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Language Learning and Related Issues


Everything ESL

I recently came across a website on ESL education at www.everythingesl.net. The website features 29 content based ESL lesson plans for beginning through to intermediate students, teaching strategies and a forum for sharing and responding to both stories and ideas. I reviewed some of the lesson plans and found that they were well designed for ESL learners.

There were two articles featured on www.everythingesl.net that I found especially interesting for teachers interested in ESL education. One article written by Judie Haynes deals with the keys to effective communication when working with ESL learners. The keys to effective communication are briefly outlined below:

Newcomers need visual and kinesthetic support to understand academic content material. Use drawings, chalkboard sketches, photographs, and visual materials to provide clues to meaning. Try mime, gestures or acting out the meaning of your message. Exaggerate emotions and vary your voice. Teach your mainstream students to do the same. If necessary, repeat your actions and rephrase the information.

Speak in a clear, concise manner at a slightly slower pace using short, simple sentences (subject-verb-object) and high-frequency words. Your students will not understand you if you speak too fast or run your words together. Use the names of people rather than pronouns. Pause after phrases or short sentences, not after each word. You do not want to distort the rhythm of the language. Avoid the passive voice, complex sentences. idiomatic speech and slang.

Smile and speak in a calm, reassuring manner. Raising your voice does not facilitate comprehension. Your voice should not be too loud. Show your patience through your facial expressions and body language. Give full attention to your ELLs and make every effort to understand their attempts to communicate.

Allow your new learners of English extra time when listening and speaking. Many of your ELLs are translating the language they hear to their native language, formulating a response. and then translating that response into English.

It is important for you to check comprehension frequently. Don't ask "Do you understand?" This is not a reliable check since many students will answer "yes" when they don't really understand. Teach the phrases "I don't understand," "Slowly, please," and "Please repeat." Write down information so students have visual as well as auditory input. Print clearly and legibly on the chalkboard. Remember that many of your ELLs and their parents will not understand cursive writing.

Accept one word answers, drawings and gestures. Do not jump in immediately to supply the words for students or insist that they speak in full sentences. Resist the urge to overcorrect which will inhibit newcomers so that they will be less willing to speak. If students respond in heavily accented or grammatically incorrect English, repeat their answer correctly. Do not ask the student to repeat your corrected response as this can be very embarrassing. Allow new learners of English to use a bilingual dictionary or ask for help from a same language buddy.

If you have important information to convey, speak to the newcomer individually rather than in front of the class. The anxiety of being in the spotlight interferes with comprehension. Don't insist that students make eye contact with you when you are speaking to them. This is considered rude in many cultures.

Help students to participate in your class by letting them know which question you are going to ask in advance. This will give your students the time to prepare a response.
Use choral reading. Your ELLs will want to participate but being the focus of attention can be traumatic. Remember that your ELLs should understand what they are reading chorally.

Write key words on the chalkboard so students have visual as well as auditory input. Emphasize these key words. Since many of your ELLs will not understand cursive writing, you need to print clearly and legibly. When writing notes home to parents, print your message and use a pen with black or blue ink. In some cultures red is the color of death.

Knowledge of questioning strategies is essential in differentiating instruction for ELLs. Involving English language learners in the discussions in their content area classes can be frustrating if teachers do not develop strategies for asking questions. Below is a list of types of questions to ask from easiest to most difficult.

Ask newcomers to point to a picture or word to demonstrate basic knowledge. “Point to the penguin.

Using visual cues, ask simple yes/no questions such as “Are penguins mammals?” Embed the response in the question using “either/or”. "Is a penguin a mammal or a bird?”

Break complex questions into several steps. Simplify your vocabulary. Instead of asking “What characteristics do mammals share?" say “Look at the mammals. Find the bear, the dog and the cat. How are they the same?"

Ask simple "how" and "where" questions that can be answered with a phrase or a short sentence. "Where do penguins live?" Do not expect your ELLs to answer broad open-ended questions.

Remember that there will be times when you will not be able to get an idea across to newcomers. Ask the ESL teacher in your school for a list of students who speak the newcomer's language. You will be able to call on these students to act as translators if necessary. Keep in mind that K-2 students do not make good translators.

A second article entitled, ‘Basic Interpersonal Communications Skills’ outlines the differences between social and academic language acquisition studied extensively by Jim Cummins. I found this to be very useful information for developing a better understanding of ESL learners. There is language called Basic Interpersonal Communication (BICS) which are language skills needed in social situations and that is often employed in the playground, in the lunch room, on the school bus, at parties, playing sports and talking on the telephone. The language required is not specialized and it is not very cognitively demanding. Problems arise when teachers and administrators think that a child is proficient in a language when they demonstrate good social English.

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) on the other hand refers to the form of communication and language used for academic learning. This includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing about subject area content material. This level of language learning is essential for students to succeed in school. Students need time and support to become proficient in academic areas. This usually takes from five to seven years. The language is often more specialized and more cognitively demanding.

I have simply outlined a few key essential pieces of information that I learned from reviewing www.everythingesl.net. I would recommend this resource to all teachers to obtain both theoretical and practical information on how to work effectively with ESL students.


I think the strenth of this website is that it offers lots of practical information for teachers and the reading is short, concise, and easy to digest for those of us who are time-constrained.


I think many of the articles featured in this website are produced by the same author, Judie Haynes. A little more diversity of perspectives would make it a more dynamic and interesting website.


I have simply outlined a few key essential pieces of information that I learned from reviewing www.everythingesl.net. I would recommend this resource to all teachers to obtain both theoretical and practical information on how to work effectively with ESL students.

Your Recommendations:


Submitted by: Erika Carlson

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