It’s important that teachers help support English learners in the classroom. There are many things teachers ask of students that require a deep knowledge of the English language like explaining logic and answering questions about key details. 

English Learners in the ClassroomStudents interaction in the classroom via conversation is an important learning tool. 

But what if your students don’t speak English?

When teachers shift into Common Core Standards mode this fall, we must remember that although the standards are common, the students we teach are not.

As a former English learner (EL) and a teacher of ELs, I know the challenges our EL students face. And the stakes are higher today then they have ever been. How do we ensure that our EL students not only gain access to the core curriculum but also succeed in meeting standards like their native-speaker counterparts?

Many teachers working with ELs have experienced little or no preparation or professional development for this challenging task. Here’s a quick guide to classroom elements that matter in supporting EL achievement:

Safe Learning Community

Students learn best in an environment where there is a “low-affective filter.” “Affective filter” refers to the emotional filter inside us that can either cause anxiety and stress (when it is high) or facilitate risk-taking and self-confidence (when it is low). These are ways to create a classroom that lowers the affective filter:

Get to know students and families

Build positive rapport, establishing a relationship with each student

Celebrate diversity, using literature, photos, and examples reflecting students’ ethnicity

Avoid overemphasizing language mistakes and praise attempts

Promote collaboration and mutual respect


ELs may go through a silent-listening period before they are ready to speak publicly. This is not a sign of disrespect. Students must be immersed in the new language, hearing and practicing the sounds and rhythms of it before they are ready to attempt it.

Allow extra wait time for ELs to respond in class. I use the term “think time” with students, and model what it looks like when we provide our classmates with extra time to gather thoughts and words before they speak. Always encourage and praise effort.

Opportunities to Speak While Doing

Provide students with many opportunities during the day to practice and use their new language in a natural and safe learning environment.

To help ELs connect their actions with words, use hands-on learning activities. Language acquired through their own experiences holds more meaning for students. Use gestures, varied intonation, and simple sentences with actions to help ELs comprehend the spoken word.

Physical movement during games and outdoor activities offer ELs opportunities to listen and respond in a less stressful environment. They are not singled out and can look to peers when unsure about what to do.

English Learners in the Classroom