Student-Centered Instructional Strategies for ESL Students

by | Mar 22, 2022


All month long, we’ve been highlighting best practices for working with English as a Second Language (ESL) students and English Language Learners (ELLs). We’ve discussed:

This week, we want to talk about how Peer Learning Opportunities are a vital component of a student-centered learning program, especially when your school serves ESL students.

Definition of Student-Centered Learning

The broad termstudent-centered learningencompasses a wide range of educational strategies and programs that focus on meeting all students’ unique needs. Student-centered learning doesn’t necessarily promote any specific instructional practices or tactics; rather, the term promotes the idea of using evidence-based best practices to provide equitable education for all students.

Definition of Peer Learning Opportunities

Through peer learning opportunities, students teach and learn from one another as they discuss new concepts, practice skills, and solve problems in small groups. Peer learning activities are vital components of a well-rounded student-centered learning strategy because they offer important student benefits, including:

  • Increased confidence in and ownership of their learning abilities
  • Practice self-regulating and managing their work
  • Development of social and emotional skills as they work with classmates to accomplish common goals
  • Learning and understanding new perspectives from peers who come from diverse backgrounds

How to Create Peer Learning Opportunities for ESL Students

English Language Learners (ELLs) need direct instruction to learn new concepts and skills, but research shows strong evidence for the power of peer learning opportunities in helping these students truly master new material. Colorín Colorado recommends the following practices to implement evidence-based practices in effective peer learning activities:

  • Provide professional development early in the school year for teachers so they can implement new peer learning strategies as soon as possible with their students. Colorín Colorado notes this professional development should include coaching as teachers create their first peer learning opportunities for ESL students. (Schedule a free call with CSAS to learn about our professional development offerings.)
  • Schedule regular peer learning activities every week, which have students work together both in pairs and in small groups.
  • Have each peer learning activity focus on developing a specific skill. For example, different activities could focus on developing comprehension, syntax, oral reading, and other relevant skills when learning about literacy.
  • Rotate groups and roles regularly. ELLs benefit from having opportunities to learn from different students and from practicing different roles in a group (e.g., notes taker, timekeeper, materials manager).

Examples of Peer Learning Activities for ESL Students

One of the best and most obvious ways to use peer learning activities with ESL students is to help promote literacy learning because English proficiency impacts every part of ESL students’ educational journey. However, peer learning can be used to support ELLs in any class subject, including science, history, geography, math, and more. Here are some types of activities you may be able to use in your classroom to support ESL students:

Peer Learning Activities for Pairs

  • Coach Each Other — Students work in pairs to complete a multi-part assignment, taking turns doing the work and coaching each other. Example: Students complete a math worksheet in pairs. One student works on a math problem for each question while the other students coach them through it. The students switch roles for each problem.
  • Heads Together — Students work in pairs to answer questions, and then the teacher chooses one pair to share their answers with the class. Example: The teacher has all students work in pairs to develop a concise explanation for the role of the judicial branch of government and then calls on one pair to share their answers with the class. This leads to a class discussion about examples of how the judicial branch fills its role.
  • Speed Discussions — Students are arranged in two lines facing each other to spend a few minutes working with another classmate. Then the lines shift and let them work with the next student in line. Example: After reading a chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird, students line up. In the first pairing, the teacher asks students to summarize the chapter with one another in three minutes. In the next pairing, the teacher asks students to spend three minutes predicting what will happen to Scout in the next chapter. This pattern continues as students answer several more questions in pairs.

Peer Learning Activities for Small Groups

  • Round Robin — Students take turns sharing thoughts about a topic. Example: Students go in a circle, each brainstorming examples of where they see various geometric shapes in their real lives.
  • Write-In Rounds — In a similar fashion to Round Robin, students take turns contributing to a written piece. Example: After learning about Harriet Tubman’s life, students are given the first sentence of her biography. Then they each take a turn writing the next sentence until they draft a complete biography.
  • Puzzle Pieces — Students are each given a different piece of an assignment, so their combined work creates a finished product. Example: In a group consisting of three students, each student in the group summarizes the characteristics of one of the three classifications of elements on the periodic table. Then they teach one another about what they have learned.

How to Find Support Implementing Peer Learning at Your School

At CSAS, our mission is to support schools that want to provide an equitable education to all students, including ESL students and ELLs. We would be honored to support your school through strategic planning, professional development, and even ongoing coaching as you work to implement peer learning opportunities and other equitable education strategies at your school! Schedule a free call with one of our experts today to discuss our transformational solutions.



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