Ideas for Helping Your English Learner Students Be Successful

I just returned from the MDE School Improvement Convening held in Starkville.  There were a number of excellent sessions.  One of the sessions I found extremely helpful was led by Sandra Elliot, the MDE English Learner and Intervention Support Specialist.  The English Learner (EL) subgroup of students can either help your accountability, or they can put you in school improvement.  Sandra offered some great strategies to help not only your EL students but all of your students, especially those struggling academically.   I would like to share some of these strategies with you.

First, Sandra said to make it visual.  Your schedule, anchor charts, word walls, etc. should all have pictures to help identify and explain the words.  Label the items in the room, such as the window, door, desk, table, pencil sharpener, etc.  Involve all the students in the class to help you make the labels and post them on the objects.  In addition, be sure to have multi-cultural books available for students, especially those from the native country of the students in the class.  However, be sure to read the books first to ensure the content is appropriate for the age group of students.

Next, create a welcoming environment for the students.  Some of Ms. Elliot’s strategies for a welcoming environment follow.

  • Learn the student’s name and the correct pronunciation.  Sometimes the correct pronunciation may be difficult for the English-speaking teacher; however, it is good for the student to see you are trying even when you make a mistake.  You can celebrate together when you get it right.
  • Offer one-on-one assistance when possible.  Check in on the student after giving the whole class directions to ensure the student understood what was said.
  • Assign a peer partner.  Many English-speaking students are happy to be of assistance and help another student.
  • Use an interpreter if needed.
  • Invite the student’s culture into the classroom.
  • Be sure to include the Els in a non-threatening manner.  Don’t let the EL student choose not to participate.
  • Utilize cooperative learning activities and be sure the EL student is involved in some way.

Academic-focused strategies offered in the session include the following.

  • Speak slower, not louder.  Enunciate your words.
  • Give longer wait times.
  • Allow students to write out answers before speaking.  Only give about 10-15 seconds, but this will help all students’ responses become more thoughtful.
  • Refrain from allowing “shoutouts” when asking whole or small group questions.  EL students may have difficulty understanding the slightly different responses students may give to the questions, which can cause confusion.
  • Write down key terms or use visuals.
  • Utilize scaffolding techniques to support learning (graphic organizers, sentence frames, sentence starters).  Be sure to show and model how to use the organizers.
  • Incorporate conversation into all aspects of your teaching!
    • 30-second conversations
    • Turn and Talk
    • Think, Pair, Share
  • Actively work to engage EL students.
  • Create specific opportunities for all students to contribute to the class discussion.

For more strategies and resources on helping EL students be successful in the classroom, visit


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