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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

English-Language Learners Opinion

The Six Most Effective Instructional Strategies for ELLs—According to Teachers

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 26, 2021 12 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is the single most effective instructional strategy you have used to teach English-language learners?

This series is part of a longer series of questions and answers inviting educators from various disciplines to share their “single most effective instructional strategy.”

Last week, educators shared their recommendations when it came to teaching writing.

There are many more to come!

Today, Valentina Gonzalez, Denita Harris, Cindy Garcia, and Deedy Camarena offer their responses.

Before we get to today’s guest, I’d like to share my own answer.

I’m a big fan of all the ideas guests in this series offer—particularly the Picture Word Inductive Model.

Two that contributors to this series don’t mention and are ones I like to use often are the Language Experience Approach (LEA) and Total Physical Response (TPR).

The LEA describes a lesson in which the entire class does a common activity (playing a game, watching a video, anything), and then the teacher leads students in a process of writing about it. Those sentences can then be used for a myriad of other follow-up activities. It’s particularly useful for mixed-level classes—everyone can participate in the activity, and then students can write sentences about it that are simple or complex depending on their language proficiency. You can learn more about the LEA here.

Total Physical Response (TPR) describes a process where the teacher (and, later, students) model a physical action when teaching a new word (standing up when teaching the word “stand”). It’s active, can be done in a very playful mood, and can be made increasingly complex. You can read more at The Best Resources For Learning About Total Physical Response (TPR).

You can learn more about ELL teaching strategies at previous posts appearing in this column—find them at Teaching English-Language Learners.

Two particularly useful posts that have not yet made it into that summary collection (I update them every summer) are Thirteen Instructional Strategies for Supporting ELL Newcomers and Ten Strategies for Teaching English-Language Learners Online.

Now, to responses from today’s guests:

Picture Word Inductive Model

Valentina Gonzalez is a former classroom teacher with over 20 years in education serving also as a district facilitator for English-learners, a professional-development specialist for ELs, and as an educational consultant. Valentina delivers professional development and coaches teachers on sheltered instruction strategies. Her work can be found on Seidlitz Education and on MiddleWeb. You can reach her through her website or on Twitter @ValentinaESL:

Shifting the way we approach teaching English-learners can have a positive effect on their success in our schools. When we see our English-learners’ assets first, we recognize everything they come with and value not only their culture but also the content and literacy they bring to the table.

I’ve found the Picture Word Inductive Model (Calhoun, 1998) to be one of the most effective instructional techniques in my experience teaching ELs. The benefits of using PWIM with English-learners are many. This literacy technique is quite flexible and can be used cross-curricularly no matter the grade level, language level, or content. PWIM leverages students’ funds of knowledge and builds upon them. Through the PWIM, ELs are engaged in thinking and in all language domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing with scaffolds and supports such as visuals and sentence stems or frames. This method can be used in all grade levels and cross-curricularly.

These are the steps I use to implement an adapted version of PWIM with English-learners and how each step benefits ELs:


This engaging instructional strategy helps to lower students’ anxiety levels, which increases participation. After using the PWIM with numerous student groups, these are some tips I can offer to educators who haven’t tried it before:

  • Carefully select images that are compelling to your age group of students.
  • Try color coding or chunking labeled words (ex.: all verbs in orange, adjectives in blue, etc.).
  • Keep in mind students’ language-proficiency levels when creating sentence stems and frames. Students with advanced English proficiency will benefit from more sophisticated sentence structures.
  • Don’t stress about doing it all in one day. Gage your students and make adjustments as needed.
  • On a subsequent day, use the generated words as a sorting activity. Ask students to work with a partner to put the words in groups and label the groups.
  • Co-create a sentence-patterning chart with the class. Some groups of students may need this level of support during Step 7.

Below is an example of a PWIM and sentence-patterning chart mash up. Combining these two techniques enhances ELs’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing in English.


This link will take you to a video with more details about the PWIM. I know many readers here have tried PWIM or variations, too. Please share pictures and stories of how your students have responded.


Sentence Frames

Denita Harris is a curriculum coordinator for the MSD of Wayne Township, Indianapolis. She has over 20 years of experience as a teacher, assistant principal, and district-level administrator. Harris is the recipient of the 2019 INTESOL (Indiana Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages) Best of the Best in K-12 Education, and the 2017 and 2020 African American Excellence in Education Award. Find her on Twitter @HarrisLeads:

The single most effective strategy I have used and would highly recommend when teaching English-language learners is the use of sentence frames for writing and speaking, the productive skills, accompanied with a word bank, word phrases, and/or pictures.

English-languagelearners possess a wealth of knowledge, and it is our obligation, as educators, to tap into their knowledge and continue to build upon what our students already know and can do. We must remember our students are in the process of learning a new language and are not in the process of learning a language; therefore, we can provide the words and the grammatical structures of the new language to help guide them in speaking and writing.

