Five Structured Language Approaches for English Learners

McGraw-Hill
Jan 3 · 4 min read

By Marine Freibrun, Fifth Grade Teacher in California

Integrating English Language Development (ELD) strategies throughout the school day is an essential component in supporting our English Learners in their acquisition of new academic skills, as well as the English language. Rather than only being designated to a certain time of the day, ELD strategies should be used throughout the day and in all content areas.

More than just “think/pair/share,” students should be equipped with scaffolds and language frames to help them in their thinking and articulation.

I’ve gathered five strategies that can be incorporated into any content area to boost structured language practice. Make sure you have language frames prepared for your students for each of these strategies. You can keep sentence frames on an anchor chart, write them on the board, or have your students keep a list of frames in their possession.

Music Rotations

Get your students moving with this sharing strategy. When you have taught content and you are ready for your students to share what they’ve learned, have them pair up with other students through music. Tell your students you’re going to play music, and that when the music is playing they need to walk around the room. They have to walk across from where they sit, and as they are walking they need to fill the space of the room. Also let your students know that when the music stops, they need to stop moving and partner up with the person nearest to them. From there, they will share their knowledge with a partner.

Numbered Heads

Group your students in groups of four. Number each student in the group one through four. Give your students a task or question to answer. Tell them to be prepared to share their answers with the whole class. Give the group time to discuss and come to a consensus about their answer. When all groups are ready, call a number one through four. The person from each group who was assigned that number will share their group’s answer with the whole class.

Talking Chips

Talking chips are little counters that are used to help student groups facilitate their conversations. You can use tokens from a board game, mini erasers, or even pieces of cut-up paper. Students hold on to their chips, and during their group conversations, they can use their chips to talk. Each chip they have can be used to contribute to the group. Once their chips are all used, then they cannot share with their group anymore until everyone has used their talking chips. You can pass out more tokens as needed as groups finish their conversations.

Talking Sticks

In this structured language routine, students use a talking stick to take turns sharing. You can use popsicle sticks, decorated nail files, or anything creative that your students can hold. I printed out my Bitmoji and put them on popsicle sticks. My students use these as their talking sticks. When a student is holding their talking stick, that means it is their turn to share with the group. When they’re done, they pass the stick to someone else for their turn to share. When choosing the first person to use the talking stick in the group, I will usually say something like “The person wearing the most yellow in the group can start with the talking stick first.”

Structured Language Frames

It is also important to support students with their language by using structured language frames based on the function of the language that you want your students to practice. For example, in this opinion discussion, students used opinion frames to discuss their perspective about the video game Fortnite.In this language discussion, students are using compare and contrast language frames to compare and contrast themes from two different stories.

These strategies can be used across the disciplines, making collaboration and structured conversations a versatile learning strategy. Making sure to integrate structured language into your daily routines is so beneficial for students. It helps them understand the learning objectives more clearly, promotes collaboration, and gives students the opportunity to express their learning verbally.


Marine Freibrun is currently a fifth grade teacher who has previously taught second, third, and sixth grade. She also serves as an instructional coach, English Language Development coach, and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports coach for her district. Marine enjoys working with teachers through professional development and mentorship, all while still being able to improve upon her own practice in her classroom. She is the author of the blog “Tales from a Very Busy Teacher,” and a mom to two amazing boys.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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