One of my earliest elementary school memories is sitting on a multicolored carpet in Mrs. B’s pre-k class. I remember watching her sway back and forth in a rocking chair, picture book in hand. Then her sweet voice suddenly stopped its melodic flow and called ,“Jennifer!”  My pigtails perked up when I recognized my name, but the words that followed spun into a whirlwind of sounds. I couldn’t quite capture what they all meant. As an English Language Learner (ELL), I felt lost and confused. Twenty years later, I found myself on the opposite side of the carpet as a teacher of ELL students. Sitting in my teacher chair, I now understood the difficulties Mrs. B experienced in trying to reach all her students.

With the U.S. ELL population on the rise, many more students and teachers will find themselves in similar situations. In order to prevent confusion among students, it is important to be knowledgeable about ELL strategies. It is equally as important to implement these strategies to engage and empower your students. Consider the following best practices to help your ELLs succeed this school year!

  1. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work – Starting in a new school in a foreign language is a lot to handle. Assign ELLs a buddy to help navigate the school grounds and follow the daily schedule. Also think about grouping ELLs with other students to provide collaborative learning opportunities. ELLs can work with peers on reading, writing, and subject area assignments. In the process, they will learn language skills, foster friendships, and boost self-confidence.
  2. Act It Out –  Students can take the stage to develop speaking, reading and listening skills! Engage ELL students in a game of charades as a form of vocabulary study. This kinesthetic activity can be paired with content-specific terms in science, social studies or math. Consider setting up scenarios for students to role-play, such as ordering food at a restaurant. Role-playing helps students practice conversational language in a comfortable setting. Reader’s theater is another theatrical activity you can use in your instruction. It motivates students to build fluency as they read, rehearse and memorize lines.  
  3. Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words – The old saying rings true for ELL students. Pictures provide familiarity to ELLs and allows them to build upon their background knowledge. Use visuals like picture cards or anchor charts when introducing new concepts. Display charts and cards around the room so students may use them as points of reference.
  4. Turn Up the Music – Music gets students moving, while also working as a language building tool. Have students learn lyrics to practice sentence structure, or teach tunes that incorporate hand motions and movement to review vocabulary, like the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. Some songs even cover content area topics. Start a science lesson on motion with music, or preface a two-digit subtraction assignment with a subtraction song!
  5. Make It a Model– Take lessons beyond the book with physical models! Models allow ELL students to construct concrete representations of concepts learned. Hands-on activities help ELL students make connections and build understanding. So instead of simply reading about volcanoes, have students create one!

Keep these ELL strategies in mind to ensure every student is engaged in learning!

For additional ELL best practices and supplemental resources visit VocabularySpellingCity!

5 Successful Strategies to Engage ELLS

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