an apple on top of books

5 Tips for Supporting English Language Learners

By: Dr. John Lesko, Associate Professor of School of Education Professions in the College of Adult & Graduate Studies

An estimated 10% of US public school students speak English as a second language (National Center for Education Statistics). English language learners come from a variety of heritage language backgrounds.

Here are a few basic tips for supporting English language learners in the classroom

Every class is different, and every student a unique individual.

Learn as much as you can about your students.

Ask yourself the following two questions:

  • What language(s) do they speak?
  • What do you know of their previous academic and cultural backgrounds?  

Based on this knowledge, learn a few words and phrases to use with students and their families. Perhaps even ask them to teach you some expressions in their language. Hearing a friendly greeting in their native language is a reminder to students of your interest in their well-being, your valuing and respecting of their home language and culture.

Academic language proficiency does not necessarily match a student’s ability to socially interact and converse.

Spoken discourse is different from the academic discourse which students will need to succeed. Supporting both language domains—academic and social—will help your students to thrive in their studies, and to also make those vital social connections with friends and peers.

Reasonable expectations are important since completing assignments in a second/foreign language takes more time.

Offering more time to complete assignments, perhaps even the use of alternative assessments, can reduce some of the immense pressure and stress faced by English language learners while they work toward academic language proficiency. So, be creative in devising comprehension checks and ask yourself, “Is there another way for my student to demonstrate competency in this area?” An artistic representation, an informal interview, or a presentation by the student might work just as well or better than a formal assessment.

Good connections with students’ families are essential.

Work to build relationships on a foundation of trust. Intercultural events are a time to build such relationships and share histories, culinary traditions, and other interesting aspects of the diverse cultures represented in your classrooms. Along these lines, depending on the need, bilingual support can be useful in communicating with students and their families.

Collaboration is essential.

Fellow teachers and support staff as well as colleagues serving in other schools are an excellent source of support. Don’t hesitate to reach out to discuss issues and concerns, and to share your own recommendations for success. Just one more suggestion: Consider participating in any upcoming workshops, seminars, or conferences.

Supporting English language learners and other segments of the diverse student populations in United States schools can be challenging for educators, yet eminently rewarding. CCU’s Master of Education degree in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education, with an embedded TESOL certificate, offers teachers an opportunity to hone their techniques in working with diverse learners. 


Learn more about our Master of Education degree in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education. 

Learn More