Who are our students?

They are international students who come from approximately various countries representing diverse cultural and language backgrounds and levels of competency and proficiency. To date, there are 13 languages represented in the ESL population.
  • Spanish
  • Gujarati
  • Cebuano
  • Hindi
  • Arabic
  • Sinhala:Sinhalese
  • English
  • Korean
  • Bengali
  • Panjabi:Punjabi
  • Urdu
  • Chinese
  • Vietnamese

A Definition - Who Are the English Language Learners?

The process of learning EnglishELLs may take years to become proficient in English.

Stages of Second Language Acquisition

by Judie Haynes

All new learners of English progress through the same stages to acquire language. However, the length of time each students spends at a particular stage may vary greatly.

Stage I: Pre-production

This is the silent period. English language learners may have up to 500 words in their receptive vocabulary but they are not yet speaking. Some students will, however, repeat every thing you say. They are not really producing language but are parroting.
These new learners of English will listen attentively and they may even be able to copy words from the board. They will be able to respond to pictures and other visuals. They can understand and duplicate gestures and movements to show comprehension. Total Physical Response methods will work well with them. Teachers should focus attention on listening comprehension activities and on building a receptive vocabulary.
English language learners at this stage will need much repetition of English. They will benefit from a “buddy” who speaks their language. Remember that the school day is exhausting for these newcomers as they are overwhelmed with listening to English language all day long.

Stage II: Early production

This stage may last up to six months and students will develop a receptive and active vocabulary of about 1000 words. During this stage, students can usually speak in one- or two-word phrases. They can use short language chunks that have been memorized although these chunks may not always be used correctly.
Here are some suggestions for working with students in this stage of English language learning:
  • Ask yes/no and either/or questions.
  • Accept one or two word responses.
  • Give students the opportunity to participate in some of the whole class activities.
  • Use pictures and realia to support questions.
  • Modify content information to the language level of ELLs.
  • Build vocabulary using pictures.
  • Provide listening activities.
  • Simplify the content materials to be used. Focus on key vocabulary and concepts.
  • When teaching elementary age ELLs, use simple books with predictable text.
  • Support learning with graphic organizers, charts and graphs. Begin to foster writing in English through labeling and short sentences. Use a frame to scaffold writing.

Stage III: Speech emergence

Students have developed a vocabulary of about 3,000 words and can communicate with simple phrases and sentences. They will ask simple questions, that may or may not be grammatically correct, such as “ May I go to bathroom? ” ELLs will also initiate short conversations with classmates. They will understand easy stories read in class with the support of pictures. They will also be able to do some content work with teacher support. Here are some simple tasks they can complete:
  • Sound out stories phonetically.
  • Read short, modified texts in content area subjects.
  • Complete graphic organizers with word banks.
  • Understand and answer questions about charts and graphs.
  • Match vocabulary words to definitions.
  • Study flashcards with content area vocabulary.
  • Participate in duet, pair and choral reading activities.
  • Write and illustrate riddles.
  • Understand teacher explanations and two-step directions.
  • Compose brief stories based on personal experience.
  • Write in dialogue journals.
Dialogue journals are a conversation between the teacher and the student. They are especially helpful with English language learners. Students can write about topics that interest them and proceed at their own level and pace. They have a place to express their thoughts and ideas.

Stage IV: Intermediate fluency

English language learners at the intermediate fluency stage have a vocabulary of 6000 active words. They are beginning to use more complex sentences when speaking and writing and are willing to express opinions and share their thoughts. They will ask questions to clarify what they are learning in class. These English language learners will be able to work in grade level math and science classes with some teacher support. Comprehension of English literature and social studies content is increasing. At this stage, students will use strategies from their native language to learn content in English.
Student writing at this stage will have many errors as ELLs try to master the complexity of English grammar and sentence structure. Many students may be translating written assignments from native language. They should be expected to synthesize what they have learned and to make inferences from that learning. This is the time for teachers to focus on learning strategies. Students in this stage will also be able to understand more complex concepts.

Stage V: Advanced Fluency

It takes students from 4-10 years to achieve cognitive academic language proficiency in a second language. Student at this stage will be near-native in their ability to perform in content area learning. Most ELLs at this stage have been exited from ESL and other support programs. At the beginning of this stage, however, they will need continued support from classroom teachers especially in content areas such as history/social studies and in writing.

