Best Practices for ESL Instruction
ESL teachers have autonomy to choose how to organize their overviews and previews and provide the best support to their students. Nevertheless, research shows that there are some general principles that ESL teachers should address. They include the need to:

  • build an inclusive classroom that honours, respects and supports ALL learners
  • support risk-taking in language production by helping students to understand that errors are part of language learning
  • build on background knowledge and make connections to new content and new language
  • ensure content is meaningful to the learner and relevant to the curriculum by teaching strategies to access academic vocabulary
  • model and provide multiple examples of appropriate language output
  • use graphic organizers and visuals to support instruction and communication
  • use gestures, props, and adjust wait time, pace, tone of voice and intonation to assist learner comprehension
  • recognize and support the development of an understanding of cultural differences
  • allow for occasional first language use amongst beginning learners of English.

What The Reseach Says
Jim Cummins (1980, 1984, 1996) coined the terms, BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency), in 1980. Cummins found that while most students learned sufficient English to engage in social communication in about two years, it took five to seven years to acquire the type of language skills needed for successful participation in academic domains. ESL learners’ language skills may be sufficient for social situations, but these skills may not be enough for the academic, context-reduced, and literacy demands of school academics.

By integrating our students immediately upon arrival, into regular or mainstream classes, ESL students are given an opportunity to maintain and develop academic growth. In elementary schools, students are placed in regular classrooms and receive ESL support that scaffolds the work occurring in the classroom. This support is provided by the ESL teacher, through in-class or pullout attention.

Suggestions for Building Students’ CALP (from Tony Carrigan's Report to the Board of Trustees, 2005)

Listed here, are some suggestions or considerations for teachers in supporting students in acquiring CALP.

• Classroom teachers can help build students’ CALP vocabulary through word study, as suggested by Bloodgood and Pacifici (2004). There are many ways to do this, from incidental word study activities such as Root of the Day, which incorporates a daily Latin root in building new vocabulary, to Homophone Rummy, which builds vocabulary through homophones. (Homophones are words with the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings.) Also, homograph (words with the same spellings but different pronunciations and related but different meanings) games help students play with word stress, while focusing on grammar and vocabulary at the same time.

• Whenever possible, all teachers should attempt to build CALP vocabulary amongst all students through teaching: analogy, idioms, humour, genre-specific language, formal language, subject specific terminology, multi-syllabic vocabulary, abstract text language, de-contextualized language, and cognitively difficult language.

• Written English fossilization corrections can begin to be addressed through plenty of writing opportunities and focused teacher support on second language grammatical errors. Developing academic writing skills, in general, must continue to be a priority. Models, scaffolds, and a process approach to writing are suggested, both in the ESL setting and in the Humanities classrooms.

• Opportunities should be provided for students to read across genres, both fiction and non-fiction, with teacher support on completing gaps in students’ knowledge of Western culture. This means helping students in acquiring cultural and metaphoric capital in order to make sense of what they read, across the various genres. A simple example of this capital, that many teachers will be familiar with is The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. A student might not understand the irony and humor in this example, if she did not know the original story.

• Burns (2003) finds that ESL students want interesting fictional and non-fictional texts within their reading capabilities that are written specifically for second language learners and that control the amount of new vocabulary and grammar. Burns writes, “Finishing such texts gave students a strong sense of achievement and motivation to continue reading. This raises the issue of the importance of "language learner literature" in the reading classroom and challenges teachers to think carefully about the kinds of authentic texts they are using." (p. 22).

• Burns also finds that ESL students, "were almost unanimous in their desire for teachers to read aloud to them. Reading aloud has something of an old-fashioned feel for many TESOL teachers, but students clearly valued the opportunity to hear fluent reading in English, to listen to the written work, to hear correct stress and intonation patterns, and to learn new vocabulary. … Several students commented that reading aloud helped improve their speaking and listening skills." (p. 22). Current reading approaches such as S.M.A.R.T. Reading often encourage teachers to read aloud to their students, especially during shared reading activities.

• Roessingh (2002) suggests, ESL learners, “Wanted more depth, less breadth, especially at the Grade 10 level. For example, the structure and the elements of the short story were addressed in perhaps five selections, rather than the usual ten or twelve.” (p. 17). This suggestion is in line with the new emphasis on ‘slow learning’. That is, instead of a traditional rush to fit ‘everything’ in, during a course year, covering as many Learning Outcomes as possible in the various subject domains, all teachers and students need to slow down and do less, better.

• Roessingh also believes, “ESL learners need direct instruction in contextual guessing as a reading strategy to make meaning at the discourse level. They need to know when precision of meaning is important and when it is not. They need to know which words are worth remembering and which, once momentarily understood (i.e. scuppernongs and Charlotte), can be discarded.” (p. 17).

• Roessingh recommends pre-writing activities that pose essential questions.

• Saunders (1999) encourages engaging students in instructional conversations, including: identifying key concepts and vocabulary, brainstorming for supporting evidence, coming up with “big idea” statements (for opening/introductory sentences), “narrowing it down”, and endless practice at writing thesis statements and connecting concluding comments to introductions.

• Humanities teachers can assist students in building CALP vocabulary through poetry, colloquial passages, slang, and idiom ‘banks’.

• All teachers can increase student comprehension of curriculum materials through plenty of teacher oral readings with one-minute quick-write responses by the students, which are then shared in small groups.

• All teachers should consider using cooperative learning strategies in the classroom because there are:

• plentiful, authentic, and appropriate oral conversations;
• frequent opportunities for oral output; and

• an environment that encourages students to communicate with each other.

For more information on the Knowledge Framework, please see Alberta Guidelines p. 73-85

For an article on Scaffolding, see:

Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners. A very practical list of instructional strategies and activities to foster academic achievement for diverse students.
external image pdf.png
external image pdf.png
Making Content Comprehensible for ELL.pdf

Hetty Roessingh's Sample Lessons

ESL Tips:

ESL Teaching Ideas from Australia

Teaching support from OISE

**Models for special needs students** —TCM Article

Article Summary Models for special needs students Diana L. Treahy and Susan P. Gurganus ... April 2010, Volume 16, Issue 8, Page 484 ... Exceptional StudentSpecial Needs Teachers ... Exceptional StudentsSpecial Needs, Equity/Diversity, Pre-Service

Accessing Academic Vocabulary