The Roles of ELL Teachers in the Instructional Process

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.

Teachers of English language learners (ELLs) are often required to fill a variety of roles. This lesson outlines some of these roles and provides tips and advice on how to effectively fill them.

Teacher Roles

A classroom of non-native English speaking students can pose a variety of challenges for an English language learner (ELL) teacher. First of all, the chance that all of your ELLs possess the same knowledge and comprehension of English is fairly low. By necessity, ELL classrooms are usually organized by age or grade rather than by level of English proficiency. This makes it difficult to both select and deliver content that every student can understand.

A second challenge ELL teachers face is that, because of the disparity among student English levels, it can be difficult to apply the same assessment standards to every learner. Should low-level students be assessed more leniently than advanced students? Should you give more homework to students who are progressing more quickly than their peers?

With these and other considerations in mind, in can sometimes be difficult to know which role you should inhabit in the classroom. While you are there to instruct, you also need to create space for students to develop on an individual basis. Correcting inaccuracies is also vital, but how do you do so without discouraging a student population that is already at an academic disadvantage?

The roles detailed below can provide you with a framework upon which to develop your own understanding of your role as an ELL educator. Keep in mind that your use of these roles requires discretion, as some students may need you to emphasize one role over another.

Teacher as Instructor & Facilitator

The primary role that most teachers assume is that of instructor. In an ELL environment, the instructional component is particularly vital because the students are looking to you to explain the most basic information. Vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling, which are elements most native English speakers take for granted, can pose a significant challenge for ELLs.

Be Clear & Thorough

In your role as an instructor, it's important to be both clear and thorough. Don't be afraid to review the same material multiple times. Students can benefit from going over the same material again because it allows them to discover new components of the information they may have missed the first time. Likewise, it's essential to explore the very basics of language because ELLs are often looking to understand every aspect of English. Because ELLs didn't grow up using English as their primary language of communication, it's your job to provide the reasons and explanations behind the myriad of English spelling, pronunciation, and grammar rules.

Provide Opportunities for Practice

One of the best ways you can facilitate learning is by providing ample opportunities for your students to practice and explore the information you have given them. Pair and group work along with individual assignments can enable students to see the practical applications and uses of English. Allow students time to absorb your instruction and give them space to both make and correct their own mistakes.

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