Getting Out of Your Comfort zone Using esol teaching strategies
If you’re reading this you might have that sinking feeling of not knowing how to help your ESOL students. If you haven’t heard of the term ESOL it means English Speakers of Other Languages. Even though I am endorsed to teach English as a Second Language, I’ve experienced that moment of distress when you wonder if you’re capable of helping ELL (English language learners) students. As a public school teacher, working as an ESL educator presents itself as an undertaking and a huge responsibility because without English fluency, our students endure a huge disadvantage compared to their peers.
Teaching in and of itself is a major responsibility to both our individual students and society at large. However, I’m asking you not to get caught up in the responsibility of serving your ELL students because you’ll start talking yourself down instead of lifting yourself and your students up. What I want you to do is take a deep breath, relax and learn about ESOL teaching strategies that will guide you in the right direction. I’m here to help.
Consider the data about ell students to implement esol teaching strategies
To help with the overwhelm, I remind myself of the fact that the quality of education the majority of my student receive with me is much better than what they would have otherwise been receiving in their home country (the vast majority of my students came from places where the quality of education was low). Remember that the majority of ELL students’ families moved here for more opportunities and sometimes even safety. Some of their parents, or they themselves are not literate. You’re helping them take steps forward to a better and brighter future. Sometimes that happens in the first generation and other times it takes a couple of generations to impact a family’s life. You are not responsible for other people’s lives, but you can do your best to make a positive impact.
Before looking at the ESL strategies, let’s take a look at the big picture so we understand what our school systems are facing regarding the ELL population. Part of the reason you’re feeling pressure about serving your ELL students is because the population continues to rise. This causes some growing pains in our education system as we figure out how to best serve students who come to us with myriad education levels, English levels and socio-economic statuses. Instead of putting yourself under the pressure of the system, remind yourself that you can only control your attitude and the choices you make to help serve your students. Let’s take a look at some data from the National Center for Education Statistics so we can get some perspective:
- As of 2016 9.6% of students in public schools were tagged as ELL
- Spanish-speaking students account for 76% of the ELL population
- States that have more than 10% of an ELL population include Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington
At my old middle school, in the suburbs of Chicago, our ELL population was at about 20%. The best way to approach your ELL students is with a smile and patience. Continue to remind yourself that you are doing your best despite your school’s or students’ circumstances. By reading this blog post, you will walk away with easy to implement strategies that not only benefit ELL students, but also the class as a whole.
language teaching strategies
Teaching English Language Learners is about taking a language approach when looking at your content. That means you should pluck out all of the big ideas and most important vocabulary, introduce it to the class before each unit and then dig into some of the details. Doing this provides students with background knowledge and the foundational information they need to succeed.
Let go of having students regurgitate facts, dates, names, etc. Research shows that students don’t remember information when they memorize it for a test. Why do you think the show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, exists? Be a teacher that challenges the status quo and use memorable experiences to help your students learn. An experience can range from doing an experiment and watching a presentation or going on a field trip to acting out vocabulary in a game of charades or doing a research/inquiry project.
list of language teaching strategies
Let’s start from the beginning of a unit. First, I front load vocabulary with images to accompany each term. Then students do an activity, such as a sort, with the words in order to practice using them in context. Some of the activities and strategies I like best include:
- Total Physical Response where students invent their own body movement to represent the word. This is a great way to incorporate games throughout the lesson such as charades or any other type of competition game to guess the word. If you want to learn more about TPR click here for my blog post about it. I also have a YouTube video modeling it here.
- Word sorts
- Matching games
- Vocabulary role play
- Graphic organizers
- Reciprocal teaching
- Repetition and Innovation
- Word walls
- Visual scaffolding
- Preview Review
- Preview information using images or visuals/props
Eventually, I’ll have either a blog post or a video linked to each strategy/activity if you want to learn more about what they are or how to use them. A lot of these strategies are already used in general education classrooms, the difference in using them with ELL students is a matter of adjusting the language and information to the student’s English level.
Second language teaching methods
What is teaching a second language all about? Second language teaching methods are all about BREAKING THINGS DOWN. I’m not shouting that at you, I’m just saying it slowly so it becomes your mantra for ESOL teaching strategies.
Your students should walk away with big ideas and academic vocabulary at the end of each unit all while working on their English skills.
Consider social studies. If your student is in 7th grade and is a level one in English, break down the most important parts of a unit and have some basic sentences your student can use to speak about the unit. Perhaps work on present and past tense while talking about an event in history such as the Jamestown Settlement. For example: “Settlers came to America” is a great sentence for a level one or two. Always include pictures and TPR for them to comprehend what each word means.
You’ll want your student to know the who, what, when, where and why of the Jamestown Settlement. You’ll want the student to speak, read, listen and write about it at their English level.
Avoid getting caught up in comparing ELLs to what the rest of the class is supposed to know and be capable of by the end of the unit. The rest of the class has been speaking English since they were one.
reading strategies for ell students
Reading strategies for ELL students are very important because they need help with pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and comprehension. It can be very difficult to differentiate between a learning disabled student and an ELL student. Sometimes ELL students get labeled as LD because they do not have enough English to communicate their comprehension or they never learned enough English to comprehend academic language.
