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.

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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  1. “Instrucutional” is misspelled in the title. The correct spelling is “I n s t r u c t i o n a l”. Have an awesome day!

  2. Hi There!
    I am impressed with quick action and reply to Lisa’s post! I have a lingering suspicion as to whether any comments posted online are ever read by website stakeholders or are just Auto-Replies from bots.
    Seeing ‘Blog Editor’ reply makes me feel somewhat hopeful to get a reply to my post/question.

    I have a certification as a Teacher. I do have experience in the function of teaching, coaching and helping people learn, understand, and apply knowledge. Prior to discovering VipKid during a job search, I was only familiar with ESL. After much reading and some online research I’ve found many, many other ESL-related acronyms (ESOL, ESL, ELL, TESL, TEFL, and TESOL), and, as it happens with many subjects, it quickly becomes apparent there is much, much more still to learn. I will work on that, but in the meantime, there is one question I was unable to answer despite reading through much of the site.
    WARNING: (this may be a dumb question…..SMILES)

    To be employed as a VipKid Teacher is it required for the Teacher to be proficient speaking/understanding Chinese? Particular dialects?

    AND, a General Question follow-up, do ESL teacher’s need to speak the students’ “First” language?

    My reflex answer to those questions would be “Yes, of course.” However, after reading about the variety of Acronyms and the apparent shortage of Teachers able to handle the quantity of students requiring ESL instruction, I’d imagine a proficiency in the non-English native language may indeed NOT be a requirement.

    Typically I’d discover the answer through the various sites I’ve perused, but, it seems to be one of those “So Obvious, it goes without saying, anybody/everybody knows that” type of things.

    Thanks for your time 🙂 .
    ENJOY your day!

  3. Great article! Thanks for sharing the techniques and ideas in this article and the other three passages included in this blog. I will apply as many as I can that I don’t already use. 🙂

  4. So glad to see that it is not recommended to correct every mispronunciation. No need to squash their confidence in learning English.

  5. I’m currently in an ELL program and all of those strategies are so important for our ELL students. I agree there are too many acronyms!!

  6. Instructional Strategies for teaching ELL Students:
    1. TPR
    2. Speak slower and use shorter sentences
    3. Practice vocabulary over and over with student
    4. Use Global English – Avoid slang
    5. Avoid correcting every student mistake on the spot, instead make a note to address later
    6. Engaged student and check for understanding
    7. Use different media to convey information: spoken, written, audio, video, visual (props, demonstration, TPR, etc.)

  7. Great Article… As a new teacher here this article has introduced me to new vocabularies and has challenged me to implement new strategies in class.

  8. This is a very good article! It is good to remind even “old” teachers of good teaching activities and practices.

  9. Teaching ELL students requires an understanding that they don’t want to get it wrong. They are trying!! This article has a lot of great points.

  10. Great article. I am new to VIPKID, & am adjusting to the esl classroom versus the brick and mortar classroom I am use to. Every little tibit of advise is so helpful, & I am grateful for the support!

  11. I like that you mentioned the student using and revising the use of new vocabulary. That is what I have seen in the VIPKid curriculum that I have been studying.

  12. Great information that makes me confident that VIPKID is working hard to offer their students quality and sound instruction.


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