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English Language Learners Classrooms & Instructional Strategies

English Language Learners must pass a speaking and writing portion of language proficiency assessment for scoring out and being fully immersed in mainstream classes without support. There exist a number of students with different cultural backgrounds who are unable to speak or write English fluently or too shy to speak up and answer a question, even when they have the answer. In this paper, I will present instructional strategies to help my ELL students gain the language proficiency they need to succeed in school.

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My students will learn to work cooperatively and to recognize their individual responsibilities within a group by actively participating in such learning centers and activities as a set of discussion questions around a story they have read, producing of a cognitive map of the story, or inventing a puppet show to highlight character traits. (Calderon, 2001) Learning centers will also help the students advance into student-led discussions, which is likely to encourage class participation. Furthermore, students will learn new information and connect it to their personal lives by using their native language and making what they are learning more meaningful. For example, asking students to tell a story that is either popular in their home country or is based on their own experience and allowing them to tell it both in their native language and in English, can help to increase their confidence and send a powerful message of cross-cultural appreciation.

Utilizing Krashen’s theory of comprehensible input, I will try to make the content of the class more understandable to students; for this, I will use a set of student-based strategies, which includes incorporating a variety of learning styles that will be based upon the visual learners, auditory learners, and the students who learn best through hands-on. I will also use a variety of assessment opportunities (such as performance-based, pictorial, and reflective). For example, I am planning to use the “Realia strategy”. “Realia” is a term for any real, concrete object used in the classroom to create connections with vocabulary words, stimulate conversation, and build background knowledge. Realia give students the opportunity to use all their senses to learn about a given subject; they are appropriate for any grade or skill level. The use of realia can also contribute greatly to incorporating cultural content into a lesson. For example, eating utensils and kitchen appliances (chopsticks, a tortilla press, a tea set, and a wok) can build vocabulary and increase comprehension providing at this insight into different cultures.

Since I have taught mathematics and will be teaching mathematics, my goal is to demonstrate models of teaching that may help ELL students deepen their understanding of mathematics and increase their achievements in this subject. Math classes for English Language Learners (ELLs) can be especially challenging because students are faced with learning both mathematics and English at one and the same time. Math teachers can and must make every effort to reach out to these students to create a class that is both positive and rewarding.

As far as I know, mathematics is taught in an integrated format in most of the countries. The United States is one of the few countries that separate math instruction by math topics. The subject is divided into Algebra class, Geometry class, and Trigonometry class. In order to make sure that students are placed into a proper mathematics classroom, I question them in their native language to find out their background in mathematics. Much of the mathematics curriculum today involves using technology in the classroom. Many ELL students have not been taught in their native countries to use a calculator, nor have they been taught to use a computer as an educational tool. Using calculators and computers is extremely important in mathematics this is why students who do not have necessary skills in using these technologies should be taught to do this during additional classes. The wait time for written instruction on the board should be10 to 15 minutes or more. The ELL students tend to write down everything that the instructors put on the board, which is good to some extent; however, the students miss most of the oral instructions because they are too preoccupied with writing what is on the board. Providing a list of the daily assignments might be helpful in this situation.

It is essential that we take into account the ELL unique exercises, prior learning, and individual strengths in order to develop appropriate instructional strategies. Other cultures have different approaches to mathematics which the ELL may be unaware of, (Selby & Slavin, 1991) this is why a thorough research should be conducted before implementing definite teaching strategies.

Mathematical Concepts That May Differ or Be Difficult
Measurement Measurement may be especially challenging for ELL students, as their prior instruction most likely covered the metric system.
Fractions Fractions may be unfamiliar to ELLs. Some ELL students may have come from an educational environment where decimals received more emphasis than fractions.
Geometry The discipline of Geometry in particular has many terms that may cause difficulties in understanding.
Algorithms In some cases, algorithms may have been learned differently. Some ELL students may be used to algorithms that are different from traditional algorithms taught in your curriculum. Allow students the opportunity to share their algorithms. Use this as a learning opportunity by comparing algorithms and analyzing similarities and differences.

An effective strategy which we sometimes tend to forget is that teachers, parents, fellow classmates, and friends should work as a team to help the ELL students succeed. Through the variety of experiences I have had, I have noticed that the more involved parents are in their children’s education, the more enthusiastic and determined the latter are to learn. Effective communication will provide a necessary balance between the information that students are learning at home and bringing to the classroom and the information that they are receiving from school and taking home with them.

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Good teachers provide all students with equal opportunities for success. To help the students reach this success, we must take into account cultural backgrounds of all the students. Applying multiculturalism strategies in our lesson is not difficult. We work in a multicultural society, dealing with people of different nationalities. This should help us to use variety of teaching strategies and methods to help students to be more active in the lesson and to deepen their comprehension of English language.

Progress, no matter how big or how small, is success. A confident, happy, and successful student is a true reward for a teacher. I myself was an ESL student once and I wrote the following words for my teacher:

She made me like school.
She made me want to learn.
She made learning fun.
She pushed me to be the best I could be.
She made me feel successful.
She made me smile.
She was not only my teacher, she was my friend.

I hope my ELL students would want to write the same about me.


  1. Calderon, M. (2001). Effective programs for Latino Students. Mahwan N.J.: Erlbaum.
  2. Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
  3. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. (2003).
  4. Selby, P. & Slavin, S. (1991). Practical Algebra. New York: John Wildey & Sons, Inc.

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