Teaching tips


1. Seven Teaching Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs
Learn 7 key strategies classroom teachers must know to provide an effective learning environment for ELLs.

2. Bloom’s taxonomy and English language learners
Your English language learners should be developing thinking skills as they acquire English. Dust off your copy of Bloom’s Taxonomy and ask questions from all levels. There are activities that ELLs can do on every level. Includes classroom resource picks.

3. Collaborative Teaching: Are Two Teachers Better Than One?
Over the past few years co-teaching has become more popular as low incidence school districts search for ways to best serve the needs of their English language learners. What is co-teaching? Does it work? Read this article to find out.

4. Communicating with Gestures
Very few gestures are universally understood and interpreted. What is perfectly acceptable in the United States may be rude, or even obscene, in other cultures. Includes classroom resource picks.

5. Tips for teaching to write

What are the challenges learners  face in learning to write in English? How can you help them? Read this article.

6. using video in classroom

Do you use videos in your classrooms? Read this article to have an idea about a way of using video in classrooms.

7.  A series of articles about course planning:

        1. course planning  (part 1)

       2. course planning  (part 2)

      3. course planning  (part 3)

     4. course planning  (part 4)

     5. course planning  (part 5)

Using video in classroom

Using Video in Your Classroom

While watching television is often seen as a passive viewing experience, there are ways to turn it into a springboard for student interaction.

Here are some general teaching strategies that enhance the use of video materials in your classroom by targeting specific skill sets. Click on one of the areas below or scroll down.


With picture and audio on:

  • Use the pause control to stop a scene and have students predict what will happen next.
  • Use the pause control to stop after a particular line of dialogue and have students predict the next line.
With audio off:

  • Have students predict the situation and characterizations based on viewing an entire scene without the sound.
  • Have students predict lines of dialogue after viewing an entire scene without the sound.
  • Have students predict individual lines of dialogue by using the pause button to stop the scene.
With picture off:

  • Have students predict the situation and characterizations by listening to the soundtrack without watching the picture.

Bullet Point Viewing Comprehension

You can check students’ understanding of the situation and characters in the following ways:Before watching:

  • Give students specific things to look and listen for before they watch a scene.

While watching:

  • Freeze-frame the scene by using the pause button and check students’ understanding.

While watching or after watching:

  • Have students answer comprehension questions you devise.

After watching:

  • Give students cloze scripts and have them fill in missing words in dialog lines.

Bullet Point Listening Practice

Have students focus on the dialogue contained in a scene by listening for particular vocabulary words, structures, or functional expressions.

  • TV Dictation: Have students write dialogue lines as they view them, using the pause control to stop the scene after each line.
  • Cloze Scripts: As students view a scene, have them fill in missing words in a cloze script you have created.

Bullet Point Speaking Practice

  • Role Plays: Have students role play a scene, practicing the lines of dialogue for correct intonation and emphasis.
  • On-Location Interviews: Have students circulate around the classroom and interview each other using questions contained in the video segment. Students can then report to the class about their interviews.
  • Information Gap: Have half the class see a segment without audio and the other half hear it without the picture. Students from each half of the class then pair up, talk about the situation and characters, and act out the scene.
  • Strip Dialogue Scenes: Write dialogue lines on separate strips of paper, distribute them randomly, and have students recreate the scene by putting the lines together.

Bullet Point Discussion

  • Have students discuss the scene, plot and characters’ actions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Have students think about what the characters in the scene are thinking but not saying. Students can create these interior monologues, present them to the class, and discuss any varying opinions about characters’ inner thoughts during the scene.
  • Have students tell which characters they identify with and explain why.

Teaching tips for writing

Writing is the most difficult language skill for ELLs to master. Here are some of the challenges these students face in a writing class.

  • English language learners have a limited vocabulary. They repeat the same words and phrases again and again. Content is restricted to known vocabulary.
  • ELLs are reluctant to use invented spelling and content is restricted to words they know how to spell.
  • Verb tenses are inaccurate. ELLs will usually write in the present tense.
  • The chaotic structure and grammar of students’ composition make their writing difficult to understand.
  • Students are reluctant to share their work during peer editing. When they do share, they prefer to work with other ELLs who may not provide appropriate feedback.
  • When ELLs read their writing aloud, they have no sense of what sounds right and what doesn’t.
  • In many cultures, students are not encouraged to express their opinions. ELLs may have little experience with creative writing to bring from their native language.

