Elementary, ell, High School, Junior High

6 Things Teachers Can Do to Support Expanding English Language Learners

When our English language learners teach the expanding stage, we often feel they’re strong enough to work independently and do the same (or almost the same) work as their native English peers. However, there is still a lot of learning and growth they have to do, especially around academic language and course content.

Here are some of my favourite ways teachers can support expanding English language learners:

PROVIDE GUIDED PRACTICE

It can still be very difficult for expanding English learners to follow along in class. If your teaching style is to lecture, make sure you provide your English language learners opportunities to practice with your support.

Depending on the age of your students, break up time you lecture so they have opportunities to stop, talk and work with peers, and practice what was taught.

Check in for understanding, then continue. If you’re lecturing too often or for too long, students will get lost, especially those who aren’t native English speakers.

REHEARSE AND APPLY KEY LANGUAGE

When you’re working with expanding English language learners, they can understand far more words socially and academically. However, they don’t always know which words and phrases are most important.

To highlight the importance of key language, ensure that you explicitly tell students that it’s important, as well as provide them opportunities to learn and utilize this language.

Simply providing tests to read is not enough for most students to learn, let alone those still developing English skills.

Allow students to write and speak about key terms and concepts.

Have them work independently, in pairs, in groups, and as a whole class to develop full understanding of what is important to know. This will ensure they’ve really mastered content vocabulary and ideas.

EXAMINE CASE STUDIES

Case studies can be great for several different classes because they allow students to consider real life examples and problems. 

Use English that students can access and have them examine different problems, whether it be in social studies, health, science, or so on.

I love to have students spend a few minutes independently to think and consider the case study, then break into pairs or small groups to discuss. This gets them talking, seeing other perspectives, and supporting one another.

At the end of class, you can have groups share with the entire class and open up the floor for further discussions.

OFFER ANALOGIES

Once students are at the expanding language acquisition level, they can generally understand simple analogies using concepts they are already familiar with.

When introducing new words or ideas that may be challenging for your expanding English language learners, having them connect and compare the new information with what they already know is an excellent option. Not only does the contrast or comparison help them understand it, connecting the ideas will also help them remember the new information.

This works especially well with classes like language arts and social studies when they often have to make connections to things which are not tangible. Offering analogies that they can understand and will help them wrap their heads around the overall idea can be extremely helpful.

ANALYZE TEXTS FOR CONTENT AND LANGUAGE FEATURES

At the expanding level, students should now be ready to more closely analyze texts than they were previously. However, they still need further practice in explicitly identifying, understanding, and being able to discuss specific language features.

Walk students through this at first, they’ll need to know exactly what they’re supposed to be identifying, why it’s important, and what your expectations are.

For example, I will often give students a passage and have them highlight specific lines that show something such as foreshadowing. Then I will have them write a short few sentences explaining or proving that they have, in fact, shown foreshadowing. 

You can do the same type of activity specifically around content, not just language and literary devices. For example, you could have students highlight examples of reducing in one colour, reusing in another, and recycling in another, then explain the difference between them and why each fits into the respective category.

READ AND REVIEW IN HOME LANGUAGE GROUPS

A great activity for students to do as they hit the expanding language level is to work in home language groups or partners. As a teacher, you can do your best to strategically partner and pair groups when it comes to reading over or accessing new English materials.

While expanding learners will be able to understand much of it, they can talk with one another to explain new vocabulary or concepts in their home language. This is an excellent way to not only learn the new ideas, but to actually have further discussions about their meanings and context!

Well, what do you think? Have you tried any of these ideas? Are you already doing them in your classroom? Let me know!

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