Effective Instructional Strategies for English Language Learners

Did you know that by the year 2025, nearly one out of every four public school students will be an English Language Learner? This presents a unique challenge for all educators out there today. Are teachers prepared with the most effective instructional strategies for English Language Learners?  One of the misconceptions out there is that all ELL students are Spanish speaking. This is not the case. For example, as a former ELL teacher, I have taught students who spoke German, French, Italian, Korean, and Chinese as their first language. According to the National Education Association here in the United States, “three out of four ELL’s are Spanish-speaking.”

When I first started my internship for student teaching as an undergraduate in college, I had five ELL students in my class and one student hardly spoke any English; her first language was Polish. I wanted her to learn English and to use the language.  By the end of the school year, she was able to listen, read, write, and speak in English. Months after the school year, she wrote me a thank you letter it made my day knowing I had helped her. I believe her success was due to the variety of instructional strategies that I used.

One effective strategy is called the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) Model. The SIOP Model gives teachers the tools they need to aid students in becoming more proficient in the language by having them connect language instruction to content instruction. One part of the SIOP Model is to use language objectives in instruction. In my own classroom, I used language objectives in every lesson and it helped the students learn the language. One important part of the SIOP model is to link student’s background knowledge to the content that is going to be taught. One way you could do this is to use a KWL (Know, Want to Know, and Learned) chart; this activates what they already know and you can make connections for them. Word walls, words displayed on a wall with pictures, are another great tool to use because you can emphasize key vocabulary that will be used in the classroom. The strategy that I used many times in my classroom was called Cooperative Learning. Using Kagan Cooperative Learning or engagement strategies such as think/pair share, round robin, and number heads together are effective ways for students to work in teams while using the language. An important strategy to always utilize in every lesson in your ELL classroom is to use visuals; it was one I had made a priority, and I could see that students were listening, reading, writing, and talking in every lesson. Using visuals helps with engagement, and lets them practice the language skills on multiple levels.

Now you may also be wondering, “well how can I integrate these instructional strategies with NASA curriculum?” There are some great NASA lessons that are out there now that integrate some of these strategies into the lesson already. Space Math is a NASA Program with lesson in the 5E Model format. They start with a NASA press release, includes an engaging video, then focuses on different NASA research currently taking place.  These lessons are tied to the Next Generation Science Standards, and are a great resource to use not with just ELL students but all students in the classroom!



Another resource to obtain more NASA lessons across grade levels is NASA Wavelength.http://nasawavelength.org/

I also like to use Design Squad because they use the Engineering Design Process and inquiry skills.http://pbskids.org/designsquad/parentseducators/guides/index.html






Maria Chambers
Educator Professional Development Specialist
Ames Research Center