What is Translated Writing?

The biggest challenge for teachers working with ELLs is translated writing. This occurs when English language learners develop their ideas in native language and then try to translate them into English. Even if they don’t write this native language text down, they are thinking in native language first. When this happens, the writing is full of inaccurate verb tenses and unintelligible sentences. The chaotic structure and grammar make the writing difficult to understand.

Editing this type of writing presents insurmountable challenges for teachers. One strategy is to pick a skill, such as verb tenses, to correct. However, it is better to avoid having students write down their ideas in English through the filter of their native language. Once the student has written an incomprehensible passage, you are stuck with it.

What about Free Writing and Unscaffolded Journal Writing?

Should students be encouraged to free write? (Free writing is a method of writing where students write without stopping for a predetermined amount of time.) The idea behind this is that the more students practice, the better they will write and they will write without an internal censor. It is my experience that free writing and unscaffolded journal writing are not beneficial to beginning ESL students. Students will translate from native language when writing in English. ELLs in both ESL and bilingual programs should be encouraged to write in either English or native language but should not be mixing the two.

Teach nonfiction Reading and Writing

Here are some tips to help your students avoid translated writing and promote thinking in English.

  • Teach nonfiction reading writing first. This type of instruction gives ELLs language chunks that they can use in their writing.
  • More time should be spent in the pre-writing stage. It is better for ELLS to develop a topic orally with a small group rather than to allow them to choose their own subjects.
  • Chart facts about a nonfiction topic. Strengthen the link between oral and written language. Have students read the facts from the chart aloud.
  • Use graphic organizers to introduce the skill of arranging information for writing. Have students learn to write from this organizer.
  • Use sentences on your organizer rather than phrases. ELLs sometimes find it difficult to go from notes to comprehensible sentences.
  • Don’t expect students who are not fluent in English to self-edit. They will not usually find their mistakes. Teachers will have to be more hands-on with the writing of their non-native speakers.
  • When ELLs read their writing aloud, they have no sense of what sounds right and what doesn’t. Working in pairs to edit work is good practice for social skills but it probably won’t improve the beginner’s writing.
  • Specifically model good writing from texts at the learner’s English language level. For example, to demonstrate a specific skill such as writing a good opening paragraph, have students examine opening paragraphs in books on the same topic.

Selecting Other Genre

Once students have written nonfiction pieces and you want them to move on to other types of writing, you will still need to carefully select the genre. You still want to avoid translated writing. Give students real reasons to write: Letters, invitations, postcards, lists and interviews with classmates.

When you are ready to teach creative writing, use a dialogue journal rather than having students write in their own journals.

Have students write about topics they find interesting. Reflect what they have told you in your response in correct English. If students write at home on their own, you will find that the work is not always their own and you risk having them revert to translated writing.

Bloom taxonomy

Thinking Skills and English language learners

English language learners should be asked critical thinking questions from all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Some of the tasks on the taxonomy are difficult for ELLs because they lack the language and vocabulary to work in English. However, teachers need to ask questions from all levels of the taxonomy that are age appropriate and at the English language level of the English language learners. Even very young children can work at the Synthesis and Evaluation levels.

Examples at each level below come from Pa Lia’s First Day by Michelle Edwards. This book is written at a late second or early third grade level.

Level 1: Knowledge. This level of questioning is what is most frequently used when teaching ELLs, especially for students in pre-production and beginning production levels of English language acquisition. Responses to some of the questions can be made using yes/no or embedded questions. Pictures, drawings, and realia will help students give the correct answer. Responses to these questions are generally right in the text. Here are some questions and directions you might ask:

  • What did Pa Lia’s brother do on the way to school?
  • Who pushed Pa Lia on the steps?
  • What name did Stinky call Pa Lia?
  • When did Pa Lia meet Calliope?
  • What did Pa Lia do during Math Class?

