ESL Strategies

  • The following strategies were provided by Jessica Bundy and Tolu Fashoro, ESL teachers at Neal Middle School:

    Choosing Learning Objectives

    • Are your objectives in student friendly language?
    • What linguistic skills are required to interact with the content? 
      • Students will use the language of cause and effect/ sequences/ making lists to describe the causes of the Civil War/ Scientific method/ characteristics of Ancient Civilizations. 
    • Do you have them posted? 
    • Are the Learning Objectives up to date?
    • Do you talk about the learning objectives with the kids?
      • This helps students know where instruction is leading!  
    • Are the objectives appropriate to the development and linguistic level of your students?
    • Do the learning activities prepare students to meet the objectives at the end of the lesson/ unit?


    Accessing Prior Knowledge and Building Background Knowledge

    Accessing Prior Knowledge before introducing a new subject is very important for language learners!  It gives them parameters for what you are talking about and helps them know what to expect.  Here are some tips to help incorporate accessing prior knowledge into your lesson plans!  

    • Do you build in time for students to access prior knowledge before introducing a new concept?
    • Do you connect new concepts and units to prior learning?
      • This helps students see how learning concepts connect, rather than learning new concepts in isolation.  
    • Do you strengthen their background knowledge through linguistically simple activities and materials?
      • This concept of vertical alignment can be a game changer in your classroom! It is great for all kids, but especially ESL kids. 
      • When introducing a new concept, think back to how it was introduced to them in the previous grade level. Lay a strong foundation for your lessons by going back and reviewing with things from previous years that are a bit more familiar to them!  
      • When teaching ESL students, you can give them a new concept OR new language- never try to do both at once. When you are teaching a new concept, start with simple language.  This way the student can focus on learning the concept. Once a student understands the concept, start teaching the academic, grade level language that accompanies your standards.  
    • Some ESL students, for many different reasons, have gaps in their education. They may have missed a grade (or a few grades!) in elementary school or while they are travelling to a new country. If you notice that something is particularly hard for them, extend grace and reteach!  
    • Give them safe, non-graded opportunities to practice new vocabulary. 



    How are you making activities accessible to all students?  Effective scaffolding can be simple and very easy to implement. Here are some scaffolding ideas to begin implementing in your classrooms:

    • Teacher Led Scaffolds:
      • Give instructions in multiple ways
        • Say it once
        • Say it another way
        • Write them on the board
      • Talk with your hands! 
      • Add wait time (your kids may be translating in their heads or formulating their answers!)
      • Rephrase directions
      • Repeat directions
    • Environmental Scaffolds:
      • Linguistic resources (that the students know how to use and have time to use)
        • Dictionaries
        • Thesaurus 
      • Posters with key concepts, formulas and timelines 
      • Manipulatives
      • Visuals
      • Pictures on each slide/page
      • Multi level differentiated texts
      • Models
    • Oral Scaffolds:
      • Chants
      • Choral repetition
      • Use of the students home language
      • Collaborative structures (think pair share, etc.)
    • Reading Scaffolds: 
      • Pre-reading activities
      • During Reading Activities
      • Post REading Activities
      • Annotating Texts
      • Making predictions
      • Use of Friendly Fonts: underlining words, putting keywords in a bold font, underlining words
      • Including pictures
      • Chunking texts
    • Show them an example or model of the product you want them to create before they start


    Supporting Language Development 

    As a teacher, you can support language development in a variety of ways. Give the students a variety of opportunities to practice and use social and academic language in your classroom. Students need multiple opportunities to practice new words in low risk environments and multiple exposures to the word.  

    • Do you have a word wall?
      • Do the students ever reference it?
    • Do you use the frayer model?
    • Do you use the List- Group- label model?
    • Do students have the opportunity to practice new words during the lesson?
    • Do you allow students to work in groups?
    • Can students talk through concepts and words with a friend in their home language?


    Higher Order Thinking

    The heart of Higher order thinking (HOT) is that students will do something with what they have learned- they may analyze, apply, evaluate, or create something new.  For ESL students, using new words and skills helps solidify their meaning and use.  

    Lower Order thinking skills like recalling and understanding, are necessary stepping stones to higher order thinking skills! If a student doesn’t know or understand a concept, they won’t be able to engage in higher order thinking skills!

    • Does the sequence of activities lead students to higher order thinking skills?
      • Move through: recall, understand, analyze, evaluate, apply, synthesize, create
    • Are the learning activities meaningful?
    • Do the activities address the standards?
    • Do the activities prepare the students for life after high school?



    Reducing the Cognitive Load

    Because ESL Students are learning new content in a new language, they are always doing double the work as a native speaker of English. They’re always on “double duty” in the classroom!

    • How much new material are you forcing them to “juggle”?
    • Do you use familiar concepts to introduce unfamiliar ones?
    • Do you “chunk” complex skills and processes into “bite- sized” pieces?
      • Do you teach one skill at a time?
      • Do the skills build on another to fully develop understanding?
    • Do the students know what you expect before they start the work?
    • Do they have enough time to complete the work? Keep in mind, they are doing double the work!  
    • Are the students engaged and task?
    • Have the students had an opportunity to work collaboratively before being expected to demonstrate new learning individually?



    Review and Assessments

    The most important thing is informal and frequent assessments! Frequently check in with your students!

    • Do you review the key concepts?
    • Do you do frequent assessments?
    • Do you give students feedback?