English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work

English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work

English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work

English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work


Written by an award-winning practitioner, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies that Work offers educators a five-step methodology for teaching this burgeoning population. Rather than viewing these students through the typical lens of "deficits" they might have, the process helps educators recognize and use the assets ELLs bring to the classroom.

The five principles around which the process revolves are: building relationships, accessing prior knowledge through student stories, developing student leadership, learning by doing, and reflection. The book shows how these ideas can be used in all subject areas to help ELLs master both content and language using "high-order" thinking skills. In addition to providing detailed lessons, the book shares a framework teachers can use to create their own lessons, and it shows how to take advantage of technology and games as teaching tools. References to extensive research studies are included to provide evidence of effectiveness, and each lesson is linked to state standards in English Language development.


I was waiting in line for one of the school’s copy machines to become available. Another teacher approached me.

“You just got the class of the Hmong students who came from Thailand and have never been in school before, right?” he asked. I confirmed what he said.

“Boy, I can’t imagine what that must be like,” he continued. “They can’t speak a word of English. I bet they can’t read their own language, and you probably have to teach them just how to hold a pencil. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.”

“I love the class,” I replied. “The students are eager to learn, they’ve got incredible life experiences, and I’m getting intellectually challenged, big time, on how to connect the two.” I went on to share some examples of what we had been doing, including creating models of traditional Hmong and American homes to compare which ones were designed better to keep cooler or warmer; drawing and describing traditional Hmong “story cloths,” which told Hmong history; and looking at the differences and similarities between how Native Americans were treated in this country and what the Hmong experience was.

“Wow,” the teacher said as he left the copy room. “I wonder how I could get to teach that class next year?”

This book shares practical experiences in looking at teaching English language learners and others through a lens of assets and not deficits. This perspective draws on my 20 years of being a community organizer prior to becoming a public school teacher, as well as an extensive review of supporting research.

Community organizing is about developing leaders and helping them improve their lives. Organizing is about helping people, many of whom are initially reluctant to participate, learn a new language of how to engage in the world and with each other. It is about helping them to use their own traditions and stories to re-imagine themselves and their dreams. It is about helping them tap into their own intrinsic motivation and embark on a journey of action, discovery, and learning. It is about helping them develop the confidence to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them, try new things, and develop a discipline of self-reflection. Importantly, it is about doing these things through enforcing what Saul Alinsky, the father of modern-day community organizing, called the “Iron Rule”: Never do for others what they can do for themselves. Never. It is about their energy driving this journey. And it is about the organizer learning as much as it is about the organizer teaching.

These same principles can be effective guides for educators in schools.

Guiding Teaching and Learning Principles

Help students learn a new language of how to engage in the world and with
each other.

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