Supporting English Language learners in the general education classroom

This blog post intends to share practical strategies for supporting multilingual learners' English language acquisition and academic achievement.


Kellie Tompkins, Professor

2 min read

The term ‘multilingual learners’ is used to describe all students who come in contact with and/or interact in languages in addition to English on a regular basis. In academic settings, many of these students face unique challenges with language acquisition and academic success, and while educators cannot control all the variables of their learning, by using different strategies, they can advance their students' language journeys and make their subject content more accessible to their learners. It is important to note that any of these strategies will benefit other learners in the classroom.

Supporting English Language learners in the general education classroom

Language acquisition is a complex process that involves not only the memorization of vocabulary and syntax but also the development of cultural knowledge and academic literacy. The learner of a second or new language must negotiate at least two different languages and cultures in order to develop the new language. Because of how closely language and cultural practices and beliefs are connected, students' own cultures can sometimes clash with those of the target language, making it harder for them to learn.

Through culturally responsive teaching, an approach that emphasizes the importance of understanding and valuing students' cultures and backgrounds, teachers can create inclusive and engaging learning environments for multilingual learners. The benefits of culturally responsive teaching increased engagement, improved academic achievement, and higher levels of self-efficacy.T

There are several effective teaching strategies that can be used to support multilingual learners in academic settings. Here, they are categorized as language-based, content-based, and assessment and feedback strategies.

Language-based strategies: These strategies focus on developing students' English language proficiency. Some examples include:

  1. Using graphic organizers and visuals to support understanding

  2. Providing sentence frames and starters to support oral and written language production

  3. Using scaffolding techniques to gradually release students to independent language production

  4. allow first language output as part of the learning process.

Content-based strategies: These strategies focus on developing students' academic content knowledge while also supporting their language development. Some examples include:

  • Building on students' backgrounds to make knowledge accessible

  • Using authentic materials and texts to expose students to academic language

  • Incorporating hands-on activities and projects to support student engagement

  • Using group work and collaboration to support language development and academic achievement

Assessment and feedback strategies: These strategies focus on providing effective assessment and feedback to support multilingual learners' academic growth. Some examples include:

  • Using formative assessments to monitor student progress and adjust assessment strategies accordingly

  • Providing multiple ways to demonstrate achievement

  • Providing specific and constructive feedback on student work

  • Encouraging self-assessment and reflection to support student learning and growth

Teaching multilingual learners may appear to be a challenging task, but with a few adjustments to the lesson plan, an educator can propel multilingual learners' English language acquisition and academic achievement. By valuing students' cultural backgrounds and creating inclusive learning environments, we can promote academic success for all learners.