Here is an analogy to consider. English-language learners have the tools (vocabulary in their native language). They come to us with these tools; however, while learning English, they may not yet know the names of all the tools or how to use them properly to accomplish a task completely (speaking or writing in English). Our responsibility is to provide our students with the names of each tool (vocabulary in English) and demonstrate to them, through sentence frames, how they might utilize these tools to accomplish a complete task (express a complete thought or sentence in English). A sentence frame can be made up of only one sentence or several sentences to assist students in structuring paragraphs.

The use of sentence frames for writing and speaking not only give English-language learners a framework to communicate through both oral and written language, sentence frames also help build students’ self-efficacy. When students have the language to contribute to classroom discussions and are able to express their thoughts on paper, they begin to feel a part of the classroom community, and that makes all the difference.


Comprehensible Input

Cindy Garcia has been a bilingual educator for 14 years and is currently a district instructional specialist for PK-6 bilingual/ESL mathematics. She is active onTwitter @CindyGarciaTX and on her blog:

The single most effective strategy that I used to teach English-language learners is comprehensible input. Comprehensible input means that the teacher speaks in such a way that students are able to understand what is being said even when they do not know or understand all of the words being stated. Below are some strategies to make input comprehensible:

  • Slow down rate of speech and enunciate clearly. As students are listening, they are also working to process what is being said and how that fits with what they already know. At the same time, ELLs are translanguaging and making sense of teachers’ academic language. ELLs are developing their English language, and it is very important that they hear those initial and ending sounds of words in order to add them to their vocabulary. Sometimes when we speak too quickly, we drop important sounds such as “ing”.
  • Avoid figurative language and idioms. While these phrases might make sense to you and emphasize a point, to ELLs they might break down their comprehension. Students will probably end up with a literal translation that makes no sense. For example, saying it was a piece of cake will be translated to it was a portion of a dessert, not it was easy! Not only that, but ELLs might stop listening as they try to figure what that idiom means.
  • Use gestures and total physical response (TPR). Language can sometimes be abstract and not precise. There can also be words that exist in English that do not exist in other languages. For example, toes do not have a Spanish equivalent. In Spanish, we have hand fingers and feet fingers. Using exaggerated gestures can help make the meaning of new vocabulary more clear to students. Using TPR, students also learn to associate a movement with a word, and that will make it more likely that they internalize that new vocabulary.

Collaborative Summarizing

Deedy Camarena is the coordinator for English-language development (ELD), dual and world languages, at the Santa Clara County Office of Education in California:

When English-language learners (ELLs) are acquiring another language, they must be able to make meaning. In order to make meaning, they must develop oracy (proficiency in oral expression and comprehension—Merriam Webster). Utilizing purposeful dialogue to practice oracy expands student thinking. The most effective instructional strategy I’ve used to practice oracy is Collaborative Summarizing.

There are five steps to successfully implement Collaborative Summarizing. These steps allow ELLs to read, think, exchange information, and negotiate through dialogue. In preparation, the teacher must select a text appropriate for the students’ independent reading level, or lexile level, and determine the language demands. The purpose of reading the passage is to utilize the information to make meaning through oracy. However, you may find another purpose such as language functions, content, or to acquire background knowledge. Once the text has been selected and vetted by the teacher, the five-step Collaborative Summarizing can begin.

First, the teacher models how to identify the big ideas in the text. This may include the important people, things or ideas, what is occurring, and details. Then, the students individually read the text and determine 3-5 big ideas. Students utilize a graphic organizer specifically made for this strategy to record their information. Using those big ideas, students write a 15-word summary.

Second, students find one partner to dialogue with and “create a negotiated list that reflects their combined agreement on the three to six most important ideas.” Once students have discussed the most important ideas, they turn them into one, collaborative 15-word summary. Teachers can strategically pair up students, or students can choose. Students must first determine the negotiating rules they will follow. For example, act respectively, cite evidence to prove your opinion, or use academic-language sentence frames, such as Kate Kinsella’s, for discussing and collaboration. Students use these sentence frames to support the function of negotiating and intentionally use academically language correctly. The purpose of negotiating with their partner is to “identify who or what is the most important in the section, [and] identify what the subject is doing,”(English Learner Toolkit of Strategies).

Third, have each pair meet with another pair. One student from each pair reads their summary. Then, they dive in and renegotiate a common summary for their new group of four and add it to their graphic organizer.

Fourth, each group of four chooses another group of four to repeat the renegotiating process. Once again, the group will add this new summary to their graphic organizer.

Fifth, ask groups to edit their summaries for meaning, language, and word choice. As the focus of Collaborative Summarizing is utilizing purposeful dialogue to practice oracy, this could be an optional step.

Sixth, chose one student from the group to present the summary to the class. As ELLs have varying comfort levels of reading in front of a class, give the students time to practice in their group. Once a sufficient amount of time has passed, bring the class together to listen to the summaries.

Collaborative Summarizing helps students develop oracy and effectively utilize purposeful dialogue with a partner and a group to create a common product.


Thanks to Valentina, Denita, Cindy, and Deedy for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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