Get English Language Learners (ELLs) Talking in the Classroom

In the 2011–2012 school year, English Language Learners (ELLs) represented 9% of the public school population. That number continues to rise each year. While it’s important for these children to spend concentrated time in classes specialized for language acquisition, they also thrive in the mainstream classroom where they learn alongside students of all proficiency levels.

Creating a learning environment that fosters growth and collaboration between emerging and native English-speaking students can prove to be tricky but can be incredibly rewarding for everyone involved.

gets English language Learners ELLs talking

Setting Up Your Classroom for Success

Having an optimal classroom set-up will make it easier for your ELLs to work independently throughout the day. Additionally, it can make collaborative learning easier, which is a great way to get ELLs talking with their English-speaking peers.

  • Keep a daily schedule of core and special classes (phys. ed., music, art) visible in the classroom. Knowing how the day will play out is key for putting ELLs at ease.
  • Label parts of the classroom and objects within it for quick and easy reference.
  • Create a word wall that is filled with high-frequency words that students will use in their reading and writing.
  • Keep supplies, reference materials such as picture dictionaries, and math manipulatives in an easily accessible location so students can utilize them whenever necessary.
  • Arrange tables and desks in ways that encourage working with partners or small groups, when appropriate for your lesson.

Classroom Strategies

Let the class learn their culture – Nothing can get ELLs talking to their peers like letting them teach a partner or the class about their culture, their customs, and their community. This sharing time also creates an opportunity for traditional students to learn and appreciate the differences in their day-to-day lives.

Assign buddy or small group work – One-on-one or small group activities provide emerging English speakers with models for using the English language. The feedback they receive is valuable as they build their communication skills.

Provide background knowledge – When teaching ELLs, you may find you need to provide background details when starting a lesson, especially if the content includes idioms or pieces of American history, traditions, or folklore. With some additional information on their side, ELLs can focus more on the lesson at hand and not feel like they are missing a big piece of the puzzle.

TeachersFirst offers a number of examples for adjusting your classroom activities to accommodate ESL/ELL students.

Test Prep for ELLs

ELLs have the dual challenge of needing to master a new language and learn academics—both of which are measured on annual state assessments. Many schools provide ELLs with test prep activities to prepare them for testing of the Common Core or state-specific standards. In addition, ELLs are required to take English language proficiency exams such as WIDA’s® ACCESS for ELLs®, ELPA21, ELDA, or other tests.

ELL/ESL workbooks and eBooks provide practice that can help students become confident with their language and academic skills, and familiarize them with testing formats. Additionally, eBooks give students the opportunity to use classroom technology where they may feel more comfortable to work at their own pace. Having an online experience is especially important as state assessments are moving away from the traditional paper-and-pencil tests.

Is your classroom a mix of emerging and native English-speaking students? What tips can you share for encouraging classmates of all skill levels to work together?

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