Essential Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners


Educators with decades of experience teaching ELLs were interviewed. We enlisted the help of a network specialist and observer to determine the optimal solutions.

English language learners (ELLs) account for more than 10% of American students or more than 4.8 million children, and the number is growing. These children do not study in a different way than their native English-speaking peers, but they do have unique educational requirements.

To learn more about these needs and effective practices, I interviewed various educators and observers. Larry Ferlazzo, an educator who published The ESL/ELL Teachers Survival Guide, Tan Huynh and Emily Francis, long-time English (ESL) teachers, and Helen Thorpe, a journalist who spent a year studying ELL teachers in action, was among them.

Both native English speakers and ELLs can benefit from the practices described, according to this group.


This should come as no surprise. A successful classroom, according to our instructors, is one in which children feel valued, known, and welcomed. They are also willing to take intellectual and emotional risks. This necessitates the teacher’s regular messaging and planning.

Emily Francis, an ESL teacher from Concord, North Carolina, says she encourages kids to “embrace their cultures and languages as a basis for who they are,” and that it’s critical to know that tiny things may make a big difference. “The first thing I have to think about is how my student feels in my classroom,” she explains. Is it possible for them to ask inquiries in their language while sitting close to one other? Do kids feel comfortable tapping my shoulder if they need to use the restroom?

It’s critical to develop a sense of appreciation for diversity. Students’ lives must be reflected and honored in both the curriculum and the classroom environment. Francis, for example, makes certain that her classroom library is well-stocked.

reflects the diverse backgrounds and identities of her students.

Katie Toppel, an ESL instructor in Portland, Oregon, believes in going to students’ homes and getting to know them. She also takes the time to incorporate personal aspects from her pupils’ lives into her classes, such as pet names and preferred sports. When students have a personal connection to a course or topic, they are more engaged. Teachers’ involvement in culturally competent interactions contributes to this link.


English language learners should not acquire the fundamentals of the English language in isolation. They should put their linguistic talents to use in all academic content.

Valentina Gonzalez, a Katy district executive, believes mainstream teachers must understand their jobs as language teachers. She believes that teachers should be well-versed in the particular vocabulary they employ. “If we teach mathematics, we must also teach mathematics’ language.” Teaching science is similar to teaching mathematics.


Even if children are skeptical about them, the educators I spoke with agreed that productive language skills—hard-to-master elements of language fluency like speaking and writing—should be front and center from the start.

Listening and reading skills are developed by many ELLs who are just starting. Students who can follow written or spoken directions, according to many instructors, attain fluency. However, this is not always the case.

Tan Huynh is a blogger who works as an educator.

EmpoweringELLs. She suggests sentence frames to help reluctant speakers. Huynh explains that sentence frames can be used to help ELLs think and sound like scientists.

Andrea Honigsfeld is a professor of education at Molloy College, Rockville, New York. She suggests that all lessons focus on each letter of the acronym SWIRL. This stands for Speak Write Interact Read Listen. She says that the approach is designed to encourage productive language skills from the beginning.


It’s easier said than done. Many teachers that I spoke with said this simple adjustment was vital.

You can videotape yourself speaking in class to measure and adjust your cadence.

According to Gonzalez, pupils have an extra three to five seconds to deliberate after they ask a question. It does, however, assist English learners to translate, process, and translate their thoughts into English. They have time to consider the solution as well. If we ask questions too quickly, students will often give up trying to answer them.

Larry Ferlazzo is a Sacramento, California-based high school ESL teacher. This implies that we must alter some of our habits. According to his research, most teachers wait a long time between asking a question and expecting a student’s response. Students reply to queries in three to five seconds, according to research.


Engaging with the material in multiple ways is a way that kids learn best. Lessons that include writing, speaking, drawing, and listening are four of four opportunities

for pupils to have a better understanding of the topic These extra encounters provide ELLs more breathing room to work through their language hurdles.

Helen Thorpe, a journalist, spent a year in Eddie Williams’s Denver classroom to assist her in the writing of a book called The Newcomers. Williams’ ability to distinguish himself astounded her. “Eddie would talk clearly in English, repeat it several times, write it on the board, and then provide a graphic on the projector.” He’d have the kids say the teachings out loud themselves.

Toppel uses QSSSA, a tool to help ELLs participate in classroom conversations. The letters denote Question (in which the teacher poses a question and pupils are given time to consider it); Signal (in which the teacher gives a signal to indicate that the students are ready to respond); “What is your favorite book store?” is an example of a stem (where the teacher gives a sentence beginning to the inquiry). Share and evaluate.


Bilingualism is a goal, not a replacement.

The “preview, see, review” method is used by Ferlazzo. This method makes use of a student’s native language skills to aid in the acquisition of a new language. He introduces pupils to a topic and invites them to consider it in their own words.

Ferlazzo encourages teachers to use student-friendly technology, such as Google Translate. While he emphasizes the app’s value to students in terms of swiftly translating words, he warns that if it is used for more than a dictionary, it might “become a dependency.”

Thorpe feels that a Translate is a useful tool for teachers who find it tough to “simply stand in front of the class and say the same thing over and over.” If the kids don’t know what those words mean, they’re out of luck. You can say the words once or twice and then let the pupils translate keywords and phrases using translation technology.