Five Tips for Supporting English Language Learners

Our nation is becoming a more diverse place as time passes. Many mistakenly believe that they do not need to adapt to the needs of English language learners because their school currently has only English speakers. However, the nature of our more globalized world shows that whether or not we choose to move toward diversity, diversity will come to us. Each of us will eventually be working with students who have immigrated to our communities for various reasons (work, family, even escaping war and genocide).

Although many of us work very hard to meet the needs of English Language Learners, we may not have the knowledge and support in our schools that we feel we need. So, I offer you a few high-leverage practices that may help you better support these students’ content learning and English acquisition.

1. Learning Targets

There is so much language that English Langauge Learners encounter in our classrooms. For many students, the environment is overwhelming and confusing. Activities may seem disconnected. Simply setting and referring back to learning targets helps all students understand where their energies should focus in class. Unpacking the language of the targets is an added bonus for scaffolding for your learners.

2. Graphic Organizers

Nonlinguistic representations can often remove some of the hindrance of unknown vocabulary in helping students better understand the goals of the lesson or the relationships between concepts. I particularly like using  Thinking Maps as a strategy for scaffolding reading comprehension and writing.  Thinking Maps are organized around the types of thinking required of students, which helps them better understand text organization and other text features used by skilled readers.  Also, thinking maps are a transferable strategy that students can own and reproduce at any time, while if we also assign different organizers to students, they have difficulty mastering use of them autonomously.

3. Sentence Frames

Regular use of sentence frames as a scaffolding mechanism can help students acquire academic language. Sentence frames can help students acquire language structures in English as well.  I recently taught a lesson where students used a multi-flow map to track cause and effects of teenagers fighting in the war in Syria. Students then used sentence frames to write a summary of the causes and effects while also learning synonyms for those terms (for example, factors (causes) and impacts (effects).

4. Roots and Affixes

Morphological connections between words in English as well as those between English and other Romance-based languages has a great impact on vocabulary acquisition. Latin and Greek root words and affixes share meanings in complex English words and words in languages like Spanish, Romanian, and Moldovan. We can encourage students to access their own background knowledge of words to better unlock meaning of unfamiliar words. If students can recognize common spelling structures in complex words, they can apply understanding of the meaning of those structures in words they already know in their first languages. To learn more, check out this past blog post.

5. Audio Support of Reading

If possible, find audio support for students’ reading. Several years ago, I wrote a small grant for iPods and audio book downloads of popular adolescent literature.  Using the audio support from the iPods helped students follow along with novels they were reading, enhancing their reading fluency and letter-sound connections.

What are strategies that have proven successful for your work with English Language Learners?

1 thought on “Five Tips for Supporting English Language Learners

  1. Geneva H Neeriemer

    All are what I see as essential strategies. I am happy to see learning targets listed first. When well designed they support both instruction and learning for all students.


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