A teacher reading a book with ESL students
For Teachers Updated September 7, 2018

ESL Teaching Strategies for Educators

By The Room 241 Team October 14, 2012

Every teacher strives to make a long-term difference in the lives of children who attend their classrooms. Educators who teach English as a Second Language (ESL) have no doubts about their impact on students. Teaching English to speakers of other languages present unique challenges:

  • Due to limited vocabulary range or nervousness, students may struggle to communicate or explain their confusion in full detail.
  • Limited literacy in a native language (L1) can create an obstacle for literacy in a second language (L2).
  • Cultural norms or classroom routines, such as raising your hand or brainstorming, are foreign concepts and acclimation requires time.

ESL teachers need a toolkit of workable teaching strategies.

Teaching Strategies for English as a Second Language

Set realistic goals. Children learning a new language while in school are facing many other challenges. While adjusting to a new culture and changes in their family dynamic, they are also trying to maintain academic rigor. Learning English is a crucial priority but concessions are necessary for the whirlwind of changes they are facing. According to the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina, ESL students often lack cultural references that many teachers take for granted. Setting realistic learning goals will reduce stress on student and teacher.

Learn the culture. ESL classrooms often have students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and traditions. An article on the Reach to Teach website points out that not only are there language barriers to overcome, but also a wide array of educational backgrounds and culture-specific learning styles. Gaining knowledge about the learning styles of different cultures increases a teacher’s effectiveness when making lesson plans and interacting with students.

Encourage oral communication. Students have different natural ways of learning, but encouraging ESL learners to communicate verbally in class helps them practice the language and detect verbal cues. Talk with students to describe what you are doing, wearing, and planning; this helps them develop language and cultural awareness. By adding verbal response elements to every lesson, teachers can help ESL students become comfortable speaking a new language in front of others.

Think immersion. When infants start to grasp the language, they are surrounded by learning clues. Their parents talk to them throughout the day, pointing out and naming objects, explaining their actions and even interpreting the child’s moods and feelings. This is how children learn their native language. ESL teachers can turn their classrooms into a language learning lab by labeling objects: the door, windows, chairs; even papers, books and pencils.

Pair students up. On her Teflnet blog, Liz Regan suggests pairing ESL students with each other. Besides gaining practical speaking experience, they can also correct one another. Pairs are more effective than larger groups, Liz explains because both students are actively involved. Students who are more eager and skillful sometimes dominate larger groups; struggling learners often fall behind.

Teaching English to non-English speaking students is a challenging profession, but the effort is rewarding. If you want to learn additional teaching strategies that improves your effectiveness as an educator, you might be interested in knowing more about our ESOL MEd concentration.

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