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Effective ESL Teaching Techniques

English as a second language (ESL) teachers are faced with the dual challenge of helping students achieve state and federal levels of learning outcomes while also strengthening their English skills. The niche area of ESL teaching has evolved significantly over the years as research continues to suggest and test new pedagogies and approaches. Luckily, teachers in this area have a handful of teaching strategies to choose from to ensure positive learning outcomes for English language learners (ELLs).

ESL professionals seeking advanced, proven teaching techniques should consider the online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Curriculum and Instruction – English as a Second Language (ESL) program from Southeastern Oklahoma State University (Southeastern). This program gives language learning professionals the necessary aptitudes to help ELLs.

What We Learn: Ways of Framing Language Learning

Edutopia confirms an age-old practice that consistently delivers results. Teaching language skills through a cross-curricular lens introduces ELLs to academic vocabulary considered common knowledge to native English speakers. This is an approach that rarely receives significant attention in the non-ESL classroom. Cross-cultural methods accelerate language acquisition, resulting in higher test scores and a higher likelihood of mastery.

More importantly, “content classes give [ELLs] a context to use language, not just to learn it.” For example, if the words associated with mathematics are unfamiliar, it provides an ideal opportunity to teach words like “subtract,” “calculator” and “solve.”

Incorporating students’ native languages and using translating technology are also crucial strategies. Edutopia notes a technique called “preview, view, review,” which builds a foundation using the student’s native language skills. Students can preview the success criterion using materials in their first language. The teacher then presents the concept in English, and ELLs review the knowledge in their native language.

While bilingualism (which refers to the coexistence of more than one language system within an individual) is the goal, not language replacement, students can only use a tool like Google Translate sparingly as they need one or two words defined. In this way, the “what we learn” is crucial for helping students understand true language comprehension, not language translation.  

How We Learn: Building Better Learning Experiences

Many ESL teachers will tell you that Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is an effective ESL pedagogy. The International Journal of TESOL & Education explains that CLT deals with what we learn through activities such as role-play and discussions, how an individual learns and a student’s natural capacity to acquire a new language.

Education Week’s instructional strategies for ELLs are provided by veteran ESL teachers and fall under the larger “how we learn” umbrella of CLT. The Picture Word Inductive Model enables ELLs to practice their language acquisition in all four areas of assessment: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Students label and speak English words that express the meaning of an image and its details, including synonyms that will later be useful for sentence construction. Students co-create a sentence patterning chart with stems, allowing them to describe the original image with greater autonomy. Teachers who have successfully adopted this strategy suggest color-coding or chunking labeled words, such as making all verbs orange, adjectives blue and so on.

Besides using pictures to convey meaning, brainstorming provides yet another approach to effectively teaching ELLs. Tefl.NET, a site dedicated to ELL teachers, is a proponent of brainstorming as a “how we learn” tool. Students can prepare to engage with language through group work.

In this method, students have already warmed up their vocabulary related to the topic, so they will not have to search for words when they start the speaking activities. Teachers then put students in pairs or small groups, allowing them to compare their vocabulary and transfer words they hadn’t thought of from their partners’ lists.

Earn an Advanced Curriculum and Instruction – ESL Degree

Southeastern’s program looks at effective methodologies for working with racially, linguistically and culturally diverse non-native English speakers to help them communicate and succeed in the classroom and beyond. An advanced education degree with an emphasis on ESL strategies can give professionals the necessary tools to help ELLs with varying backgrounds and needs.

Learn more about Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – ESL program.

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