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What Is ELL In Education And Why It’s Important


Ever heard of the term ELL and wondered, “What is ELL?” It sounds a lot like ESL, and it’s related! ELL stands for English language learners. The term is slightly different from ESL though, and we will explain how and why it was created.

The importance of knowing English for education and business is a high priority and expanding need in the global community. Second only to Mandarin Chinese, English is the most spoken language in the world. That’s why a lot of non-native English speakers become English language learners (ELL).

If you fall into this category as a learner or you are an ELL teacher who helps students learn English, this article is filled with ELL strategies to help!

Student raising hand in a classroom
Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

What Is ELL?

An ELL is defined as anyone who does not learn English as their first and primary language. According to the National Education Association, ELL learners are the fastest growing student population. It’s estimated that roughly one-fourth of all students in public school by 2025 will be ELLs.

The most common native languages that ELL children speak include: Spanish, Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese, Somali, Russian, Haitian, and Hmong. While some students may speak English on a basic level, these students need extra help in learning English academically.

The Evolution Of “ELL”

The term ELL originated as an alternative to ESL (English as a Second Language). In 2011, people at the Fresh Voices from Long Journeys: Immigrant and Refugee Students conference in Canada brought it to the world’s attention that some English language learners are not learning English as their second language. That makes the term “ESL” technically incorrect.

As such, ELL is becoming a more popular and politically correct term to ESL, especially by educators. Furthermore, ELL also encompasses students who are learning English as an academic necessity. For example, ELL may refer to a student’s academic performance in English-language subject classes.

Objectives Of ELL

ELL objectives may vary depending on the program or country in which a student is learning English.

However, at the heart of ELL stands the same goal — to prepare students to speak English as quickly and proficiently as possible. The objective is so students can not only excel in academics, but they can also partake in social activities and have the ability to communicate with their peers and teachers.

Taking ELL a step beyond primary and secondary school is the objective for students to perform well in institutes of higher education. For the most part, proficiency in English is a requirement for many schools.

At the University of the People, admissions requirements are relatively low compared to most other institutions. However, one of the two requirements is that students have proficiency in English, and that’s because all classes are taught online in English.

When students are able to speak English from a young age, it will set them up for more opportunities in education and careers down the line.

7 Types Of ELL Programs

Each program that offers ELL can choose from a variety of ways to initiate the courses. These may span the following:

1. The ESL Pull-Out Program

Students remain in the same academic classes as their native English speaking peers, but at a certain point, they are “pulled out” to go learn English separately.

2. Content-Based ESL Program

The goal is to incorporate English at an understandable level within context to teach. For example, teachers may use visual aids and gestures to teach vocabulary and concepts.

3. English-Language Instruction Program

When there are students who speak many different languages, the teacher will solely teach in English.

4. Bilingual Instructional Program

As the name implies, classes are taught in both the student’s native language as well as English. The best scenario to implement this program is when teachers are in a classroom in which the bulk of students speak the same native language.

5. Transitional/Early-Exit Program

With the goal to have students learning entirely in English as quickly as possible, this instruction is a blend. It starts off by first helping students understand concepts and fluency by teaching in their native language. Then, once concepts are mastered, teachers will switch to instruction in English only.

6. Maintenance/Late-Exit Program

As the antithesis of the aforementioned style of teaching, the late-exit program maintains teaching in a student’s native language until they are considered fluent in English. Only then will instruction switch to English. In this way, students can maintain fluency in multiple languages concurrently.

7. Two-Way Bilingual Program

Teachers who are bilingual have the opportunity to teach in both languages. There’s a 50/50 balance in instruction for both native English speakers and English language learning students.

Teacher smiling in front of a whiteboard
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

What Is An ESL Teacher?

To make any of these programs function properly, teachers must motivate their students. While that could be said about any form of education, ESL teachers play a special role for ELL students.

ESL teachers are those who connect non-native speakers to English language learning. They support ELL students and connect them to a new culture and way of learning.

6 Strategies For Helping ELL Students In The Classroom

As an ESL teacher, you play a pivotal role in the success of your ELL students. Not only are you their primary source to learn a new language, but you also are opening the door to a new world of opportunities and connections.

There are various strategies for how to best work with ELL students in any classroom settings. Here are some best practices:

1. Cultural Responsiveness

Teaching English doesn’t negate the fact that every language is important and useful to the world. ESL teachers can help a student acclimate by also paying homage to their culture. When a student feels seen and understood, they will be more likely to take risks, both emotionally and intellectually.

2. Teach Language Across Subjects

English spans every subject. As such, teaching English in isolation as it pertains to language alone is insufficient. You can incorporate English language learners across subjects while still introducing new words, concepts, and understanding.

3. Productive Language

It’s common for students learning a new language to only want to listen. However, productive language skills like reading, writing, and speaking should be introduced from the get go. You can help students set up sentences by offering fill in the blank versions so that they can use context clues to write or speak in complete sentences, even if they just know a few words to begin.

4. Speak Slowly

It’s natural to expect immediate responses when teaching an engaged classroom. However, when you work with students who are learning a new language, it’s important to practice patience and speak slowly. Additionally, give an extra few seconds for students to respond to questions.

5. Multiple Modalities

Incorporate various ways of teaching and student engagement throughout a lesson. One specific strategy to try is expressed through the acronym “QSSSA.” This stands for:

  • Question: Ask a question
  • Signal: Gesture that it’s a student’s turn to answer the question (try a thumbs up, or a light tap on the shoulder, for example)
  • Stem: Begin the answer for the student and then let them fill in the rest of the sentence
  • Share: Allow a student to respond and fill in the blank
  • Assess: Only provide feedback or a response after the student has completed their thought

6. Technology

It should go without saying that technology can be a great resource and friend to both ESL teachers and ELL students. From using tools like Google Translate to allowing students to play video games and go online in English, the various modalities in which technology can help a student learn are seemingly infinite.

Teaching ELL Students: 3 Things To Know

When teaching and learning a new language, there are obvious challenges that will arise. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a process and all forms of progress should be celebrated.

Here are some expectations that are likely to occur and ways to manage them effectively:

1. A Silent Period

Many students take time to adjust to speaking or learning in a new language. As such, they may be understanding the curriculum, but they are hesitant to speak. Be patient with silent periods.

2. Develop Non-Verbal Communication

To assist even more so during silent periods, try to communicate non-verbally. Allow students to play charades, gesture or even draw responses to questions they know answers to.

3. Utilize Peers

A nice way to help ELLs integrate into the classroom is to assign a native-English-speaking buddy to be by their side. This way, they can both form friendships and learn from someone who is their peer.

Final Tips: Supporting ELL Students In The Classroom

Try these final recommendations to better support your ELL students:

  • Use visuals
  • Assign group work
  • Honor their silent period
  • Practice scaffolding education
  • Use sentence frames and stems
  • Incorporate cultural vocabulary
  • Learn about their native culture and show appreciation
  • Listen carefully and patiently

The Wrap Up

Learning English or any new language can be challenging and overwhelming. But, as an ESL teacher, you have the power in your hands to support English language learners by utilizing these best practices.

Strategies for ELL students will be increasingly needed as the number of ELL students continues to grow. Regardless of the type of ELL program initiated, students should feel supported and heard while increasing their English proficiency. You can make all the difference!