Pre-production and the Silent Period
If your new English language learner is not speaking, don't worry. Most newcomers go through a stage during which they do not produce language. This doesn't mean they are not learning.

Seven Teaching Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs

Judie Haynes

In Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas (ASCD, 2010), Debbie Zacarian and I listed seven teaching strategies for mainstream teachers of ELLs. These seven strategies are designed to help teachers meet the needs of all the students in their class and to help make mainstream classroom instruction more inclusive for ELLs.

1. Provide comprehensible input for ELLs. Language is not “soaked up.” The learner must understand the message that is conveyed. Comprehensible input is a hypothesis first proposed by Stephen Krashen. (Krashen, 1981) He purports that ELLs acquire language by hearing and understanding messages that are slightly above their current English language level. When newcomers are assigned to a mainstream classroom and spend most of their day in this environment it is especially critical for them to receive comprehensible input from their teachers and classmates. If that teacher provides information by lecturing in the front of a classroom, the English language learner will not be receiving this input. Teachers need to speak more slowly, use gestures and body language to get across the meaning to ELLs. For more information on comprehensible input seeComprehensible Input/Output.

2.Make lessons visual. Use visual representations of new vocabulary and use graphs, maps, photographs, drawings and charts to introduce new vocabulary and concepts. Tell a story about information in the textbook using visuals. Create semantic and story maps, graphic organizers to teach students how to organize information.

3. Link new information to prior knowledge. Teachers need to consider what schema ELL students brings to the classroom and to link instruction to the students’ personal, cultural, and world experiences. Teachers also need to know what their students do not know. They must understand how culture impacts learning in their classroom.

4. Determine key concepts for the unit and define language and content objects for each lesson. Teachers write the key concept for a unit of study in student-friendly language and post it in the room. New learning should be tied to this concept. Additionally, teachers should begin each lesson by writing a content objective on the board. At the end of the lesson, students should be asked if the objective was met. Classroom teachers also need to set language objectives for the ELLs in their class. A language objective might be to learn new vocabulary, find the nouns in a lesson, or apply a grammar rule.

5. Modify vocabulary instruction for ELLs. English language learners require direct instruction of new vocabulary. Teachers should also provide practice in pronouncing new words. ELLs need much more exposure to new terms, words, idioms, and phrases than do English fluent peers. Teachers need to tie new vocabulary to prior learning and use visual to reinforce meaning. Content area teachers should teach new vocabulary words that occur in the text as well as those related to the subject matter. Word walls should be used at all grade levels. More information on vocabulary instruction for ELLs can be found at Vocabulary Instruction for ELLs.

6. Use cooperative learning strategies. Lecture style teaching excludes ELLs from the learning in a classroom We don’t want to relegate ELLs to the fringes of the classroom doing a separate lesson with a classroom aide or ESL teacher. Working in small groups is especially beneficial to ELLs who have an authentic reason to use academic vocabulary and real reasons to discuss key concepts. ELLs benefit from cooperative learning structures. Give students a job in a group. Monitor that they are participating.

7. Modify testing and homework for ELLs. Content area homework and assessments needs to be differentiated for ELLs. Teachers should allow alternative types of assessment: oral, drawings, physical response (e.g., act-it-out), and manipulatives as well as modification to the test. Homework and assessment should be directly linked to classroom instruction and students should be provided with study guides so that they know what to study. Remember that the ELLs in your class may not be able to take notes.

12 Ways to Support ESL Students in the Mainstream Classroom

Posted onDecember 11, 2014by Jennifer Gonzalez

Incorporate this stuff into your teaching and watch your English language learners thrive.


