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Super Tips for Teaching ELL Students

written by: Audrey Alleyne • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 7/12/2012

ELL (English language learners) usually face many challenges. The following best practices ELL teaching can help to reduce some of these challenges.

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    Overcoming the Barriers

    For ELL teaching to be effective, there are a number of barriers which need to be crossed. ESL learners usually find themselves in a predicament of being ashamed of using their native language or feeling pressured to reject their native language in order to fit in to their new environment. This barrier leads to the first practice that should be implemented, that of encouraging the ELL to continue to respect and maintain his or her native language. Once this is established, there are other practices which can be effective in assisting the ELL to successfully achieve proficiency in English.

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    Banks College: The Tutor's Attitude

    Banks College [1] provides a list of skills relating to tutoring of English language learners. The College advocates that the process, though challenging, can be quite rewarding if certain strategies are observed. The tutor’s attitude is deemed to be of primary importance. It is necessary to provide a safe, risk-free environment for the student to flourish and learn, and a tutor should make the ELL student as comfortable as possible. The circumstance under which the ELL learner came to the new country could be rather delicate, and all efforts should be made to positive and encouraging. Banks College further advocates that the tutor should respect the learner’s identity, language, and culture in every way, beginning with correct pronunciation of the student’s name.

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    Best Practices

    Many organizations which are dedicated to the study of teaching English have documented best practices in ELL teaching. Some of these organizations are the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Teachers of English to Speakers of Other language (TESOL), the International Association of Teachers of EFL (IATEFL), and many others. These bodies have more or less come to agreement on a number of important practices which they consider effective in helping ELL learners to attain proficiency in English [2]. Some of these practices are as follows:

    • Integration of the four language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking
    • Skills should be taught in context through topics of interest to students.
    • Language should be integrated with content. This means that vocabulary and grammar should be presented within a context so as to make them more comprehensible.
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    For Those With Language Learning Disabilities

    Among ELLs there will be those with language learning disabilities, and some educators have not neglected to include these learners in their consideration of best practices. Remember that normal language learners are usually faced with challenges. An article entitled "Turning Frustration into Success for English Language Learners" (Brice & Roseberry-McKibbin, 1999) points out that ELLs with language learning disabilities face an additional challenge “of having an underlying language learning system that is inadequate for learning any language." What then are the best practices for such students?

    Here are just some of the practices which the article suggests should be observed in these cases:

    • Before students begin any task, teachers should check for the students’ understanding of expectations, instructions, and relevant vocabulary.
    • Teachers should seat students with similar backgrounds near each other so they can help each other with instructions and understanding.
    • Teachers should check that their students understand content when asking questions that are higher than knowledge level.
    • Teachers should speak slowly and avoid using slang and idiomatic speech.
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    TESOL Standards

    Another article entitled "Using Standards to Integrate Academic Language into ESL Fluency" (Beckett & Haley, 2000) cites the standards developed by TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of other Languages) to provide teachers with scope and sequence of the language skills that ESL students need for success in our nation’s classrooms. The standards are as follows:

    • To use English to communicate in social settings,
    • To use English to achieve academically in all content areas, and
    • To use English in socially and culturally appropriate ways.
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    In order to follow these standards, focus on positive social interactions in a comfortable and friendly classroom setting, coupled with full support and encouragement from the teacher. In this way the ELL learner can experience satisfactory academic achievement.

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    1. Bank Street College's Guide to Literacy:
    2. Best Practices in ESL Teaching: