Teaching English Language Learners

posted October 6th, 2016 by Brian Neese

Teaching English Language Learners


More than 9 percent of public school students in the United States were English Language Learners (ELLs) in 2013-14, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In the past 10 years, the percentage of ELLs has increased in all but 14 states.


ELLs come from non-English-speaking homes and backgrounds, and they usually require specialized instruction in their academic courses and in the English language. ELLs may also be referred to using the following terms.

  • English as a Foreign Language (EFL). The student is in a non-native, English-speaking country.
  • English as a Second Language (ESL). English is the student’s second language.
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). English is not necessarily the student’s second language.
  • English for Special Purposes (ESP). English is learned for a certain field, profession or topic (such as law).


Educational needs for the ELL population have led to a disparity in standardized test scores between ELL and non-ELL students. In 2011, there was an achievement gap of 36 points at the fourth-grade level and 44 points at the eighth-grade level for the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading assessments. Specific strategies can help ELLs learn English and cultural norms, leading to improved educational outcomes.


Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners (ELLs)


Visualization uses the mind’s eye to create images. By using this method, students can link what they “see” to what they are reading. “Students who visualize as they read have a richer reading experience and can better remember what they have read for longer periods of time,” author Judie Haynes reports.


One way to apply visualization in the classroom is to have students close their eyes during a story and imagine what’s happening. Teacher Rolf Donald recommends the use of scripts in class to help students visualize. Drawing what they see can then reinforce what students are imagining.


According to Humanising Language Teaching, there are four types of materials that are beneficial to ELLs.

  • Concrete images such as pictures, cartoons, drawings, photographs and movies.
  • Audio materials such as instrumental music and songs from different cultures, storytelling tapes and natural sound recordings.
  • Representational texts such as poetry, short stories, novels and drama.
  • Movement in the class, such as role-playing activities, mime, drama and dance.

Teachers can also consider using charts, graphs, figures and graphic organizers.

Interpersonal Skills

Practicing interpersonal skills help students improve their English while building conversational skills and their knowledge of other students’ cultures. This objective helps students benefit from the ability to practice English in a classroom with linguistic and cultural diversity.


Group projects and cooperative learning activities help students exchange, write and present ideas, author Norman Herr writes. Pairing ELLs with strong English speakers or bilingual students benefits both parties.


Teachers should encourage participation. Some cultures do not encourage students to participate, so providing a welcoming and comfortable environment to practice English is vital.


Instructing English Language Learners (ELLs)

Southeastern University’s online Master of Education in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages prepares graduates to teach abroad and/or gain certification in teaching English to speakers of other languages. The curriculum includes pedagogical techniques in addition to culture, literacy, linguistics, assessment and educational research. The program takes place in a fully online environment, allowing students flexibility and the ability to maintain their personal and professional schedules.

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