Instructional Strategies for ELL Students

Teaching ELL students is a challenging task, because strategies that are good for native English speakers typically do not work when teaching ELL. Therefore, it is important to be familiar with specific instructional strategies for ELL students that ensure efficient and painless learning process.

In this article, we will discuss strategies for teaching English language learners that actually work.

Helping the Beginner ELL Students

ell students

When teaching beginner ELL students, speak slower than usual and use shorter sentences, present tense, synonyms, examples, gestures and other available methods to improve the understanding between yourself and your students.

Working in Groups

Constant language practice is crucial because it activates the vocabulary. To achieve this, use collaborative work as one of the most effective ELL strategies. Encourage your students to interact with each other in a safe environment and you will get impressive results.

Using Prior Knowledge and Expanding It

Prior knowledge activation is another successful strategy for English language learners. Each of your students comes to your classroom with a unique set of knowledge and experience in different areas. Therefore, your task is to present your ELLs a set of topics and ask different questions related to those topics. As a result, the students can elaborate on the topics and use English to talk about them. And then you can expand this knowledge by filling in the cognitive gaps, step by step.

Using Comprehensible Input Strategies for ELL students

Developed by Stephen Krashen in 1981, these ELL teaching strategies are based on a fact that as ELL students advance in their language skills, they need less input from their teachers. At early stages, teachers directly instruct the students on what they should do and demonstrate different learning activities for them, whereas at final stages they just coach the students who work mostly independently.

For examples of comprehensible input strategies, see this article.

Planning Content and Language Objectives

Content and language objectives can also be attributed to helpful learning strategies for ELL students, especially in learning grammar. When preparing your lessons, choose the topic that you are going to discuss in the classroom (content objectives) and the vocabulary for this topic (language objectives). The students should be actively involved in learning the vocabulary and revise it multiple times. For example, you can ask them to form sentences or short stories by using the new words that they have just learned.

Visualizing the Presented Information

Use various visual materials, such as objects, pictures, diagrams, etc, to support your explanations. Visualization is one of the proven teaching strategies for ELL students.

Using Global English

Strategies for teaching ELL also include avoiding the expressions or sayings that are common only in the United States or UK. When it is possible, use neutral expressions that are closer to “global English”.

Encouraging Multicultural Education

When working with various lesson topics, do not focus only on the culture of English-speaking countries, such as holidays. This is one of strategies for teaching ELL students that works great. It can unite people with different cultural backgrounds and thus make them feel more at ease when learning a foreign language.

Using Technology

In the modern world, it is important to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies, and this also refers to teachers and their instructional strategies for ELLs. For example, you can create a Facebook group or a blog for your students and use it to post some extra learning materials.

Avoiding Frequent Speech Corrections

Refusing the temptation to correct each and every spoken mistake of your students on the spot also belongs to the short list of successful strategies for English language learners. You can note those mistakes and share them later with your students, as interruptions for corrections can decrease their confidence when trying to speak English.

Checking for Understanding

During the class, check if your students understand the learning material. To receive honest answers, convince them that it is okay if they do not understand something. This strategy for teaching English language learners also helps the students monitor their own understanding.

Approaching Each Student Individually

Remember that all ELL students are different, and sometimes even students with different knowledge levels can study in the same classroom. Therefore, one of strategies for teaching ELL is to treat each student individually, not as a part of a unified classroom “organism.” Of course, this approach will differ for for those who teach online from home. VIPKid teachers, for example, teach only one student at a time in one-on-one sessions.

Using all possible types of media to convey information (spoken, written, audio, video) also belong to teaching strategies for ELLs.

Why do you need to have a strategy to teach English to ELL students?

English is a very complex language, from grammar to proper sentence structure and from listening to writing there are many elements and aspects of the language that need to be addressed. For a teacher, it can become quite difficult to teach all these elements without overwhelming their students. It is quite possible that in order to teach them the proper use of the language you may end up bombarding them with too much confusing information.

That is why it is important to have a proper strategy so you can teach your ELL students the English language in a proper systematic way.

  • Cater to each student individually – It is quite possible that your classroom will have more than one student and each one of them may have different learning needs or styles. You cannot use the same method or teaching strategy for everyone. In such cases having a proper strategy allows you to create lessons that target each student individually and come up with creative ways to address their weaknesses and strengths in learning.
  • Teaches more in a shorter period of time – A strategy also allows you to teach more in a shorter period of time. When you go in your class with a proper plan you can focus on what needs to be covered and what needs to be taught instead of wasting time on figuring out what needs to be done.

Helps set up learning objectives – A strategy also allows you to set up learning objectives for individual students. By monitoring how well and fast your students achieve these objectives, you can track their progress.


We hope that you will use or are already using these teaching strategies for English language learners as a powerful tool of getting your message across to a diverse group of ELL students. We wish you good luck with this challenging task.

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