Saturday, September 20, 2014

Bright Ideas: What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Working with ELL Students

Most of you know that I loved working with ELL (English Language Learners) students. Although different school districts use different labels such as ELL or ESL, your chances of having at least one in your classroom is pretty high.  LEP (Limited English Proficient) students learn English the same way we learned English, naturally. First we didn't say anything, then sounds and single words. Then we put a few words together and then started to speak in sentences. In order for these ELLs to acquire academic English they will go through several Stages of Language Acquisition. Conversation proficiency is much more easily acquired and can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. However, becoming academically proficient can take from 5-7 years if students are literate in their first language. If they are not literate in their first language, academic proficiency can take from 9-12 years.

  • Stage I: Pre-Production: This stage can last from 10 hours to 6 months. At this stage the student is internalizing the new language. You can expect that students will communicate with gestures and actions such as pointing to pictures or objects. Students may be able to say "yes" or "no." Lessons should focus on listening comprehension using visual aids, emphasizing oral and written words, and journal writing using pictures, student's native language, or limited English.
  • Stage 2: Early Production: This stage can take an additional 6 months to a year. At this stage you can expect that students will answer with "yes" and "no", speak using one or two words, and use repetitive language patterns. Lessons should focus on Language experience, role-playing, expanding vocabulary, guided journal writing, and picture reports.
  • Stage 3: Speech Emergence: This stage can take an additional 1-3 years. At this stage students speak in longer phrases and complete sentences. Lessons should continue to expand vocabulary and develop higher levels of language use in reading and writing.
  • Stage 4: Intermediate Fluency: This stage can take an additional 1-2 years. At this stage students use complex sentences, engage in conversation, state opinions, and speak at length. Lessons should focus on oral discussions, journals, comparing and contrasting, reading a variety of genre, and expanding vocabulary in the content area.
  • Stage 5: Continued Language Development: At this stage students will participate fully in grade level classroom activities with some support in comprehension and the use of academic language. 

There are also many factors that affect how quickly newcomers and LEP (Limited English Proficient) students will achieve proficiency.  Here are the major factors:

  • Motivation (Attitude): The more motivated they are the more likelihood of success.
  • Age: There is still a lot of debate about the optimal age but most feel that younger learners are the better at picking up communicative aspects of English, prompting them to learn more.
  • Access to language: Opportunities to learn the targeted language play a big role. Students need to interact in the targeted language with native speakers.
  • Personality: Students that are extroverts have more interaction with Native speakers. Risk-taking is an important personality trait that greatly affects language learning.
  • First Language Development: Research suggests that those who have have a strong schooling in their first language will be more successful at acquiring their new language.
  • Quality of Instruction: What happens in the classroom is a vital factor. Effective learning takes place in a well-organized classroom where there are opportunities for interaction with the teacher and peers and there is an adequate amount of time spent on practicing the new language.
  • Cognitive Ability: Students with a lower cognitive ability can acquire a new language but proficiency levels will be equal to or lower than their ability level in their first language. If students have a learning disability in their first language, it will transfer to the new language.                        
Hope I've given you some Bright Ideas. If you have enjoyed these Bright Ideas I hope you will consider joining me on Pinterest, Facebook, or Bloglovin to see more Bright Ideas.

Thanks for all you do to make a difference for your students. For more Bright Ideas from more than 100 bloggers, browse through the link-up below to choose a topic/grade level that interests you. Thanks for visiting.


  1. What a wonderful post!! Thank you so much for sharing such important information. Pinning!!

  2. This is one of the best ELL posts I've ever seen!!!

  3. I love my little ELL learners!!! One year I had 9 languages in my class! Isn't that cool! Thanks for the recap on everything... sometimes it's great just to go back to basics!

    Jennifer with Simply Kinder