Environmental Modifications for English Language Learners

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

The environment, not just the content, must be carefully considered when teaching English language learners (ELLs). Read this lesson to learn about environmental modifications you can make to ensure language learning success for your ELLs.

What Is an Effective Learning Environment?

The first thing we need to go over is the meaning of an effective learning environment. An effective learning environment is one in which students can:

  • Understand both the purpose and the elements of the content being taught.
  • Feel supported as they learn, ask questions, and practice new skills.
  • Find relevance in the content being taught by connecting to it personally, socially, culturally, and academically.
  • Make content comprehensible, and retain it as enduring knowledge.

Today's classrooms offer a diverse blend of students, including those to whom English is not their first language. When teaching English language learners (ELLs), it is important to modify your learning environment to ensure effective language learning is taking place.

This lesson will provide a list of modifications you can implement into your classroom to help support your ELLs as they go through the language development process. Let's get started.

Environmental Modifications

Environmental modifications can be anything from changes in seating arrangements to the different ways you deliver a lesson. It basically means modifying the environment or the way you present information so students are able to successfully transition through the English language developmental process. The easier it is for your ELLs to understand what you are presenting, the smoother the process will be.


This is something that should be done in every classroom with ELLs. Label every object in the classroom that your students will need to know. This helps students better understand their surroundings, as well as assist in faster acquisition of classroom vocabulary.

  • Label the classroom furniture and supplies.
  • Put all students' names on desks and personal items.
  • Label technological equipment and materials.
  • Label supplemental and sorting materials (inbox, outbox, lunch basket, homework basket).

By labeling classroom supplies, texts, and furniture, directions and class instructions will be easier since you will be able to easily identify what you want the students to use.

Visual Aids

Visual aids are visual displays of content for students to refer to when clarification is needed. These modifications are a must for ELLs, as repetition and frequent reminders of new vocabulary, concepts, ideas, and language rules is the quickest route to retention. Visual aids can be:

  • Concept posters (language rules, context clues, pronunciation)
  • Pictures
  • Daily review topics
  • Flash cards
  • Vocabulary words

Post these items around the classroom to help visually support your students!

Daily Schedule

Daily schedules teach students about sequencing, time management, and following the order set in place. Keep a daily schedule posted, and include pictures of each item on the schedule so students understand what to expect. Students thrive on structured routine, so when they know what is happening or what transitions are coming up, they will be prepared.

  • Have students help arrange the chart each day if you have a revolving schedule.
  • Get your ELLs to recite the schedule out loud to practice the vocabulary.
  • Give students a heads up before you move onto different parts of the day as preparation for transitions.
  • Discuss the schedule at the end of the day, and reflect on what parts of the day went well and what did not.

Modeling, Guided Instruction, and Practice

When instructing, make sure to provide plenty of modeling, guided instruction, and practice within each lesson. By modeling, providing guided instruction, and giving practice time, you ensure students gain both comprehension and confidence in his or her abilities before being expected to work independently.

  • Modeling (I do) - Model the strategy, as well as how to execute the strategy.
  • Guided instruction (we do) - Execute the strategy together, so you can see where students may need more clarification or practice. Provide corrections or redirection where needed
  • Collaborative learning/independent practice (you do) - Allow students to discuss, explore, problem-solve, and work together to improve overall understanding. Once students understand the concepts, give them time to practice skills independently.

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