELLs. This memorandum stated:
Where the inability to speak and understand the English language excludes national origin minority group children from effective participation in the educational program offered by a school district, the district must take affirmative steps to rectify the language deficiency in order to open its instructional program to these students.
Team work always makes the dream work! Classroom teachers are responsible for the content learning of their ELLs. English Language Development teachers are responsible for English proficiency. More specifically, ESL or ELD teaches the English that students need to be successful in schools but will not learn during the rest of their school day for any number of reasons. Read more about the responsibilities of both teachers with this free short essay.
English Language Learners Teaching Strategies
Here are some tried and true strategies for both content teachers and ESL teachers to help effectively reach and teach second language learners. These are strategies that can be included with any number of activities that you might be doing in your classroom already.
The 4 Modalities: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking
Content teacher: Reading and writing provide the bulk of instruction with speaking as the culminating event: a speech or presentation.
ESL teacher: Speaking provides the bulk of instruction with writing usually as the culminating event.
We know this to be true that kids need to talk! Being able to use language in day-to-day situations with other learners is a necessity for language development and reinforcement. Consider a trip to the library or the school office as a way to change space and provide more chances for a variety of authentic interactions that require different vocabulary.
Content teacher: Provide authentic opportunities for your student to express their learning with others in the classroom and school.
ESL teacher: Provide structured language practice that practices specific structures in English.
Create a predictable learning environment. Students are ready to learn when they know the schedule. This year-long bundle features a full year planning guide that is organized month-to-month with a variety of lessons, games, and activities for all levels of learners. This teacher-friendly bundle will not only establish clear routines in class it will save you hours of work so you can focus on in-class support for your students!
Content teacher: Set a schedule and stick to it. Teach routines and procedures.
ESL teacher: With well-rehearsed routines and procedures, your students will be ready to learn and you will make the most from your precious ESL time.
Our brains are pattern seekers. This means that as new information is absorbed it is being combined with previous knowledge. The brain wants to bring these parts together so it is a great idea to incorporate new material with older previously learned material. Consider your students’ background knowledge before diving into something new; not just of the lesson but the activity and its components too!
Content teacher: Graphic organizers are the best of the best practices. Use them as often as you can! This also ties into routine in that providing similar organizers for different tasks will increase students’ comfort over time.
ESL teacher: Organize your instruction by function, form, and classes (vehicles, bathroom vocabulary, prepositions). When the classification is built in, students have a framework for the new vocabulary and grammar structures.
Visuals and Manipulatives
Concrete and image-based teaching make the content accessible to ELLs. This is tied to experiential learning in that experience- or task-based learning aids in the transfer of knowledge.
Content teacher: Use math manipulative materials, word walls with pictures, real objects (realia), provide pictorial cues along with word cues, graphics, maps, photos, word banks, and more.
ESL teacher: Make it visual. Oral language development and visuals go hand and hand. This is also a great opportunity for student ownership. Students can create the visuals whether that is 2D on paper to create a display or 3D with manipulatives or even online with recordings of students’ oral contributions.
Most ELL students are not starting their education journey from scratch when they arrive in your classroom. They will have school experience and knowledge that exists in their native language so encourage the use of their native language when possible.
If you have ESL Newcomers then check out this bundle of activities to free up your ELL planning time. It has everything you need in one place to provide a solid English foundation. With easy differentiated options, you can get your beginning ESL students learning right away with these activities!
Content teacher: Partner same language students to help with translation, send homework in the native language, when possible, to connect school and home.
ESL teacher: Cognates, cognates, cognates. Also, see which idioms occur in both English and the student’s native language. This is a great opportunity to incorporate visuals too!
Teaching English Language Learners is a team effort. When the content teacher and the ESL teacher collaborate great things happen for English Language Learners in your classroom. Incorporating any number of these six strategies and suggested activities will encourage engagement, support learning, and most of all “awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”