Level II: Comprehension. This level shows that the student has understood the facts and can interpret them. ESL/bilingual teachers use this level of questioning a lot. We ask students to compare, contrast, illustrate, and classify. We do this oral questions and graphic organizers such as Venn Diagrams and T-charts.

  • Why did Pa Lia dawdle on the way to school?
  • How will Pa Lia find her classroom?
  • Why was Howie mean to Pa Lia?
  • Why did Pa Lia get in trouble?
  • Compare Calliope with Howie. Use the word bank.
  • Make a drawing that shows how Pa Lia felt when she came in the classroom.
  • Find a picture in the book that shows “Pa Lia felt like a teeny tiny minnow in a huge giant ocean”.

Level III: Application. Students are learning to solve problems by using previously learned facts in a different way. ELLs might need scaffolding and word banks to build, choose, construct, develop, organize, plan, select, solve, and identify.

  • Why did Pa Lia send a note?
  • How would you do if you needed to find your classroom on the first day of school?
  • Can you list the ways you could make a new student feel welcome?
  • Write a different ending to the story.
  • What questions would you ask Stinky if you could talk to him?

Level 4: Analysis. At this level students may not have enough vocabulary and language to express responses in English. The tasks at this level that English language learners will be able to complete with some teacher scaffolding are: classify, contrast, compare, categorize, sequence.

  • How do we know Pa La felt nervous? Find the sentences in the story.
  • Compare Pa Lia’s feelings at the beginning of the story with her feelings at the end of the story.
  • Sequence the following story sentences. What happened first?
  • Look at the words in the word bank that describe people. Write the words that describe Pa Lia, Calliope, and Howie in the correct column
  • Can you find four different feelings Pa Lia had during the story?
  • How do you know that Pa Lia is the hero of the story?
  • What do you think will happen next in this story?

Level 5: Synthesis. At this level students are compiling information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions. ELLs will need teacher support and scaffolding to answer questions at level 5. Synthesis is particularly difficult for ELLs. Students may be able to choose, combine, create, design, develop, imagine, make up, predict, solve, and change.

  • Pa Lia is a new student at school and she has no friends. How would you solve Pa Lia’s problem?
  • How would you change in this story?
  • What happens if you do not tell the truth?
  • Can you invent another character for the story?
  • How would you change the story to create a different ending?
  • How could you change the story? How else could Pa Lia make friends? Plan a party for Mrs. Hennessey’s class.Level VI: Evaluation. Questions at this level of Bloom’s taxonomy can be modified so that the langue is simplified but the task remains the same. English language learners can learn to give opinions, make judgments about the action in a story and evaluate the work of an author.The vocabulary usually associated with evaluation may need to be simplified. Here are some questions ELLs would be able to answer with some scaffolding by the teacher.
    • What do you think will happen if Pa Lia does not tell the truth.
    • What didn’t you like about the story? Why?
    • Do you think Tou Ger was a good brother? Why or Why not?
    • What is part of this book did you like best. Tell why you like it?
    • Why did the Pa Lia decide to tell the truth?
    • What would you do if you were Pa Lia and the teacher was angry with you?
    • Read another story by Michelle Edwards. Do you like it better than “Pa Lia’s First Day?”

  • Teaching small classes

    Most teachers would agree that teaching a small class comes with many benefits. Teachers can offer one-on-one assistance at times and are more likely to meet the individual needs of their students. Some teachers, however, find it quite challenging to keep their students interested and excited about learning in a small class. Depending on the location you are teaching in, small classes range from about three to seven students. In countries where large classes are the norm, classes of twenty may still be considered small. There are numerous coping strategies and activities that teachers can use to deal with the challenges of timing and student engagement.

    Advantages of Teaching Small Classes

    Comfort: Teachers and students often feel more comfortable when the class size is smaller. Students generally feel more comfortable voicing their questions and opinions.

    Students’ needs met: Teachers can design customized lessons to meet the needs and interests of all of the class members.

    Student centred: Teaching is student centred and often more communicative than is possible in large classes. Students also have more opportunity to speak.

