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Supporting ELLs in mainstream classrooms

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Started by Karen Jamieson 05 Jul 2018 3:12pm () Replies (6)

I am putting together a presentation for some staff at my school on how they can support ELLs students in their mainstream classes, from years 9 - year 13. If anyone has any tools, strategies, resources or ideas that'd be happy to share, it would be much appreciated :)


  • Breda Matthews (View all users posts) 11 Mar 2019 1:28pm ()

    Hi Karen,

      Have you tried the ESOL Online resource Getting Started? You might find the section How can teachers understand and teach additional language learning effectively? helpful especially the DVD which are now available on ESOL Online.


    Kind regards



  • Kath (View all users posts) 14 Mar 2019 12:10pm ()

    I have just put together a sheet of suggestions for mainstream teachers of year 9s. Here's the link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14uGmmHt8aNy5-zVJTOcKwSyi1BVcY6KQu5LQekZ8ARw/edit?usp=sharing 

  • Marie O'Connor (View all users posts) 27 Aug 2019 2:22pm ()

    Here is what I give to our teachers. I had posted it a while ago, but it seems to have disappeared.


    Working with English Language Learners

    Things to remember:

    We do not want them to lose their culture and language - we want to add English to it.

    They spend the majority of their day in mainstream classes, not in the ESOL class.

    Reaching academic proficiency in a new language takes between five and seven years.

    Learn and use their name.

    Some English Language Learners don’t like the sound of their own voices when they are speaking English. They may be uncomfortable using the language in front of ‘experts’ (you and the other students).

    The less formal nature of our classes can lead the students to think that they do not have to show respect to the teacher, or even that the teacher does not deserve respect. They may need help understanding what behaviour is acceptable in your class. Other students may feel that you know everything, and so you will know when they are having trouble. They may not say they do not understand because that will make you, as their teacher, lose face.

    Put them at the front of the room, even if they try and hide down the back. They will be able to hear you better and see the board better. You can also see how they are doing more easily.

    Some fairly simple ideas that might help:

    1. Aim of the lesson

    Writing this on the board will help ELLs understand what the main idea of the lesson is, and perhaps check the words at the very start. If you say it, they may miss the key words and so will struggle to understand from the beginning.

    2. Visuals

    Visuals, when possible, help all learners understand more deeply.

    3. Vocabulary

    Key words and phrases written on the board can help students to understand. If they can be left on the wall and referred to later, it will reinforce everyone’s understanding.

    4. Sound

    Teachers need to speak clearly - ELLs do not yet have the ability to guess what certain words might be. Speak facing the class - you are much harder to understand when you are facing the board. It is also distracting for students, as they are trying to focus on what you are saying as well as writing.

    Also, if students are writing from the board, try not to speak. This is just confusing and often results in incomplete understanding of both.

    5. Keeping content at the forefront

    How easy is it for us to go off topic? Especially when we are passionate about something? ELLs cannot filter the important stuff out from the irrelevant (but really interesting to us) information. They think everything you say is of equal importance.

    It is also exhausting to listen in another language - just be aware of this when you are off topic - tell them.

    6. ‘Now this is important’

    This will focus your entire class, not just the ELLs. It will help all of them to figure out the main ideas.

    7. Speed and timing

    We talk too fast and too much. We can pause regularly to let students think about what we have said. Then we can continue.

    8. Sharing

    The best way to monitor whether content has been understood is to get the students to talk to each other about it. Ask them to tell their neighbour what they have understood so far. You can then ask them to share their thoughts (this really makes everyone pay attention and listen more carefully).

    They could also quickly draw what they have learned.

    This technique also allows students to practise not just the subject-specific words but also other words associated with the topic.

    9. Questions

    If we ask the whole class a question, the ELLs will rarely answer, for so many reasons, including the time it takes to translate things to and from their language. You can warn them in advance what they will be expected to answer. Or they can answer the question with a partner and then share. This will help all the students in the class who may not have the opportunity to contribute and ensure that it is not just the same students talking each time. It also encourages better quality thinking about answers for the whole class.

    The longer ELLs sit in class without speaking, the harder it gets.

    10. Paraphrasing

    We all do it to help students understand. However, sometimes our explanations get more convoluted rather than simpler. Think about making your sentences ‘subject-verb-object’ sentences to make them easier to understand. Try not to use broken English though - ELLs need good models of the language.

    11. Teacher’s writing

    Some of us could write more neatly, both on the board and on their work. ELLs do not have the ability to use other clues to figure out an unknown word. They also may not be able to make the connection between what you are saying and what you have written.

    They may need longer to copy from the board - think about allowing them to take photos.

    12. The Textbook

    There is a lot of text on a page, and it may be a completely different writing and organisational system for ELLs. Help them to see the importance of headings, sub-headings, visuals and captions. Try to help them think about the way the texts in your subject are constructed. http://esolonline.tki.org.nz/ESOL-Online/Teacher-needs/Reviewed-resources/English-Language-Intensive-Programme-Years-7-13-Resource/ELIP-Stage-3-Reading-understanding-and-responding

    13. Model answers

    This is not just for exams. Students need to know what types of texts they are expected to produce. Each subject is different so each teacher needs to make the expectations for their subject clear. Don’t just give them out to the students - draw their attention to the important features, especially those that are subject-specific.


    14. Checking understanding

    If you ask ELLs ‘Do you understand?’ they will most likely say ‘Yes’. This is because they want to make you happy, not necessarily because they really understand. Concept checking questions such as ‘Can you give me an example of …?’ ‘What will be the first …’? ‘How will we …’? Are far more likely to show whether or not they have understood.

    Ideas adapted from ‘Breaking through the language barrier - Effective strategies for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) students in secondary school mainstream classes’ by Patricia Mertin 2014 John Catt Educational Limited


    What students would like you to do:

    ·      Explain clearly – give details and examples

    ·      Give practice sheets, and then go through them or give feedback

    ·      Put slide-shows, etc. on mpower

    ·      Check homework and give feedback

    ·      Don’t talk while we are writing – we can’t focus

    ·      Write the important things on the board

    ·      Write clearly – we can’t guess what this word might be

    ·      Give checklists

    ·      Help students understand the context, particularly in English.


    This link has some great ideas:








  • Julie Gordon (View all users posts) 05 Jul 2022 12:22pm ()

    Taking the group aside and going over the task with them, ensuring they understood what they needed to do, and to allowing them time in class to share their ideas with others is helpful.  Some level 3 girls had to do a research topic on issues in New Zealand, with examples as: the drinking age, the driving age, etc, things that girls from Muslim countries have very little experience with, so I think that making sure teachers use topics that relate to their ELLs' cultural capital are important.

  • Sandra Aitchison (View all users posts) 06 Mar 2023 12:53pm ()

    Focus on English  on the ESOL Online in TKI actually focuses on Science and Maths and the first 1000 words etc.  Topics are: Plants, Animals, Shapes, Measurement, Weather, Conservation.


    Everything is there to put it straight into action.  

    Ngā mihi nui,


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