ELL Interventions, Strategies & Best Practices

Instructor: Rebecca Bradshaw

Rebecca Bradshaw has a Master of Arts in Teaching and has experience teaching ELA, ESL, and high school CTE courses.

As a teacher of English language learners (ELL), you're responsible for meeting your students' social, emotional, and educational needs in the classroom. In this lesson, we'll explore interventions, strategies, and best practices to meet these needs.

Meeting the Needs of ELL students

The office just called to let you know a new student just enrolled and is heading to your classroom. As you open the door, you see a mother and daughter walking down the hallway. They approach the door, and you notice the mom has tears in her eyes. You extend your hand and introduce yourself. The mom responds by simply pointing to her daughter and stating her name. Immediately you understand what is going on...they don't know any English! What are you going to do? How will you be able to help the student? Where do you even begin?

Fortunately, there are many easily incorporated interventions, strategies, and best practices that will meet the needs of our English language learners. One of the easiest to incorporate is gestures. To comfort the mom despite her own panic, you smile, say thank you for walking her down, and give her a thumbs up. You gently motion with your hand for the student to come in the classroom, walk her to her desk, and introduce her to the student sitting beside her.

As you begin addressing the entire class, you pick up a student's pencil and notebook and quietly turn to the new student. The student immediately responds by opening her backpack and taking out a pencil and paper. You ask the class for a thumbs up to show that they are ready to begin. Within a few seconds, thumbs are raised around the room. The new student scans the class and raises her thumb also. Immediately, you began to feel a sense of relief.


One of the best interventions for ELL students is small group instruction or partnered activities. Small groups provide a safe environment for the student. ELL students are more inclined to speak and participate in this type of setting because partnered activities allow the ELL student more opportunities to speak and to hear responses from peers. ELL students need these opportunities to verbalize responses before they are capable of internalizing the information, and these both provide a safe place for this to occur.

Graphic organizers are a great visual tool to help ELL students understand relationships and organization of ideas. For instance, a flow chart with arrows between events that include both words and pictures enables ELL students to comprehend steps or sequential events. A Venn diagram illustrates similarities and differences between concepts and provides an opportunity for students to display their knowledge without the frustration of sentence structure. The visual representation gained from graphic organizers strengthens their understanding, therefore making the content comprehensible.


Providing direct vocabulary instruction is imperative with ELL students. You could begin by using concrete examples, breaking down words into prefixes, root words, and suffixes, and using lots of visuals helps to create connections. Pre-teaching vocabulary is also effective when introducing new content material. Pre-teaching vocabulary involves introducing the vocabulary words prior to the introduction of the content. This enables students to be familiar with the vocabulary words as you use them in your instruction.

Providing ELL students with sentence stems is a great strategy that encourages and builds confidence in their writing ability. Sentence stems help ELL students focus on the major content rather than sentence structure. The stems provide scaffolding to practice correct sentence structure. Sentence stems can also easily be modified to fit any content area. A few examples of sentence stems you could use include the following: The main point of the passage is …; I believe …because …; The main character can be described as … because they …

I Do, We Do, You Do is a great strategy that models concepts, provides practice, and encourages independence. First, you should complete a math problem on the board while the students observe. Next, the class will complete one together, and finally, the students will work on problems independently. Your ELL students now have two concrete examples to refer back to as they work.

Best Practices

Your responsibility to English language learners includes making content comprehensible and developing academic language. In order to achieve these goals there are some best practices that can easily be incorporated and will also prove beneficial to all students.

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