ELL Strategies


ELL (English-Language Learner) is effectively taught like many other subjects.

Like any subject, there are specific strategies that are used to enhance the students’ ability to learn; ELL is no different.

Along with these strategies, teachers will provide different types of feedback, structures, and cooperative learning techniques to allow children to take ownership of their learning.

When a child is given the opportunity to take ownership and can make meaningful connections between lessons and life, they are more likely to acquire new skills and remember them.

ELL Strategies

In today’s society, a teacher needs to be well equipped with several strategies to reach each learner within the classroom. When a child is attempting to acquire a new language, they need to make meaningful connections and have various opportunities to practice the new skills they are learning.

These strategies include;

  • Input
  • Feedback
  • Structured Groups
  • Sufficient Background/Vocabulary,
  • Making Sure Each Child In The Classroom Is Engaged In Their Learning.

Language Acquisition

Not surprisingly, children learning a second language often need to make meaningful connections and have significant interaction with the language they are trying to acquire.

According to Krashen, children need to be taught to express themselves clearly and understand messages in the language they are learning and the grammatical errors will be fixed later. (Krashen 1) Meaning, a child must understand the language in a general (not formal) setting.

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In addition to the view that a child needs to understand a language in a natural setting, several different hypotheses support this theory and are more engaging for students.

  • First, the Monitor Hypothesis states, that a child will develop a self-monitoring system to correct grammatical errors. They need to be provided with think time and sufficient lessons that explicitly teach language rules.
  • Second, the Natural Order Hypothesis states that a child will acquire language rules in a logical sequence. Once again, they must first understand the language in a natural setting, before they are academically able to correct grammatical errors.
  • Finally, the Input Hypotheses states that a child’s knowledge of the target language in a natural setting will directly result in the acquisition in that second language.


Providing feedback to any student is one of the most important things an educator can do. Feedback, allows teachers not only to see where their students stand on the different skills they are learning, but it also shows the students’ what they are proficient at and what they need to work on.

Ongoing, Specific, and Immediate Feedback

An observant teacher will consistently provide feedback to their students. Any feedback given to students on that consistent basis can be considered ‘ongoing feedback.’

When a teacher pulls students’ one on one and provides feedback on specific concepts, they are providing a child with specific feedback.

This specific feedback, when used appropriately and positively, will allow a student to see specifically what they need to work on and why or what they are doing correctly!

It is important to remember that feedback is not always about what a child is doing wrong but also needs to be about the things they do well.

Finally, a teacher should constantly find time to give students immediate feedback on their work. This could be as easy as ‘working the room’ and checking for understanding.

One strategy that works exceptionally well is having interactive notebooks; these notebooks allow teachers to monitor writing skills as well as the various concepts that can and will be covered.

Grouping Structures

A teacher should understand that grouping structure is vital in the classroom. This is simply who is “paired up” within a classroom setting to achieve maximum results.

It cannot be expected that the highest achieving student will work with the lowest achieving student, contrary to what many may believe. This particular strategy does not work; because the highest achieving will feel they are not learning anything and are taking the place of the teacher, the lowest achieving student will feel frustrated that they are unable to keep up with their partner.

Collaborative grouping allows students to work with a member that is at their similar level.

When using this strategy, it is best to have four people in the group, when possible. When the groups have been picked, a teacher can assign each member a duty within the group, and those duties can then be rotated for the four-six weeks that these groups will sit together, this will give each child the opportunity to experience the different roles.

If a teacher and students are not used to working in cooperative groups, it is essential to start the process slow and set expectations early.

State what they should be doing and enforce those rules. Allow students to participate in team building activities, so they feel comfortable sharing and working within their groups.

This will create a community within the classroom and therefore, will produce more learning and participation.

Building Vocabulary and Background

One of the most important things an ELL teacher can do to help their students acquire the English language is to build upon background knowledge and build vocabulary.

Before any child can read a book or story, key vocabulary must be identified, and it is vital to build on background information so students can make meaningful connections with their learning. Students are more likely to learn and understand why they are learning certain things if they are given chances to make connections.

When an ELL teacher assesses what their students already know, it allows them to plan to their specific needs within that classroom.

  • One strategy is to use many visuals and kinesthetic activities; providing students with a variety of methods to learn material is important because not all students learn the same.
  • Another strategy is to always incorporate student collaboration and make it mandatory. This prevents the same students from hogging all of the conversations.

Student Engagement

Most importantly, a teacher needs to strive for as much student engagement as possible.

If the students are not engaged, then they are not learning.

Cooperative groups and student engagement go hand in hand. When a teacher requires students to participate and be involved, then the students are learning, engaged, and enjoy learning.

One way to do this is to make sure that students know who their partners will be and what is expected of them in different structures.

Increasing student engagement may also be raised through teacher preparation and the use of differentiated instructional techniques. When students are in charge of their own learning and work at different rotating centers, they are more engaged and enthusiastic to work with their team.

There are a ton more strategies we use to teach in a classroom. As you can see, the strategies common within the ELL classroom are VERY similar to the strategies used in most special education classrooms!

Also, many parents have opted for one-on-one tutoring outside of the classroom setting. This type of assistance most certainly enhances the speed at which students learn!

As a parent or teacher, what strategies have you used to help a child learn a different language?



Picture of Laura Young, M.Ed.

Laura Young, M.Ed.

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