How to Support English Language Learners


A group of students has been negatively affected by the CoronaVirus pandemic and the transition to the digital classroom more than any other group. These students are ELLs or English Language Learners. ELLs are students who cannot learn effectively or communicate fluently in English. These students are often refugees, immigrants or the children of immigrants. While in the classroom these students have a tough time learning, and the switch to digital learning saw this group of students fall even further behind. 

What Do ELLs Struggle With?

English Language Learners have a unique set of challenges that face them when compared to their peers. This is only compounded by the fact that most of these students are being taught by a teacher who is mainly a native English speaker and has never had the challenge of trying to become a fluent speaker of a different language. Some common problems English Language Learners face are the following:

  • Lack of a clear language goal
  • Feeling embarrassed
  • Not enough time with native speakers
  • Being bored with traditional education

While these problems aren’t unique to English Language Learners, they are the biggest stumbling blocks to their education and to their success as practitioners of the English language.

How to Help

The return to in person learning has been the greatest help in supporting English Language Learners and their education. However, with the return to a traditional classroom there are several ways teachers can adapt their instruction to help English Language Learners overcome the barriers to their learning. 

Goal Setting

Help English Language Learners set short term goals along with long term goals. Giving these students the goal of being fluent is a great long term goal, however it can lead to extreme frustration on the way to meeting that goal. Instead of only having one long term goal, think about incorporating short term goals like the following:

  • Say “good morning” and “Thank you for the lesson” to your teachers every day this week (daily goal)
  • By next week have a conversation with a classmate who is a native speaker (Weekly goal)
  • By the end of the month go to a restaurant and order in all English (Monthly Goal)

These numerous short term goals allow students to feel success at their progress on smaller time lines and can be adjusted as they grow in skill and fluency. 

Change Up the Classroom

The next way these students can be supported is changing up the classroom structure. English Language Learners aren’t traditional students and aren’t supported by a traditional classroom.

  • Instead of assigning reading to students, let them make their own literature choices and allow non-traditional choices such as:
    • Car magazines
    • Fashion magazines
    • Comics
    • Graphic Novels
  • Instead of written reports allow students to do creative, hands-on projects. There are tons of creative book reports for middle school students that are perfect for ELLs such as:
  • Instead of teaching from a book include cultural things that students find interesting such as:
    • Movies
    • Television shows
    • Sporting events
    • Foods
    • Holidays
  • Instead of grouping ELLs by themselves include students who are native speakers. While this seems contradictory to helping English Language Learners this helps in the following areas:
    • It helps ELLs to not feel embarrassed and singled out
    • It gives ELL’s time to practice one on one with native speakers
    • Working and speaking with peers can be more motivating and less stressful than with a peer.

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