Lesson Planning: 3 Instructional Strategies for ESL Students

by | Feb 22, 2022


Students whose native language is something other than English are sometimes called English as a Second Language (ESL) students or English Language Learners (ELLs). If this is your first year working with one or more ESL students, you may feel overwhelmed trying to create inclusive lesson plans which support their learning. After all, ELLs must face the challenges of learning regular course content while also learning to speak, read, and write in a new language.

As you read through best practices for creating lesson plans for ESL students, you may notice most of these tips overlap with considerations you already make with your typical students who grew up speaking English as their first language. Once you develop a lesson plan, Colorín Colorado offers the following recommendations for modifying your plans to support ESL students:

1. Consider the background knowledge ESL students require.

ESL students may need to learn vital background knowledge about a concept or skill before they can engage fully in your lesson plan.  Ask yourself,

  • Are there key vocabulary words students need to know before learning about this concept?
  • Can you connect the lesson plan to concepts and skills with which students are already familiar?
  • Will students understand the purpose of this lesson?
  • Does your lesson plan clearly outline a strategy or skillset students can do to anchor their learning?
  • Does your lesson plan support the needs of students with various learning styles? (For example, some students learn better with visuals, and some learn better through auditory methods.)

Also, keep in mind that all ESL students come from unique backgrounds. In US public schools,

  • About 77% of ELLs are Hispanic
  • About 11% are Asian
  • About 6% are white
  • About 4% are black
  • About 14% have disabilities
  • About 15% of ELLs in elementary school were born outside the US, and about 38% of ELLs in middle and high school were born outside the US

The background knowledge one ESL student requires you to teach may look different from the additional information needed by another.

2. Prepare ESL students to use classroom materials and tools.

Some of your ESL students may be unfamiliar with materials and tools which seem basic for students who have grown up using them through school. For example, the format of textbooks, essays, lab reports, and other typical learning tools may be foreign to students new to your school. Teach all your students about the specific expectations you have for each type of assignment, and model how they should use the tools you provide.

You may need to help your students understand learning tactics such as:

  • Flipping to the review questions at the end of each textbook section before they read the main content to help inform their reading.
  • Structuring essays with paragraphs dedicated to providing an introduction, conclusion, and each of their key ideas.
  • Working through each step of the scientific method when writing lab reports.

3. Incorporate peer learning opportunities.

Research suggests that when ESL students communicate regularly with their English-proficient peers, their English skills improve significantly more quickly than those in sheltered programs. When ESL students have opportunities to work alongside peers whose native language is English, they’re able to practice their new language skills in real-world conversations, build confidence in their speech as they develop friendships, and pick up on common vernacular they may not learn in English classes.

Some of the activities you can use to facilitate cooperative learning include:

  • Grouping students together to create graphic organizers, which helps them identify relationships between different concepts.
  • Having ESL students read in pairs with native English speakers.
  • Pairing students together for Think-Pair-Share
  • Having students work together to ask and answer one another’s questions about the lesson midway through the instruction. You can also have them offer commentary on what they’ve learned so far and make predictions about what they’ll learn next.

What other strategies can you use to support ESL students?

Over the next few weeks, our blog will highlight more best practices for providing equitable education for the ELLs in your classroom. Bookmark the studentachievementsolutions.com blog page in your toolbar to check back!

CSAS offers expert consulting services to support equitable education at schools and districts across the country. Schedule a free consultation call with us to learn how we can provide customized professional development solutions to support ESL students and other vulnerable populations at your school.