The most important aspect of reading for a lot of ELLs is enhancing their academic vocabulary. I do a lot of guided reading plus. I front load vocabulary before the reading lesson and I always use pictures to help students understand the meaning of the term. Then I read aloud to the students while they follow along so they could learn fluency, pronunciation, and intonation. After reading we discuss the content. Then they answer comprehension questions by writing about what they read. Writing is a crucial aspect to improving reading because it pushes the learner to think and communicate more actively. Writing is a major component of Guided Reading Plus.
- Read aloud plus
- Guided reading plus
- Preview information using images or visuals/props
- Shared reading
- Story reenactment
Writing for ESL Students
Writing an essay can be overwhelming and intimidating for English learners, but on the other hand it can be a relief compared to speaking for those who are more introverted. When it comes to writing an essay, for beginners, allow them to write in their native language first so they can get all of their ideas out on paper. Then have them translate it to English. (Please understand that translating is NOT recommended in most instances, but for writing, as a language learner myself, this was always useful for me in the beginning.)
the best translation dictionary for ell students
They should not be using Google translate, but they can use a dictionary to look up words and phrases. Wordreference.com is the best option, especially for Spanish. I say that because I’ve used it myself for Spanish and they don’t just have words, but also phrases and idioms. WordReference has forums where native speakers offer advice on translations. You may need to train your students on how to use WordReference because they provide a huge list of words and phrases that might overwhelm students in the beginning.
For intermediate and advanced students, challenge them to start writing in English and avoid translating. At this point, you want the students to start thinking in English because it pushes the brain to start grasping the language and how it works.
Graphic Organizers for ell students
Always provide language learners with graphic organizers for writing. Organizers should include dividing up the sections of the essay and essential vocabulary, transition words and phrases. For example if students are writing an argumentative essay, provide a list of words that are typically used in argumentative essays. Provide examples of how the words are used as well.
Be sure to meet with students at various points throughout the writing process. Read their essay with them. Point out areas that need improvement. Give them examples of what good writing looks like and allow them to use those examples, but put it into their own words.
When students are not writing an essay, practice interactive writing and CLOZE writing for a more moderate format that leads students to better grasp the writing process, correct grammar, and academic vocabulary.
speaking strategies for esl students
Many ESL students are reluctant to speak. They are afraid of making mistakes or being made fun of by their peers. Plan non-intimidating activities that allow students to speak whether it’s with other ESL students, one-on-one with you, or with a native speaking peer.
I also have had students do challenges by having them ask questions to people in the school building such as the librarian, school nurse, or principals. They earned points and rewards for speaking to those people. I always reminded them that the real reward was growth in their language skills.
When you do speaking activities always provide examples and sentence starters to support your ELL students. If you do a think-pair-share, write some role-play sentences on the board before having students do the activity.
- Vocabulary role play
- Cooperative learning
- Partner work
listening strategies for esl students
While students listen to teachers all day long at school, intentional listening practice gets thrown to the wayside all too often. Conversation practice that includes Q&A is a great way to practice, so is read aloud plus, which I have a video explaining in the link below.
Create conversation cards with academic language related to what’s being studied in class. Have students practice in pairs or groups.
- Read aloud plus – students have to listen to the teacher read and answer questions
- Guided reading plus (explained in the reading section above)
- Language Experience Approach – students experience something such as a field trip or even a class activity and then discuss it as a class, write about it and talk about it
- Standardized testing listening practice (multiple choice tests are not best practice for ELLs, but the reality is, it’s part of school, state and federal requirements to do these tests)
Classroom activities for language learners
- Inquiry units
- Fishbowl – Having students model an activity while the rest of the class watches
- Language Experience Approach (explained in the bulleted list above).
Remember that ESL students need to grasp the big ideas of any unit. Incorporate activities the have images related to the content, are student-centered, and enhance academic vocabulary. Avoid fact-based questions, multiple-choice, and idioms while teaching. Always provide background knowledge before doing new activities and units.
I love doing inquiry units with my students because it allows them the freedom to use their native language as necessary, it creates a love of learning, and it’s less overwhelming than studying an entire unit as a class because they can work independently while zeroing-in on a specific topic.
Before doing any class activity, a great way to show ESL students how the activity works is to do a fishbowl where two students model the activity and the rest of the class watches how they do it.
strategies in teaching english grammar
Incorporate grammar instruction in context of whatever is being studied. Reading, writing, and social studies lend themselves best to grammar lessons. Make it a mission to choose what grammar points to focus on before starting each unit. Teach grammar in context and not in isolation. That means, if you’re reading a book, after reading, go back and highlight all of the past tense words. Then have the students practice writing past tense sentences related to the book. That is in context because it’s connected to the work they’re already doing. It’s not 10 random sentences about something they’ve never discussed before or something that’s not being discussed in class.
Accommodations are necessary for ESL students. An accommodations should not be just eliminating one option on a multiple choice test. It should be chunking matching questions, simplifying language, and choosing big ideas for a test rather than names, dates, cities, etc.
- Simplified tests and quizzes
- Simplified homework
- Not requiring a grade for the class
- Separate room for testing
- Extended time for tests
- Allow students to use their native language in a strategic way, but no one should be translating for them because that discourages them from listening to and learning English
To recap, remember the most important aspects of helping your ELL students include patience, providing background knowledge, breaking down information, focusing on big ideas, using graphic organizers, and implementing strategies each day to help students comprehend and learn.