Adapting Instruction for English Language Learners

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

English language learners (ELLs) face a variety of language challenges both inside and outside of the classroom. This lesson examines how teachers can adapt their instructional approaches to specifically meet the need of ELLs.

Adapting Instruction

One of the joys and frustrations of teaching is the constant changing of faces. Because students come and go, it's extremely difficult to make one instructional style work for everyone at all times. In an ELL (English Language Learner) environment, it can be very challenging to engage all of the students. It's not unusual for students of the same age to have differing levels of English fluency. However, being able to adapt how you are instructing ELLs is an important skill that can yield several advantages, including:

  • Improved student comprehension
  • Constructive, helpful feedback
  • Increased student enjoyment

There are a few steps involved in adapting your instructional style:

  1. Recognizing the need for a change
  2. Implementing a change
  3. Assessing the effectiveness of the change

These steps are especially vital for ELLs because these students often require more repetition and review than other types of learners. In addition, sometimes ELLs lack the confidence or ability to ask or suggest that a lesson be changed or for the teacher to slow down. ELLs will typically share their challenges and questions with classmates, but may be wary of speaking to the teacher for fear of making mistakes.

Recognize and Implement a Change

There are three primary reasons to adapt a lesson.

  1. Students do not understand the content or ideas in a lesson.
  2. The material is either too difficult or too easy.
  3. The teacher is talking too much, thereby leaving no time for student practice.

Sometimes students send clear signals that the lesson isn't getting through. Lack of attention and physical signs of boredom are relatively easy to spot. If you feel your students have lost interest in a lesson, try the following:

  • Ask a few general comprehension or review questions about the lesson. If students are unable to answer the questions satisfactorily, it may be time to adapt.

Oftentimes, students lose interest or become bored because they either do not understand or have lost their place. If the content of a lesson is too challenging, students will appear confused or remain unusually silent. If a lesson is too easy, answers will come with little thought and there will be a lack of motivation among the students. Boredom and difficulty level should inform the reasons why and how you should adapt your instruction style and method

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