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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles:
Adjust Your Teaching Styles for English Language Learners (ELL) in ESL/Bilingual Classrooms

Questions about ESL and ELL
Tobey Cho Bassoff

Web mentor Tobey Cho Bassoff receives many e-mails seeking advice on ESL and/or ELL instruction. These four questions are culled from the hundreds Tobey has received since she’s been a web mentor. They range from the general to the specific, from the ideal world to real world.

Dear Tobey,

Exactly what is an ESL classroom? For what grades?


Hi Goodwin,

Good question. There are at least two different ways to view English Language learning classrooms across the U.S. One is a self-contained English as a Second Language classroom which focuses on preparing students who are not yet proficient in English with the cognitive and conversational English language skills so that they may access the mainstream grade level curriculum, be that fourth or 12th grade. English Language Learning classrooms can be any classroom in any subject area. These are classrooms where teachers are responsible for differentiating their curriculum to meet the needs of English language learners. The ELL in the classroom concept has really taken hold since the advent of No Child Left Behind legislation.

Hope this is helpful,


+ + +

Ms. Bassoff,

Thank you for the information provided on your website about preschool Spanish. I have two questions for you.

  1. How often should children this age have lessons for maximum benefits, i.e., how many times a week?
  2. How long should these lessons be?

Thank you,
Melany M.

Hi Melany,

Good questions.

  1. Preschool-aged children are sponges for information. I recommend giving lessons two to three times a week. Structure the duration of your lesson around your child's interest and ability. If he/she is hungry for more lessons, then introduce more. Remember that kiddos this young have the whole world to take in, so don't be offended if they lose interest for a few days. They will come back to it.
  2. Duration of lessons really depends on the kiddo. My almost three-year-old daughter has an attention span of 15 to 60 minutes depending on the activity and her mood. I would say that lessons that last 15-20 minutes are probably perfect for most kids.

Good luck! Tobey

+ + +

Dear Tobey,

I am beginning classes in my elementary school research lab. Every class will be attending and I am seeking appropriate lessons for all of my grade levels (K-5). My question is this: I have a Pre-K class (all four year olds) that has a 30 minute slot once a week. Because they are four and the teachers have very strict guidelines about how much time in centers the students must have daily, it makes sense for the students not to attend the lab. I also only have one software program, a typing program, and Internet access on the computers. The biggest issue is that 9 of the 15 students in this class are completely non-english speaking. Do you have any advice on the best option in this situation?


Hi Michelle,

It sounds like a challenging adventure! If I read your question correctly, it sounds like you're in search of an engaging web-based program for four-year-olds. Is that correct?

I have a couple of suggestions:

  1. Collaborate with the teachers to identify what standards they would like you to cover. Specifically, what skill sets should you be working on with the kiddos? The teachers you support should have a good idea of their "ideal world" around the use of the time. They may not have approached you with their ideas because they might feel as if they are stepping on your toes.
  2. Use search engines like, Yahooligans or Google, to find interactive web sites. Be careful to thoroughly investigate sites before you use them as some of the sites can be deceptive.
  3. Explore the possibility of borrowing software that is preschool appropriate for your lab. In planning for future years, you could look into writing grants to fund additional software programs.

Good luck,

+ + +

Dear Ms. Bassoff,

Where can I find some sample Math lesson plans for ELL students?


Hi, Tracy

There are many sites out there with lesson plans for math, yet they may not be tagged as "for ELL."  The key is to look at the lesson through a lens of what would be most accessible to language learners.  Lessons should be scaffolded and have clear learning and language objectives.  They should look at activating the students' background knowledge while helping them build the necessary vocabulary to get the enduring understandings you want them to walk away with.

I hope this helps!

Good luck,



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