Help ELLs Navigate Classroom Learning

How can you best provide ELLs with the information they need to understand the main points of a lesson? Most ELLs have the higher-order thinking skills and ability levels necessary to participate in a lesson, but may be held back by limited language proficiency, lack of confidence or fear of making mistakes. Teachers are always challenged to find creative and effective ways to ensure that ELLs participate in classroom activities, understand content-area instruction and perform well on standardized tests.

Effective ELL strategies "empower students to be active learners, rather than passive recipients of information to be memorized" (TESOL Matters, April 1999). Your first step in helping ELLs become active learners is to prepare accessible materials and pre-teach vocabulary that will give them a foundation for the lesson. In this effort, make sure you not only pre-teach basic nouns but also review related vocabulary, particularly verbs that are often overlooked. For instance, in science, students need to understand not only nouns and concepts like solid, liquid and gas, but also verbs such as convert or condense.

Additional strategies that encourage active learning include using gestures when speaking, incorporating personal experience and having students share their own experience. All of these encourage students response and engagement which in turn provide positive reinforcement to fuel continued progress.

Also, be sure to, guide students through lessons and activities with materials like graphic organizers and manipulatives. The Graphic Organizer Pocket Chart is perfect for helping students develop both comprehension skills and higher-order thinking skills. Manipulatives like those highlighted in the Hands-On Standards series provide both a visual approach to teaching ELLs and a means for students to demonstrate their understanding in tangible ways, often without having to use words. Avoid correcting students' minor mistakes. Instead, focus on ensuring that students understand the big picture so they can reason their way through related concepts in the future.

Games are another fun way to encourage active learning, reinforce concepts and encourage students to build social skills. See the games category for more information or visit our ESL/ELL section.