Wednesday, March 5, 2008

23 Teaching Strategies for ESOL Students

Here are twenty-three teaching strategies for ESOL students you may implement in your classroom.
1) Maintain a low affective filter (a low-stress learning environment).
· Students talk (in English) when they’re ready.
· Students are more likely to participate if they feel “safe.” Maintain a “safe” atmosphere through praise, sincere encouragement, developing positive rapport with each student, and providing students with opportunities to succeed.
2) Use praise.
· Validation instills confidence in students so they are more likely to participate in learning activities, interact with the teacher and other students, and become actively involved in the classroom “community,” which promotes verbal interaction.
3) Provide students with opportunities to succeed.
· Find strengths in struggling students and give them a chance to “teach” other students via peer tutoring, presenting, explaining instructions, etc.
4) Provide opportunities for peer tutoring.
· Students who have mastered a skill can help a classmate acquire that skill.
5) Use predictable routines and signals.
· For example, sing songs, recite poems, “The apple is ___________.” “The apple __________.” Routines can reduce students’ anxiety. They can be used to begin class each day and to teach structure or form, such as in a writing lesson.
6) Use Total Physical Response (TPR).
· Students talk when they’re ready. Receptive skills (i.e. listening) are acquired before productive skills (i.e. speaking).
7) Use information gap activities.
· These include activities done with classmates that encourage use of verbal communication in context of a topic taught in a “fun” way, i.e. grammar structure or a theme-based lesson.
8) Activate schemata (background knowledge).
· For example, in reading or writing, talk about something familiar to them; Provide familiar context (i.e. a well-known folk tale or cultural topic) before venturing off into something new students are to read/write about.
9) Provide scaffolding.
· Provide students with the necessary tools (all of the parts) they need to perform the learning task. For example, teach new vocabulary students are expected to need in order to fulfill the learning activity before engaging them in learning task.
· Examples:
i. If you’re having students “brainstorm,” then teach what brainstorming is by providing an example done together as a class.
ii. Before you have students do a writing task, make sure you overtly teach patterns/sentence structure, punctuation, etc.—whatever your focus or objective is—then tell them they’re going to practice this structure in a learning activity.
10) Contextualize language as much as possible.
· Don’t teach in isolation. Make connections to things that students already know and that are familiar to them. When teaching vocabulary for a science lesson, for example, read a story that uses the vocabulary in the text.
11) Provide language support through visual images.
· Identify vocabulary in the lesson to be taught that can be scaffolded with visual images.
· Collect visuals (either finding ready-made visuals or create them), and organize them into a file.
12) Ask questions to assess comprehension.
· Effectively assess students’ understanding by asking yes/no questions (“Do you understand?), then follow-up with open-ended questions (“_______ [Student’s name], will you repeat the instructions/homework assignment/what you are to be doing now?”)
13) Provide comprehensible input.
· Use vocabulary they know.
· Sometimes it may be necessary to use their first language to describe complex ideas or challenging vocabulary as a last resort if students’ lack of understanding impedes their learning.
14) Remember i + 1, but don’t overload. (“Stretch, but don’t overwhelm.”)
· Don’t focus on too many things at once.
15) Use repetition.
· Repeated exposure helps students retain information. Also, repetition emphasizes the importance of information and conveys to student that the information repeated is important to retain.
16) Recycle.
· Students forget information (especially grammar structures) unless it is recycled. Teachers can recycle information differently, employing different methods, learning tasks, and activities. Recycled information doesn’t have to be delivered in exactly the same way it was delivered the first time.
17) Provide opportunities for increased verbal interaction.
· Let students generate language. Avoid too much teacher-talk. Keep it student-centered, not teacher-centered.
18) Provide activities that offer opportunities for active involvement by all students.
· Maintain a student-centered class.
19) Use grouping techniques. (Provide opportunities for group work).
· Students could work individually first, and then in a group to informally assess their progress. Group work also promotes verbal interaction.
20) Provide effective modeling of learning tasks.
· Modeling needs to be relevant to the task(s) students will engage in.
21) Provide clear instructions.
· Overtly tell students the objective of each activity. Tell students what they’ll gain from it.
22) Conduct informal assessments.
· We need to assess students’ success. We need to evaluate if our objectives are being met and if teaching strategies are effective.
· Examples of informal assessments are observations, performance sampling, and anectdotal records (narratives of what is seen and heard by the teacher through observation, such as documenting quotes, descriptions of interactions, demonstration of students’ knowledge, etc., taken at regular intervals).
23) Share ideas with your colleagues.
· We forget that other teachers are sometimes our best resources. Take time to share frustrations, strategies that work, and to compare the needs of students.

NOTE: Of course, this is not a comprehensive list of strategies that can be employed in the classroom. This particular list of strategies was taken from an ESL seminar I prepared and conducted for K-12 teachers in American Samoa on June 9, 2005.


  1. My name is CJ Miyake. I created a social networking type site for ESL teachers. Its at If you have any ideas you would like to share, please come and share them. If you need an idea, you can come find them there too. If you have any questions, or comments please let me know ! You can email me at

  2. There is no doubt that ESL writers have distinct instructional needs. I triage two levels of writing intervention based upon diagnostic assessments as 1) emergency treatment or 2) long-term care at <a href="”>How to Teach EL Writing.