    Space: Students have plenty of space to move around in the classroom. Teachers can also arrange excursions (or suggest spontaneous ones) outside of the classroom where students can be exposed to real world English.

    Attendance: Class attendance is usually high because students know they will be missed if they are absent. They also feel like they belong to the group.

    Tasks Completed: Assignments and homework are more likely to be completed because the teacher is more likely to check.

    Preparation time: Less preparation time is required for photocopying. There are generally enough textbooks to go around so photocopying is limited to extra activities.

    Detailed Feedback: Teachers have time to provide detailed feedback when marking assignments and tests, so students get a better sense of how they are improving and where they need to work harder. Teachers also have more time to answer questions before, during, and after class

    Challenges of Teaching Small Classes

    Timing: Activities finish quickly, so teachers may need to prepare more lessons and games.

    Distractions: Pairs can get distracted easily since they can hear what each other are saying.

    Attendance: If a few students do miss a class, planned lessons can occasionally flop. For example, you may plan a lesson that requires pair work, and then find that only three of your six students come to class.

    Fillers: Teachers must always have plenty of fillers on hand for times when lessons or activities get completed quickly.

    Boredom: Students may become bored working with the same pairs or groupings all of the time. There may also be less energy in the room in a small class.

    Anxiety: While you will likely feel more comfortable teaching in a small class, shy students who are used to blending into a large class may be uncomfortable participating. You will have to take special measures to help them gain confidence.

    Activities not always suitable: Some activities in textbooks, such as debates or role-playing, may not be possible if a class is very small. You will have to spend some preparation time adapting textbook activities.

    Strategies for Coping with Small Classes

    Fillers: Always have plenty of fillers (such as puzzles and games) ready in case activities finish quickly. Keep a list of games or warm ups on hand to use when energy gets low. Some may need to be adapted slightly if the class is very small.

    Review often: Take the time to make sure that your students understand the lessons and material.

    Encourage confidence: Help shy students to feel more comfortable by trying not to put them on the spot. Let them get comfortable with you and their classmates before you start calling on them to speak up more. Remember to praise them often and save criticism for private interviews.

    Change the dynamics: Invite students from other classes in once in a while. Prearrange pair group and getting to know you activities with other teachers who have small classes. If you have high level students pair them with lower level students and give them the opportunity to teach.

    Ask for feedback: Take time to find out whether or not students are happy with the class. Ask for suggestions regarding activities they want to do or skills they would like to improve. Put a question box or envelope out so that students can remain anonymous if they want to.

    Teaching large classes

    Most teachers agree that teaching a small group of students is easier, more enjoyable, and less time consuming than teaching a large group. Unfortunately, due to budgets, space, or lack of teachers, many ESL schools only offer large classes. In some schools, large classes may consist of up to 50 or more students. While your class may look more like a University lecture hall, your job is not to lecture. Just like teaching a small class, you must come up with engaging activities that keep all of your students interested and participating with the goal of improving their communication skills. While there are numerous challenges when it comes to teaching large classes, there are many coping skills and activities that you can use to make your job easier.

    Advantages of Teaching Large Classes

    High Energy: Classes with many students may be noisy, but they are also fun and exciting.

    Timing: Classes go by quickly in a large class, and you will rarely catch yourself looking at the clock. You will regularly find yourself with extra activities that you did not complete that you can save and use in your next class.

    Participation: There is always someone who is willing to answer questions even if they are just guessing. Make sure to take answers from a variety of students.

    Fillers: Teachers have less need for fillers since core activities and lessons take longer to complete.

    Challenges of Teaching Large Classes

    Intimacy: Remembering student’s names can take a while. Teachers may feel that they do not get to know their students as well as they would like to.

    Anxiety: Some teachers feel anxious being so outnumbered by the students. In addition, some students are afraid to ask questions or participate in a large class.

    Student needs: Meeting individual needs can be difficult or impossible when class size is very large.

    Marking: Grading assignments and tests can be very time consuming, and your pay will generally be the same for a smaller class.

