Strategies for Supporting English Learners in the Classroom

English learners are resilient, talented students who bring unique strengths to your classroom. They also face unique challenges, and may need to overcome very different obstacles throughout their lives than those their English-speaking peers may face. All educators strive to empower students to be their best selves, but for a group of students functioning in such a challenging environment, necessary supports will be extensive and complex.

Every student will need a particular set of supports to flourish, because each has their own strengths and experiences. Below, we’ve gathered a few resources that expand on strategies for supporting English learners in a variety of spaces, both academically, socially and emotionally, and throughout their PreK-12 experience:

Strive for cross-functional collaboration

English learners likely interact with more than one educator or school staff member throughout the day, and have many teachers who feel passionately about helping them succeed. While the label “English learner” can insinuate that EL growth is primarily in the hands of an ELA teacher or EL specialist, all educators in an English learner’s life can make a significant difference, especially when they collaborate and search for best practices on teaching English learners in their field. For example, check out this post on strategies for teaching English learners in math.

Get creative with community and family engagement

Similarly, you can support your English learners by engaging their learning touch points outside of the classroom. Collaboration with community organizations, facilities, and groups can make learning more accessible — perhaps your local public library can support your literacy initiatives, or community groups can foster a relationship between home and school. Family engagement is also critical with English learners. To dive deeper into family engagement strategies, check out these specific ideas for fostering relationships with the families of English learners.

Explore culturally responsive teaching strategies

English learners not only face unique challenges in an academic context due to language barriers — they also may face cultural challenges. It’s important that they have the opportunity to grow in a culturally responsive teaching and learning environment. The research around effective culturally responsive teaching practices is still growing, but there’s a lot to explore. To get you started, we recommend this study on implicit bias from the Kirwan Institute, and this study on culturally responsive teaching from Sage Journals.

Pursue or advocate for more professional learning opportunities

As the U.S. K-12 classroom continues to become more diverse, and the needs of students also become more diverse and complex, educators will need ongoing, job-embedded, and research-based professional learning opportunities in order to effectively and comfortably serve their students. In a recent survey we conducted on the state of EL education in the U.S., we found that only 55% of educator respondents felt that they received enough professional learning opportunities in EL instruction. If you’re a teacher, help your English learners by advocating for more professional learning opportunities. If you’re administrator, work to make those opportunities available to your community.

These are only a few of the many strategies you can explore to help your English learners succeed. For more, check out this playlist of interviews with our literacy experts: