5 Classroom Tips to Support ELL Students

Oct 27, 2023
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Providing effective, differentiated instruction in a multi-ability, multilingual classroom can sometimes feel overwhelming. However, you can adopt simple strategies that can make a big difference for your English language learners (ELLs). Read on for five helpful tactics to support ELL students!

Create a Structured Environment with Regular Procedures and Expectations

Consistent classroom procedures and routines can be quite helpful to English language learners because they provide a safe foundation from which they can build confidence. Simple things like a daily morning routine, defined procedures for putting away classroom supplies, and designated times for turning in homework can help ELLs focus on practicing their skills instead of worrying about simply grasping what is happening around them.

Provide additional support to ELLs by creating a safe classroom environment that encourages them to participate, speak up, and make mistakes. Focus on developing a growth mindset with your students—one that recognizes that growth doesn’t happen when things are easy; it happens when students persist through challenges.

Educators can also foster community through shared classroom goals and celebrations that allow students who might otherwise be struggling to experience success as part of a collective.

Provide Short, Clearly Stated, and Actionable Instructions

When instructing ELL students, it is important to consider their proficiency level and language background. Keep your instructions brief and concise, and try to open with action verbs to help your students understand what you want them to do. 

To support ELL students, avoid idiomatic or slang expressions, as their figurative meanings can sometimes cause confusion. Similarly, keep in mind that your ELL students may not have the same background knowledge of American culture, history, and geography as their native English-speaking peers.

​For ELLs that have trouble following directions, consider that it might be because they‘re having trouble figuring out exactly what the directions are.​​

To address this, it’s best to give directions​ the same way every time by developing a pattern and predictable sequence that make it easier to keep up. For example, a lot of elementary activities involve additional supplies—so is the expectation for the sequence of steps to label, cut, color, and glue or to cut, glue, color, and label? Give your instructions the same way every time, and leverage common vocabulary that’s easy for ELLs to grasp. And, if you can reinforce instructions with a set of laminated pictures attached to a board in a particular sequence for added reinforcement, even better!​

Make Frequent Checks for Understanding

​​Take time to set individual goals with students and check in on progress so that they can own their successes, however small those may be in the beginning.

​Frequent checks for understanding allows educators to provide effective feedback, which is a crucial part of ELL instruction. Avoid simple “yes or no” questions; instead, ask questions about the content to better gauge what your ELL students understand and concepts that might need further instruction. Use this information to offer constructive feedback and encouragement.​​​

Strive for Cultural Inclusivity

​​​Likely, your ELLs bring with them a rich cultural heritage that might be different from other students in your classroom. Are they feeling represented in your teaching practices? Go the extra mile to pull in real-world examples for applying learning concepts that are also culturally relevant.​​

​​​​​​​​Consider looking for read-alouds that represent different cultures, and better yet, find creative ways to stock your classroom library with books from different cultures. Not knowing the language can already make students feel like they are “different.” When your students are seen, they’ll also feel valued for their differences.​​​​

Identify Unique Ways to Build Student Confidence in a Group Setting

Group work can support ELL students by promoting peer-to-peer interaction. Group work is often an effective way of helping students develop language skills and learn new concepts. 

However, it is important to ensure that ELL students feel comfortable and confident that they can effectively contribute in these settings. Assign these students tasks and roles within the group that are appropriate for their proficiency level.

As their proficiency increases, they can take on different roles and tasks to develop different skills. It may be helpful to have one-on-one conversations with your ELL students before group work to allow them to ask questions and ensure they fully understand their part in the group. The key here is to give ELLs work suited to their ability, increase their confidence, and make them feel like contributors.

Never Forget the Power of Pictures to Support ELL Students

A picture is worth a thousand words, but it's sometimes easy to forget that images are also the most basic way to engage your students in their learning. 

You can start by labeling common classroom objects, adding pictures to your word wall, and helping students build their own personal picture dictionary as vocabulary is introduced.

You can also supplement your instruction and presentations with visuals like illustrations, photos, and infographics to help your ELL students decipher new words and concepts. Sketching out models as you instruct or incorporating short videos may require some extra effort and creativity, but such visuals can be a powerful tool to build understanding, and support students’ different learning styles.

For more tips on effective strategies to support ELL students, check out this article from Colorín Colorado or this post from Edutopia. Are you interested in learning more about Edmentum’s online programs for English language learners? Take a look at Edmentum's ELL Foundations library.

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