ESL Teaching Strategies for Low-Level Learners

  • ESL Teaching Strategies for Low-Level Learners

    Douglas Brown


    Characteristics of Less-Proficient Readers

    Less-proficient readers read and process what they have read at a slower rate than most of their peers. Less-proficient readers are likely to have some or all of the following characteristics:
    • Slower reasoning processes; less likely to see cause-and-effect relationships and to make inferences, draw conclusions, transfer learning, or generalize based on several experiences.
    • Difficulty recognizing and using contextual clues to assist comprehension.
    • Shorter attention spans and less motivation to learn.
    • Difficulty with following directions.
    • Difficulty retaining what they have learned.
    • Poor work habits and difficulty working on their own.
    • Less confidence and creativity than their peers.
    • Poor organizational skills.
    • Difficulty sequencing.
    • Less confidence when reading orally.
    • Provide a stimulating environment to help keep students’ attention.
    • Use direct teaching; have a clearly defined goal (more on this in the lesson-planning article).
    • Break learning goals into smaller tasks and teach in increments.
    • Provide many practice opportunities.
    • Provide immediate feedback to avoid having students “learn” errors; give encouragement to build confidence.
    • Provide high interest, low-level reading materials for practice.
    • Pre-teach vocabulary to build confidence.
    • Preview unfamiliar concepts.
    • Reward steps of achievement; use a progress chart to indicate improvement.
    • Ask for and provide frequent summaries of reading material.
    Characteristics of Students with below average english language abilities
    • Short attention spans; easily distracted from tasks.
    • Trouble with abstractions, such as humor, figures of speech, maps, and diagrams; they are concrete learners.
    • Difficulty understanding cause and effect; reduced capability for problem solving, reasoning, drawing conclusions, making inferences, and generalizing; also have difficulty transferring learning from one situation to another and with sequencing.
    • Communication problems with peers.
    • May show a lack of judgment.
    • Willingness to accept the authority of others.
    • Dependence on others to assist with tasks.
    • Like and need routines.
    TEACHING STRATEGIES: STUDENTS WITH below average (pre-beginner or beginner) English language abilities
    • Break down tasks into smaller tasks. Sequence the tasks.
    • Give simple, clear directions; make the teaching objective clear.
    • Provide many opportunities to practice; use computer-assisted instruction, peer tutoring, and much guided practice.
    • Provide immediate feedback so that errors are not “learned.”
    • Have whole-group responses, such as responding in unison, so that responses are offered from all students.
    • Incorporate good work habits with learning tasks, such as emphasizing the importance of following directions, working cooperatively, and providing satisfactory work.
    • Use a variety of teaching strategies, as well as visual, audio, and concrete materials.
    • Assign smaller, less time-consuming tasks. Use concrete examples.
    • Use direct teaching. Provide students with more time to complete work.
    • Introduce key words before reading; provide guided notes that will help students through the assignment.
    • Use a reward system. Help students keep track of achievements on a progress chart.
    • Follow a familiar teaching procedure or pattern. One procedure is to model and explain the steps of a task; then repeat the steps, pausing between steps to allow students to tell what to do next.
    • Include students in whole-group discussions; then review questions with individual students after the lesson
    General strategies for efl/esl teaching:
    1. Make the directions brief and specific. In some cases, have students repeat the directions for completing the task. Present the directions orally, in written form, and on tape. Have extra copies of the written instructions available or provided on the computer with enlarged fonts.
    2. Provide well-organized study guides. Add prompts to the guides, highlighting or underlining important points and key words and ideas. Tape-record chapters of reading for students to take home or use books on tape available at local libraries. Have students keep assignment notebooks.
    3. Use peer tutors and collaborative learning situations.
    4. Teach vocabulary and important information before reading. Build on the students’ range of knowledge and experiences. Make connections to the students’ lives.
    5. Review important information from previous readings or lessons before continuing.
    6. Present information in a variety of ways to address different learning styles or intelligences. Include tactile and concrete presentations.
    7. Teach to fill in specific gaps in knowledge. Direct instruction works well.
    8. Break the learning goal into small subtasks and teach these sequentially. Teach prerequisite skills when needed.
    9. Focus instruction based on specific objectives. For example, block off parts of a workbook page or an assignment to focus on one skill or idea.
    10. Slow the teaching pace and allow extra time for students to complete tasks.
    11. Use a reward system, such as earning special privileges. Have students help keep track of their achievements on a progress chart.
    12. Provide many practice opportunities. Simple repetition works best in many cases.
    13. Provide immediate feedback. It keeps interest and motivation high and lessens the chance that students “learn” a mistake by not noticing correction made later to their work.
    14. Evaluate student work by focusing on specific learning goals for that student.
    15. For evaluation, give tests orally and accept oral responses, or highlight the questions that are most important for students to answer.