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Tips for Planning Instruction with ELL Students

Learning a new language takes years. The reason is obvious, usually an ELL or ESL, English as a Second Language student comes into one of the most difficult and illogical languages, English, from another culture and home language. Imagine yourself moving to Beijing and trying to learn Mandarin with little help and you have Dyslexia. This is how many second language students feel and face in our classrooms.

For ELL, English Language learners feel the added pressure to not only learn the tasks and skills but do so in an unfamiliar scary environment; while not knowing how to understand and communicate well. Yet, many teachers and administrators who are under stress feel that these students should know and be able to do the same standards at the same time to be literate people. However, it does not work that way in real life. Language acquisition is a slow process. We need to think through creatively, be thoughtful, patient as well as purposeful on how to we get our students where they need to be even in their difficulties. For example, if the standard has questions, how do we get our students to be able to answer them in a logical and planned way?  How can we encourage them and guide them through the process, especially where our school may not have any helps, aids or pullouts available? Sometimes there is no ELL support at all.

As the standards show the expectations of what needs to be learned, we have to translate that into a simple English and even into a way every student gets it. Remember, the standards are the ends, not the pedagogy of how. To allow students to excel, we need to think how we get the students to think deeper. Now, with ELL, we need to also help the process the language.

What we can also do is focus on the end expectations of learning as guided by the standards. Think about how you can keep how literacy extends to the standards, then explain them with even more scaffolding in a simple manner. The key for the teacher is compassion and scaffolding, and not allowing the stress of our numbers, duties and expectations rob the students of our best. Yes, teaching ELL students in an overcrowded classroom can be one of the hardest things we do as educators!

A few more tips:

  • The key is our positive attitude and heart!
  • The means are scaffold learning. In addition, positive, consistent feedback and targeted learning goals that break the task into manageable pieces! 
  • Show it over saying it. Remember that ELL students will have a harder time processing spoken language and easier time reading it. So, create diagrams, give pictures, write on the board and or give them a copy that is written in their language and English side by side. If no one is able translate that for you, use Google Translate or iTranslate.
  • Give the ELL students any lesson you are doing ahead of time so they can translate it with an app.
  • Use small peer groups, where each student can work on a project with each other and practice language skills. This is good for all your students. This also is less embarrassing because it is more personal and less stressful.
  • Do not force any student, especially and ELL to speak publicly until they are willing and ready. Also, do not force ELL’s to talk to you until they are ready.
  • Allow ELL’s to write assignments in their home language and turn it in electronically, then you can translate it with an app. Meanwhile, encourage them to do what they can in English too.
  • Build a relationship with all your students, then ELL’s will be more at ease and more willing to open up and put more effort in. Be interested in their language and culture too.

Our ELL students will be able to really understand the targets and do the skills because we have taken the time to teach them step by step in simple wording the different aspects of the skills. The key here besides our attitude and heart is scaffold learning. In addition, positive, consistent feedback and targeted learning goals that break the task into manageable pieces! We need to make sure each student in our classes can complete each task successfully before undertaking the next learning target. Teaching one standard and or task per lesson will relieve the stress and give students more time to process the information and be higher functioning too.

More ideas here:

Dr. Richard Krejcir is an Author, Researcher, seasoned Special Education teacher and the Director of a nonprofit that does educational training in third-world countries. He is also a STEAM teacher and a father of a son with autism.

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