Instructional Practices for English Language Learners

Reviewing instructional practices for English Language Learners can help move the entire school toward a comprehensive and culturally responsive approach. Because of the increasing dropout rates among EL students, educators are putting a larger focus on ELL programs that get students to speak and write English in authentic academic contexts.

English Language Learners (ELL) Strategies

General Strategies

• Know who your students are and their proficiency in English. It’s important to note that ability in speaking and writing can vary greatly.
• Embed multi-cultural education throughout the curriculum.
• Assess the background knowledge of your students.
• Use note-taking formats (graphic organizers) and teach viewing comprehension strategies.
• Use technology such as online tools and videos to supplement learning.

Instructional Strategies

• Speak slowly. Use shorter sentences, synonyms, examples, and demonstrations.
• Use think-alouds/think-pair-shares when asking questions. Give students sufficient time to process the question.
• Use various mediums to convey information: oral, written, teacher demonstration, student demonstration, videos, etc.
• Avoid sayings or expressions that are only common in the US.
• Use bilingual handouts/cue lists.
• Use metaphors and images for cues.

Assignments and Activities

• Quick writes, journal writing, and word sorts.
• Introduce vocabulary in a fun way (for example, Word Search or Crossword).
• Use cooperative learning (peer observations, jigsaw learning).
• Use task cards.
• Use newspapers, magazines, and websites in assignments.​
• Have students create new games.
• Use Google Translate.
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Factors to Consider When Teaching English Language Learners (ELL)

Rate of Speech and Wait Time

Speak slowly and clearly. Give students enough time to make their responses, whether in speaking or writing. After asking a question, wait a few seconds before calling a student to respond. The “wait time” gives students an opportunity to think and process, and gives English Language Learners time to formulate a response.

Use of Non-Linguistic Cues

Use visuals, gestures, intonation, sketches, and other non-verbal cues to make language and content more accessible to EL students. Teaching using visual representations of concepts can be very helpful. Don’t rely on textbooks as your only visual aid.

Giving Instructions

Give both verbal and written instructions. This practice can help learners, especially ELLs. To make it easier for students, clearly write and explain step-by-step directions.


Model for students what they’re expected to do by demonstrating learning actions and showing work samples. Do not just tell them what to do and expect them to do it. Modeling motivates and increases self-confidence. Students will believe that they can accomplish the task if they follow the steps that were demonstrated.Top of Form

Background Knowledge

Provide EL students with relevant background knowledge about a topic. Aside from increasing interest, this allows students to focus more on the instructional goals, rather than being overwhelmed with too much information. It allows students to bridge new knowledge to old knowledge. Background knowledge increases understanding and helps fill in contextual information that students may not have due to different cultural backgrounds.

Check for Understanding

Check regularly if students understand the lesson. A teacher could say, “Please let me know if this is clear. If you don’t understand or are unsure, please tell me. It’s okay to be honest.” Teachers can also have students answer on a Post-it note placed on their desks. Then, the teacher can circulate to check responses.

Waiting until the end of class for students to ask questions will not provide timely feedback. Don’t assume that students are understanding the lesson just because they’re smiling. Sometimes they’re just being polite. When you regularly check for understanding, it will help ensure that students are thinking, comprehending, and processing at high levels.


These are just some of the strategies and instructional practices to keep in mind when teaching English Language Learners. Teachers should make a conscious effort to see past the accent and the mispronunciations, and treat every student with the respect they deserve.

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