Language Learning Strategies for Teaching ELLs

Language Learning Strategies for Teaching ELLs

Language Learning Strategies for English Language Learners

English is a difficult language for native speakers to learn. I am amazed watching my toddler learn English as her first language. She picks up new vocabulary rapidity and experiments with language. She makes grammatical mistakes when she overgeneralizes grammar “ruler” that she has naturally picked up through listening to others speak and read English.

For English Language Learners they go through a similar  process but have to navigate through additional challenges. As ELLs learn English they are simultaneously learning content information and how to communicate in a language that is foreign. For some ELLs they are also learning a new culture and adjusting to living in a new home.

Here are some language learning strategies along with resources to help support English Language Learners.

Language Learning Strategy: Provide Visuals

A picture is worth a thousand words (Unknown).  

Language learning strategy photograph: A hand holding a camera with a butterfly on it taking a picture of a flower.
Use cameras to let students take their own photographs.

Visuals are helpful for all students but especially so for ELLs. They provide instant background and context for new vocabulary. Writing about photographs is a fun way to instantly give ELLs visual support.

For simple vocabulary a quick sketch will work. Use real objects when they are available. A smart phone or digital camera are great tools for quickly snapping images to use with ELLs.

There are many online resources for finding high quality pictures.

Creative Commons is a database of multiple websites with copyright free images. This is a great place to quickly search for images to add to a presentation or to show before activity.

Students can add in their own images using Pics4Learning. This site has copyright and education friendly images.

Language Learning Strategy: Create Opportunities for Students to Talk

Research has shown that oral language… has a profound impact on children’s… success throughout their academic career (Brooke).

Language learning strategy oral language: Two kids speaking.

Oral language development goes a long way to helping ELLs in all areas of language development. It helps to lay the foundations for reading and writing. Students have to be actively engaged when they are talking. ELLs need a large amount of structured practice to develop their oral language skills.

Sentence frames help students start a conversation.

Sentence frames can be used to help newcomers with basic English vocabulary. They are also great ways to help all students use Academic vocabulary when they are speaking.

Use Speaking activities to help students prepare for writing

Integrate speaking and writing activities. This allows students to practice oral language and generate ideas before they begin writing.  Having students practice with a partner is a low stress way to speak without the pressure of talking in front of a large group.

Language Learning Strategy: Build Student Relationships

Students respond best to those that they have a positive relationship with. Learning a new language can be stressful. When students feel comfortable they are more willing to take risks and push themselves in their learning.

Language learning strategy student engadgement: handshake
Greeting students can help build positive relationships.

Language Learning Strategy: Build a Love of Reading

Vocabulary and reading comprehension instruction are important for ELLs. One of the best ways to help students improve in these areas is for them to read a variety of books.

Language learning strategy reading: A girl reading a book on a beanbag chair.
Flexible seating helps students enjoy reading.

Create a Diverse Classroom Library

Surround students with high quality, diverse books. Include books that include characters of diverse backgrounds, including those of the students you teach. Include a wide range of topics. One of the best ways to foster a love of reading is to provide students with books that they find interesting. If you need help building your library check out these ways to get FREE books.


Elizabeth Brooke The Critical Role of Oral Language in Reading Instruction and Assessment

One thought on “Language Learning Strategies for Teaching ELLs

  1. You’ve included some wonderful tips for EL learners! As a reading specialist in my ‘day job’ I agree that ample exposure to books as well as frequent opportunities to engage in oral conversation is key! Thanks for sharing this!

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