ELL Strategies

ELL Strategies
Posted on 08/13/2015

Throughout the course of our interactions with teachers, we are often asked to provide interactive strategies. The strategies are intended to improve reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. In response to these requests, we would like provide a few strategies that we have found useful and hope you will find them useful as well.

Before starting any activity, we find it is helpful to ask a few questions: What language skills will be used? How can I modify this activity for my content area? How can I modify this activity for a beginner, intermediate, advanced or advanced high ELL student?

Upon answering these questions, consider the following instructional strategies:

  • Make sure you are making input comprehensible. Use nonverbal cues, manipulatives, realia, and visuals.
  • Create a low stress, friendly environment.
  • Emphasize student involvement, problem-solving, and hands-on activities.
  • Simplify teacher talk. By this, we mean to: speak slowly, enunciate clearly, include pauses, repeat key words/vocabulary, restate comments, use cognates, use high-frequency words, reduce the number of pronouns and avoid slang and idioms.
  • Consider the activities listed below, or other appropriate activities you may find, as frameworks, which you can plug in your own particular content. Think of the activities as activities to modify to suit your students’ needs.


Vocabulary Match – This is a game in which students match a term orVocab definition with its matching card. When students get their card, they keep it secret. When instructed to do so, students move around the room, talk to people, and try to match their term or definition with its matching card. Once they have matched their cards, they stand still next to their partner. If they have two cards, they give the first matching pair to their partner, and continue to look for the second partner. Once all cards are matched, students form a circle next to their partner. When called upon, each set of partners reads their word and its definition.

Onion Ring or Inside/Outside Circle - Inside-Outside Circle (Kagan, 1994)Kids Circle is a summarization technique that gets students up and moving. It provides a way to get students who normally would not talk to interact with others. After students read a section of text, the teacher divides the group. Half of the students stand up and form a circle with their backs to the inside of the circle. They are partner A. The other half of the students form a circle facing a partner from the first circle. These students are partner B. Partner A will speak first, quickly summarizing what they read. This takes about a minute. Then partner B speaks for the same length of time, adding to the summary. If the teacher stands in the center of the circle, he/she can easily monitor student responses.

Now it is time to move. Have the students who are partner A raise their right hands and then move two people to the right to meet with a new partner. Repeat the summary with partner B speaking first. For the third move, have all students who are partner B raise their right hand and move two people to the right. After they are with a new partner, they continue with the summary with partner A speaking first. Depending on the size of the class, teachers may have students move more or fewer times to complete the activity. Inside-Outside Circle holds all students accountable for having something to say. The teacher can use this activity as a formative assessment by standing in the center of the circle and listening to the conversations that take place.

Creating Words – This vocabulary game provides an opportunity forWord Find students to review key vocabulary by using words in creative ways. To start, a student selects a word and rolls a cube that has the following on its sides: model it, draw it, act it out, write it, talk about it, choose a friend, etc. Based on the outcome of the rolled cube, the student represents the word, and the classmates guess the word.

All of these activities are listed in your Sheltered Instruction Plus book that you received from your Sheltered Instruction training. Please refer this book and the 38 Great Academic Language Builders book for more great strategies.

If you would like to have these or any other activities/strategies demonstrated for you or your class, please contact our ELL content specialists (Lynn Callentine, Milissa Johnson, and Cathleen Rooney) at 755-9512.


Seidlitz, John. (2011). Sheltered instruction plus: A comprehensive plan for successfully teaching English language learners. San Clemente CA: Seidlitz Education.

Seidlitz, John. (2011). 38 Great academic language builders: Activities for math, science, social studies, language arts…and just about everything else. San Clemente CA: Seidlitz Education.