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Classroom Environment & Teacher Talk

English Language Learners are often anxious about being in a classroom when they cannot speak the language. Efforts to create a friendly environment that is respectful of students’ diverse experiences and sets high expectations for learning will greatly support ELL students’ opportunities for success. Part of establishing this kind of learning environment includes modifying the ways in which teachers talk with students. Many of the suggestions below work for all students, including ELL students.

Create a classroom community that recognizes and values students’ diversity. Every child is born into a culture that socializes them to think in specific ways about things that may be taken for granted as common sense. When left unexamined, some cultural beliefs and practices can interfere with students’ success in the classroom. It is important to find out who students are, where they come from, and which languages they speak.

Keep expectations high and consistent, and provide effective feedback. Too often ELL students receive “feedback that relates to personality variables or the neatness of their work rather than to academic quality” (Jackson, 1993, p. 55[1]). Comments should be focus on the academic components of students’ work. It is important to communicate clearly and specifically to students about how to improve the overall quality of the work they do (Jackson, 1993).

Slow down and simplify the language used. Consider intonation; avoid using slang, idioms, extraneous words, and long, complex sentences. Repeat key points. Rephrase to promote clarity and understanding. Summarize frequently. Use clear transition markers such as first, next, and in conclusion. Ask clear, succinct, high-level questions (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez, 2002, Jameson, 1998 [2]).

Model what students are expected to do. Students may not comprehend the words or phrases being said, yet actions will support their understanding. For example, use visual prompts such as hand movements, facial expressions, or other body movements to suggest meaning.

Pair instructional talk with visual communication cues such as pictures, graphs, objects, and gestures (Peregoy & Boyle, 1997 [3]).

Seat students toward the middle or front of the classroom, in a place where they can be monitored closely and where they can observe the classroom interactions of other students (Peregoy & Boyle, 1997 [3]).

Even though content will vary, follow a predictable routine and a stable schedule. Predictability creates a sense of security for students who are experiencing a lot of change in their lives (Peregoy & Boyle, 1997 [3]).

Have dictionaries and other learning tools available and easily accessible to students.


 [1] Jackson, F, R, (December 1993/January 1994). “Seven strategies to support a culturally responsive pedagogy.” Journal of Reading, 37 (4), 298–303.
 [YG1] Carrasquillo, A.L., & Rodriguez, V. (2002). “Language minority students in the mainstream classroom” (2nd edition). Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters.
[YG1] Peregoy, S.F., & Boyle, O.F. (1997). Reading, writing, & learning in ESL: A resource book for K­–12 teachers. New York: Longman.