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September 15, 2017

Teaching Tips for Helping ESL and ELL Students Succeed

Written By: Brandi Jordan
X Teaching Tips to Help ESL and ELL Students Succeed

Teaching Tips to Help ESL and ELL Students Succeed

We asked Really Good Teachers around the country to share some of their best teaching tips for working with ESL and ELL students. Not only were their ideas and activities fun, they have been proven to help students succeed. Try some of the tips below to assist your English Language Learners in reaching their full potential!

Teaching Tips for ESL and ELL Students

4 Keys to Teaching Success

Idea by Cara, 6th Grade Teacher, Lincoln University, PA

Here are a few suggestions to help accommodate ESL, ELL or bilingual students:

1) Make sure to model any directions you give.

2) For reading and decoding, help students to break words into syllables.

3) As for content area vocabulary, help students connect with target words through the use of repetition and visual cues such as photos or pictures.

Modeling, syllabification, repetition, and visual cues are key to helping any student succeed.

Use Words and Pictures

Idea by Peggy, Preschool Teacher, Bremerton, WA

When helping ELL students, I recommend learning a few basic words in their language. For me it was bathroom, sit, outside, eat, please, thank you, stop, etc. I also took pictures of each student performing routine things throughout our day and used these to help students transition from one activity to the next. I also included some sign language since some of the signs are what they look like (eat, sleep, etc.). In all cases, the ELL students learned both English and our classroom routine with ease.

Never Underestimate Them

Idea by Beth, 3rd Grade Teacher, LaVista, NE

My best piece of advice for working with ELL students is to avoid underestimating their knowledge base. My ELL students have often surprised me with the scope and depth of their experience and understanding on a topic. Sometimes the ELL student may not know the A, B, or C answer asked for in print, but can talk to you about the subject matter and explain the correct response.

Have a Conversation

Idea by Lizette, 4th Grade Teacher, El Paso, TX

My best advice when working with English Language Learners is to focus on their background knowledge by conducting a “Daily Concept Conversation.” Here’s how. At the beginning of each week, gather your students together and present them with several picture cards related to a common experiential theme (e.g., cooking, school, sports, etc.). Use complete and standard English to explain these images as you spark an informal conversation related to your target theme. Limit conversations to 5-8 minutes or less daily.

Expect to guide the conversations for the first few days of each new week; by the last day, you will notice students beginning to use the words they learned independently and in complete sentences. Depending on your students’ needs and levels of proficiency, you can adjust the pace and depth of your conversations as well as the number of new vocabulary words you choose to include each week. Most importantly, make the conversations memorable by including references to personal experiences. It’s been my experience that after several days of such positive oral language practice, most students are more willing to participate in English during classroom discussions.

Use Picture Prompts

Idea by Sheryl, ESL K-5 Teacher, Romeoville, IL

My ESL students appreciate using graphic pictures as writing prompts. I have a collection of close up, interesting and unusual animal pictures that they love to choose from. Before writing, each student has a discussion with another student or teacher regarding what he or she wants to write about that animal (in English, if possible). Following that conversation, the students can usually write about that picture in many forms (e.g., expository, fairy tale, narrative, poem, etc.). The picture combined with the conversation is key.

Raise Confidence Levels

Idea by Beth, 2nd/3rd Grade Bilingual Teacher, Salem, OR

When I am working with my ALL ELL class in English, I make sure I give students some “think time” so they may formulate responses without pressure.  I also caution other (better English speaking) students against blurting out answers. In addition, I give students a sentence frame to help them; I model it, then provide partner practice time. This helps students feel more confident to respond verbally as well when they are writing.

Use Reading Intervention Strategies

Idea by Rachna, 4th Grade Teacher, Arlington, VA

Strong reading intervention strategies are critical, especially for English Language Learners.  I have found the following to be helpful when working with students reading below grade level:

A Word Wall with robust content vocabulary accompanied by a picture for each word should be featured in the classroom so that ELLs have regular access to visuals with vocabulary.

Sentence Starters/Frames to build language structure should be modeled and displayed. I have sentence starters to encourage student discourse (“accountable talk”), to encourage the use of reading strategies (e.g., “Based on what I have read thus far, I predict that…”), and ones to facilitate peer conferencing. These devices help with their oral language during discussions about what they’ve read.

Rich, Meaningful Conversations about Literature are essential to even struggling readers and ELLs who still need guided-reading support for decoding/fluency. Discussions are best presented as follow-ups to read-alouds. That way, you can free their cognitive energy (from decoding to discussion) so as to allow them to focus on comprehension and analysis of the text.

Use Music to Engage Them

Idea by Karla, 3rd Grade Teacher, White Bear Lake, MN

I like to tap into different areas of the brain and appeal to individual strengths through music. I use the book, Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs by Alan Katz (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2001). I find that music helps promote language skills, fluency, rhyme, class bonding, and peps everyone up —or calms them down—as needed. I locate selections on iTunes, then play them aloud as we sing along. By displaying lyrics on my electronic whiteboard, I can refer to them for many grammar lessons. As an added bonus, this musical approach helps my ELL students learn about some popular traditions as well as everyday language.

Think in Both Languages

Idea by Caitlyn, Kdg. Teacher, University Place, WA

Because speaking comes before reading, I have my students speak English and Spanish interchangeably as needed—sometimes both in the same sentence.  In order to be completely fluent in both languages, my ELL students need to be able to think in both languages. By using both languages simultaneously, it forces them to think in both at the same time. In their community, quick translation is a skill necessary for survival. The ability to think in both languages strengthens this skill.


What are your best tips for working with ESL and ELL students? Share them with us below!

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