You have a new student, and he speaks no English. His family has just moved to your town from Japan, and though he receives English as a Second Language (ESL) support, he will also be sitting in your room every day to give him more exposure to his new language. How can you be a good teacher to someone who barely understands you?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an average of 9 percent of students in U.S. public schools are English Language Learners (ELLs); that number is closer to 14 percent in cities. Although many of these students start off in high-intensity, whole-day English programs, most are integrated into mainstream classrooms within a year, well before their English language skills would be considered proficient.
How prepared are you to teach these students? If you’re like most classroom teachers, you have little to no training in the most effective methods for working with English language learners (Walker, Shafer, & Iiams, 2004). So that means we have a problem here: Lots of ELL kids in regular classrooms, and no teacher training to ensure the success of that placement.
Below, three ESL teachers tell us what they know about the things regular classroom teachers can do to improve instruction for ELL students. These 12 strategies are simple, they are not very time consuming, and best of all, they will help everyone in your class learn better:

1. Make it Visual


“Avoid giving instructions in the air,” says Melissa Eddington, an Ohio-based ESL teacher. “ELL kids have a harder time processing spoken language.” So instructions – even basic directions for classroom procedures – should be written on the board whenever possible. Challenging concepts should be diagrammed or supported with pictures. And modeling the steps of a process or showing students what a finished product should look like can go a long way toward helping students understand. “Sometimes showing our students what to do is all they need in order to do it,” Eddington says. Not only will this kind of nonlinguistic representation improve comprehension for ELL students, it will help all of your students grasp concepts better.

2. Build in more group work.

“Kids aren’t just empty glasses that we pour stuff into and then at the end of the day they dump it back onto a test,” says Kim, an ESL teacher who was the subject of my very first podcast interview. “If you really want the kids to learn, they’ve got to be engaged.” That means less teacher-led, whole-class instruction, and more small groups, where students can practice language with their peers in a more personal, lower-risk setting. And if ELL students attend your class with a resource teacher, make use of that person: In most cases the resource teacher doesn’t have to work exclusively with the ESL students; they can work with smaller groups that happen to contain these students, helping to improve the teacher-student ratio and give kids more time to practice.

3. Communicate with the ESL teacher.

Mary Yurkosky, a former ESL teacher in Massachusetts, credits much of her students’ success to the strong relationship she had with the regular classroom teachers. “The classroom teachers were always talking to me about what they were doing in their classes,” she says. “They made it so easy for me to support them: If a teacher was going to be doing a unit on plants, I could make sure we used some of that same vocabulary in the ESL class.”
Ideally, this could be systematized, where ESL teachers could regularly get copies of lesson plans or collaborate with regular classroom teachers to build solid back-and-forth support, but “it doesn’t have to be that much work,” Yurkosky insists. “Just talk to each other. Talk about what’s going on in your classrooms, invite each other to special presentations, share what your students are learning, and the words will naturally find their way into the ESL class.”

4. Honor the “silent period.”

Many new language learners go through a silent period, during which they will speak very little, if at all. “Don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to,” says Eddington, “A lot of students who come from cultures outside of America want to be perfect when they speak, so they will not share until they feel they are at a point where they’re perfect.” Just knowing that this is a normal stage in second language acquisition should help relieve any pressure you feel to move them toward talking too quickly.

5. Allow some scaffolding with the native language.

Although it has been a hotly debated topic in the language-learning community, allowing students some use of their first language (L1) in second-language (L2) classrooms is gaining acceptance. When a student is still very new to a language, it’s okay to pair him with other students who speak his native language. “Some students are afraid to open their mouths at all for fear of sounding stupid or just not knowing the words to use,” Yurkosky says. “Letting them explain things or ask questions in their first language gets them to relax and feel like a part of the class.”
And this doesn’t only apply to spoken language. If you give students a written assignment, but the ELL student doesn’t yet have the proficiency to handle writing his response in English, “Don’t make them just sit there and do nothing,” Eddington says. “Allow them to write in their first language if they’re able. This allows them to still participate in journal writing or a math extended response, even if you can’t read what they write.” There has even been some evidence that allowing second-language learners to pre-write and brainstorm in L1 results in higher-quality writing in L2 in later stages of the writing process (Yigsaw, 2012).

6. Look out for culturally unique vocabulary.

“For most of these kids, their background knowledge is lacking, especially with things that are unique to American or westernized culture,” says Eddington. It’s important to directly teach certain vocabulary words: “Show them videos of what it looks like to toss pizza dough, show pictures of a juke box or a clothing rack – things that are not common in their own language.”

One way to differentiate for ELL students is to consider the whole list of terms you’re going to teach for a unit, and if you think an ELL student may be overwhelmed by such a long list, omit those that are not essential to understanding the larger topic at hand.

