Elementary, ell, High School, Junior High

10 Tools, Strategies, and Tasks for Developing English Language Learners

Working with developing English language learners can be difficult. They often seem to be more competent than they actually are because their casual and functional English skills are higher than their academic skills. They can do quite a bit independently, and often they want to, but they still require a lot of extra supports.


I’ve touched upon what teachers can do to support developing English language learners. Today I’m going to discuss specific tools, strategies, and tasks developing English language learners can do to help build their skills.

Here are some of my favourites:


FILL IN TABLES


Filling in pre-prepared tables is an excellent activity for developing English language learners. By doing this, they can focus on content alone and not have to overthink writing in full sentences.

Further, when the table is prepared for them or they’re shown how to set it up, they also don’t have to spend time thinking about what the main information or comparisons being asked for are.

That’s information they’ll be able to start working with eventually, but as they are still developing English skills, it’s something to skip for now as they focus just on the basics of what you’re looking for.


ANNOTATE IMAGES


I love to have students annotate images when they’re still learning English. They’re able to take the information they know and use basic vocabulary or short phrases to show you their knowledge.

Again, they don’t need to stress about how to put their knowledge into full sentences and paragraphs yet, just on illustrating what they’ve learned or are learning.

You can have kids do things such as label the parts of a cell, how the water cycle works, parts on a map, and so on. It’s simple but still requires content knowledge.


CREATE GRAPHS AND CHARTS


Making graphs and charts is a great way for students to combine visuals and course content. Of course, this is a great activity for a course like math, but it can be useful in science, social, language arts, or non-cores as well.


You can have students show you populations by countries, the amount of sugar in popular foods, how many times certain words are used in a poem, and so on. There are a ton of ways to be creative!

For example, I’ve had all students, not only my English language learners, count and graph how many times basic words like “said” or “then” were used in a simple text written by me. Then, I had them come up with words that could have been used instead.

That’s an easily accessible activity for ELL students, especially if it’s done in pairs or small groups. Graphing their results is also a fun way to be visually creative as well.


CREATE A LIST


I find having students create lists is a super fun activity! The best thing about it is that you can easily assign this to the whole class, but easily differentiate according to students’ levels.

Developing English learners can provide a list with a short sentence or phrase about each, for example. Meanwhile, your regular education students can provide you with several sentences.

You can do this for a variety of classes as well. I’ll often do this in language arts, having students provide me with a list of books a character in a story may like with an explanation why.

Or, in health they can provide me with some healthy snack choices. There’s a lot of fun ways to do this. Kids also love ranking things, if you’re able to incorporate that element in as well!


CREATE A VIDEO


Developing English language learners may choose to create a video instead of doing a presentation, and I will tend to let them do so.

They’ll generally feel more comfortable. Plus, they’re able to do several “takes” to ensure they’re using correct vocabulary and pronunciation.

As their language skills and comfort level increases, I do find it valuable to practice presentation skills, but I do offer them grace as they transition to the country, school, and language.


CREATE AN OUTLINE

I find a fun activity for students who are still developing their English language skills is to create an outline. I’ll have them create a one page outline or “cheat sheet” about a unit or a concept we’ve been studying.

Just like creating graphs or charts, this has a visual element to it which is fun. Because students can use point form, simple words, and images, it allows them to show their knowledge without having to have mastery over the English language, which is excellent!

You can also easily see whether they know the overall content when grading, which is always nice for us very busy teachers!


HIGHLIGHT AND CATEGORIZE

A great way for kids to show what they know is to categorize utilizing a text or visual that’s been provided to them.

For example, they can highlight elements of a text such as similes or metaphors using different coloured highlighters. This works well in other content areas as well. Students can highlight living versus nonliving things, or if you have to solve an equation using multiplication or division.

This is a great activity for English language learners as well as weaker students who need a bit more practice identifying differences and similarities in things you’re learning about or how to apply the knowledge they’ve learned.


COLLABORATE IN HOME LANGUAGE GROUPS


Don’t be afraid of allowing your students to speak in their home languages! Not only is it not going to inhibit their growth in English, it’s actually helpful.

Students can discuss vocabulary and concepts in words they already know to help develop their English skills.

If you have several students who speak the same language, allow them to work together and speak in their home language as well as English. Just have them write and/or tell you their answers in English to ensure they’re getting the concepts correctly and building their language acquisition.


INCORPORATE CONTENT VOCABULARY IN WRITING AND SPEAKING


Developing English language learners should be high enough to be able to know and use some content vocabulary. As they’re still learning, you may not have them learn and know all the same vocabulary as their English native peers, but you can focus on the most important vocabulary and expect them to learn and understand it.

They should be able to tell you what the vocabulary means and use it in their answers. If they’re unable to do this, they likely need more support for emerging language learners.


COMPLETE CLOZE PASSAGES


Close readings are a fantastic activity for Developing English language learners. Have students read through short passages and do activities such as fill in blanks, identify new vocabulary, answer questions, and make very basic inferences.

Because these are so quick to produce and compete, it’s easy to see whether a student is able to complete them and pull an easier or more challenging passage for the next class.

Well, what do you think about these activities? Have you done any? Am I missing something great? Let me know!

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