How do I support English Language Learners who are struggling in my classroom?

This question may be easy if you have a background in Teaching English as a Second Language, but what if you don’t have a degree in TESOL or have never even had students who speak another language in your class? It can seem like a huge mystery. What do I say? How do I say it? If you, as the professional teacher in the room, are having these panicky thoughts- imagine what it must be like for our students we call English Language Learners.

It is an exciting time in New York State for teachers of ELLs. Lots of attention is being devoted to this rapidly growing population of students. However, this excitement may also manifest itself into panic for teachers who may have never had linguistically diverse learners in their classroom.

Don’t panic! What is good for ELLs is good for many students with different learning styles, especially students with disabilities. The strategies and scaffolds ESOL teachers use can be easily incorporated into your everyday lessons to make grade-level content accessible and more meaningful to all students.

What can you BEFORE a lesson?

  • What are your student’s language proficiency levels in the four modalities of speaking, reading, writing, and listening?
    • If you are wondering- how am I supposed to know this???Set up a time to have a conversation with your student’s ESOL teachers. They are a wealth of information on what to expect of students depending on their proficiency levels.
  • Think about how you can link the content to student’s background knowledge and prior experiences? How can you connect the material and make it relevant to them?
  • Preview the text and key vocabulary. What language will be challenging? What kinds of visuals and materials will you need? Prepare word banks for students.

What can you do during a lesson?

  • Watch your rate of speech. Speak clearly and avoid using slang or idiomatic expressions.
  • Give lots of opportunities to speak and work with peers in pairs and in small groups that are intentionally arranged.
  • Model by thinking aloud and using visuals, graphic organizers and realia to make vocabulary and content come alive.
  • Have alternative ways for students to answer questions and participate in discussions by using response cards.
  • Use videos and tapes to pre-teach, re-teach and reinforce content.
  • Provide scaffolds for students based on their proficiency levels.

Using the Bilingual Common Core Progressions

Do you want ideas for scaffolds for each of the Common Core Learning Standards broken down by English language proficiency level and type of activity? Use the Bilingual Common Core Progression guides found here on engageNY. These New Language Arts Progressions (NLAP) are available for every NYS Common Core Learning standard in all grades.

What? What’s this? Why do I care? They may look a little intimidating at first, but wow these are great! Using grade level text and content, ELLs should be able to do the same activity as the rest of the class, but with scaffolds appropriate for their English proficiency level.   These progressions provide guidance and a framework for teachers to ensure that students in English as a New Language (ENL) programs can meet the Common Core Learning Standards.

Here is an example. Say you are working on a lesson for the 9-10th grade on Standard 2 in Reading and you have a student who you know is at the Emerging level in English. You have planned a Reading-Centered Activity during your lesson. Are you unsure how to make sure your ELL students can meaningfully access the content? Using the chart, you can see that it would be appropriate to organize pre-identified words and phrases on a plot development graphic organizer to analyze the development of a central idea. You can see as students move up in proficiency level the amount of support decreases, but the task at hand never changes. Also, the Progressions give examples of some of the linguistic demands present in that standard and how the teacher can address them.

Try these tips when ELLs are struggling in content area classes in order to have all students access the core content in a more meaningful way.

Melissa Fenn

Melissa Fenn

2 thoughts on “How do I support English Language Learners who are struggling in my classroom?

  1. Good morning,
    I’m a school counselor and one of my 8th grade students who was formerly an ESL student with accommodations, until 4th grade, asked if there was anyway that she could get some help for state testing. Her class grades are excellent and she is a very hard worker but she is unable to finish these tests in the time allotted and she feels that it is due to her continued difficulties with the language. She would like to be able to have extended time on these tests and I am wondering if there is anyway we can accommodate her, I’ve looked at the regs. but there doesn’t seem to be any way to do this. I’m wondering if you know of anything that we do for here.

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