    Distractions: There are more distractions for teachers in large classes, such as latecomers and people chatting while you are teaching.

    Preparation: Making photocopies for a large class can be very time consuming. Other teachers may be bothered by how much time you spend using the photocopier.

    Noise level: Large classes can become out of hand when students are working in pairs or groups. At times you may feel more like a disciplinarian than a teacher.
    Monitoring students: Teachers may find it difficult to keep students on task as they monitor pair and group work.

    Space: There is limited space in a classroom for energetic activities such as role-playing.

    Textbooks and resources: There may not be enough textbooks or computers available for all students.

    Strategies for Coping with Large Classes

    Use a teacher’s notebook: Attach a small notebook and pen to your belt loop. Take notes while you are monitoring pair or group learning. Review common errors as a whole group after an activity is complete.

    Spread out: Find another space that your class can use for energetic whole group activities. Find a lobby or spare classroom in the building that your students can spread out into when they are preparing a project or performance. Take students outside if there is no indoor space available.

    Create a participation grade: Make homework and attendance count by doing regular checks and making it part of their final grade. Giving a daily exam tip also encourages attendance.

    Encourage competition: Establish a fun and competitive atmosphere within the class, by dividing the class into teams. You may change the teams once in a while or leave them the same throughout a semester. Teams can win points for certain accomplishments (If noise and behaviour is a problem, students can lose points too.).

    Relax: Find ways to relax before class so that you don’t feel anxious. Never attempt to prepare a lesson in the morning, right before class. Always have a water bottle handy. Always have an extra activity on hand in case something doesn’t go as you expect it to.

    Establish trust: Learn unique ways to remember names and do your best to get to know something about each of your students. Create a seating chart on the first day and ask students to stick with it for a while. Tell your students at least one or two things about yourself beyond your role of teaching.

    Manage the noise: Establish a signal that you want your class to stop what they are doing and listen. This should be done from the first day, so that students become accustomed to it right away. Be careful not to use gestures or sounds that would offend anyone.

    Reduce marking and preparation time: Design quizzes and tests in a way so that you can reduce the amount of marking. Use peer evaluations when possible. If students submit journals, just read them and leave a short comment and/or suggestion, rather than fixing every grammar mistake. Designate a specific time when the teacher’s room is slow to do most of your photocopying for the week. This will save you from feeling guilty for taking up the photocopier for a long time when another teacher only has a few copies to make.

    Enforce a late policy: Notify students of your late policy on the first day and stick to it. For example, don’t let students enter your classroom after a warm-up has ended. If students miss class, make it their responsibility to catch up, not yours.

    Share your e-mail address: In a large class, you will find yourself feeling drained before and after class if you let students come early or stay late to ask questions every day. This alone can make you hate your job, especially if you are not paid for hours when you are not teaching. Encourage students to e-mail you with questions, and answer them on your own time. If you don’t like the e-mail suggestion, try finishing your class ten minutes early once in a while and allow your students free conversation time. Take questions on a first come basis during this time.

    Activities to use in Large Classes

    Small group discussions: Use topics related to a theme, or ask students to submit topic suggestions.

    Who Am I?: Tape the name of a famous person to the back of each student. Students go around the room asking questions and trying to identify themselves. Once they guess who they are they can place their nametag on the front and continue helping other students identify themselves.

    Team spelling contests: Each student who gets the spelling correct gets a point for their team.

    Balderdash: Large class can be split into teams. Teacher calls out a word and students have to write down the part of speech and definition. Each student to get both correct gets a point for her team.

    Write the question: Large class can be split into teams. The teacher calls out an answer and the students have to write the question. (ex. “Lynn”) Each student to write the correct question gets a point. (ex. answer: What’s your middle name?”)

    Questionnaires: Students circulate around the room asking each other questions. Students can create their own questions on a given topic or theme, or you can provide the questionnaire handout. Follow up by asking each student to report the most interesting answer they received.

    Categories: The teacher calls out a category, such as fruit, and each student has to name a fruit when it is his turn. If a student hesitates for more than five seconds, he or she has to choose a new category and sit out the rest of the game. The last person to get out wins.