7. Use sentence frames to give students practice with academic language.

All students, not just English language learners, need practice with academic conversations. Sentence frames – partially completed sentences like “I disagree with what _ said because…” – show students how to structure language in a formal way. Keep these posted in a highly visible spot in your classroom and require students to refer to them during discussions and while they write.
For this kind of language to really sink in, though, Kim says it has to become a regular part of class. “They won’t do it if it’s not the norm in the class, because they’ll be embarrassed to use it among their peers,” she says. “But if they can put it off on the teacher and say, Oh, well, you know, Miss Kim makes me talk like this, then they don’t look as hoity-toity as they would otherwise.”

8. Pre-teach whenever possible.

If you’re going to be reading a certain article next week, give ESL students a copy of it now. If you plan to show a YouTube video tomorrow, send a link to your ESL students today. Any chance you can give these students to preview material will increase the odds that they’ll understand it on the day you present it to everyone else. “That kind of thing is wonderful,” Yurkosky says. “The kids feel so empowered if they’ve had a chance to look at the material ahead of time.”

9. Learn about the cultural background of your students…

Our second-language populations grow more diverse every year. Taking the time to learn the basics of where a child comes from — exactly, not ‘somewhere in the Middle East/South America/Asia/Africa’ — tells the student that you respect her enough to bother. Kim remembers one time when she had to set the record straight about the diverse South American population at her school: “I was listening to the teachers talking about the ‘Mexican’ kids in our building,” she says, “and I was like, ‘We don’t have any Mexicans.'” Not taking the time to at least correctly identify a child’s country of origin, much like not bothering to pronounce their name correctly, is a kind of microaggression, a small, subtle insult that communicates hostility toward people of color. Make a commitment to be someone who bothers to get it right.
Once you have the country straight, take things up a notch by learning about students’ religious and cultural practices. If he is a practicing Muslim, he should be told if one of the pizzas you ordered for the class party has sausage on it. If she comes from a culture where eye contact with adults is viewed as disrespectful, you’ll know not to force her to look you in the eye when she’s talking.

10. …but don’t make a child speak for his entire culture.

In her podcast interview, Kim shared a story about watching a teacher ask a new Iraqi student how he felt about the war in his country, right in the middle of class. “That’s not cultural inclusiveness,” she explains. “I’ve seen teachers do this and then pat themselves on the back. The students’ English is limited so they can’t express themselves very well, and they don’t want to ‘represent'; they just want to be there.” If you anticipate a theme coming up in your class that’s going to be relevant to one of your students, have a conversation with them in advance, or check with your ESL teacher to see if they think it’s appropriate for in-class discussion.

11. Show them how to take themselves less seriously…

By modeling the risk-taking that’s required to learn a new language, you help students develop the courage to take their own risks, and to have a sense of humor about it. “I tried to say the word ‘paint’ (pinta) in Portuguese and instead I said the word for ‘penis’ (pinto). They all roared with laughter while I stood there with a What?? look on my face,” Yurkosky says. “When they explained what I’d said, I laughed so hard! I told them that laughing was fine because sometimes mistakes are really funny, but ridicule is never okay.”

12. …but always take them seriously.

One of Kim’s pet peeves about how teachers interact with English language learners is the way they often see students’ efforts as ‘cute,’ missing the whole point of what the student is trying to say. “A student will be desperate to communicate, and the teacher will get distracted by the delivery and miss the message,” she says. “That’s painful for me to watch.” It bothers her when teachers mistake a lack of language for a lack of intelligence or maturity. When a child can’t express themselves as well as they would in their native language, it’s far too easy to assume the concepts just aren’t in their heads.
“It breaks my heart when I hear teachers say (ELL kids) don’t know anything,” says Eddington. “These are brilliant kids and they know a lot. They just can’t tell us in English yet.” Make a conscious effort to see past the accent and the mispronunciations and treat every interaction — every student — with the respect they deserve.
“They’re doing twice the job of everybody else in the class,” Kim adds, “even though the result looks like half as much.” ♦


The Eight Components of Sheltered Instruction: The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) was developed to make content material more comprehensible to English Language Learners. The model was developed by Jana Echevarria, Mary Ellen Vogt and Deborah J. Short.

Online Articles that Discuss How to Support ELLs