Working With
English Language
Learners

Issues with Writing

  1. Give clear and detailed instructions

    Rather than only giving oral instructions, provide an assignment sheet as well. Make sure that the expectations are stated in the assignment sheet. For example, state whether a thesis or research will be required. If students are expected to answer several questions, state if they are expected to answer them in essay or question/answer format.

  2. Provide examples

    Although students may receive clear and detailed instructions, English Language Learners may still be confused about the expectations for the assignment. Providing an example of the assignment from a previous semester can help clarify any confusion.

  3. Request/Require a draft

    The drafting process can be beneficial for all students, but this process is especially important for English Language Learners who will most likely have issues with grammar and content.

  4. Provide helpful feedback
  • Before giving feedback on grammatical errors, look at the content. If an idea is unclear or needs development, write specific questions in the margins rather than writing “unclear” or “needs development.” Remember, although an idea may seem confusing, do not assume that the actual idea is not well thought out. Asking those specific questions will help the writer understand that his or her idea is unclearly written. It is also important to remember that rhetorical styles differ across cultures, and essays that seem unorganized and lacking in cohesion may be appropriate in a different context. Writing detailed questions and comments in the margins will help the student revise the format to match this context. Lastly, it is always helpful to meet with students after they have read the comments to help clarify any confusion and give further explanations or examples. 

  • After examining the content, look for repeating grammatical issues that interfere with meaning. For example, incorrect article usage or non-native/awkward phrasing usually do not hinder one’s ability to understand the meaning of a sentence—these types of errors can be labeled as a written accent. However, sentence structure issues, such as run-on sentences and fragments, can render a sentence impossible to understand. Deal with these issues by highlighting and explaining the errors. Then, allow the student to correct them and check them later.

  1. Review formatting instructions.

    Many English Language Learners are not aware of specific citation methods or what constitutes plagiarism. If citations and a reference page are required, ensure that this is stated on the assignment sheet. Reviewing the definition of plagiarism and the difference between a quotation and paraphrasing will also be helpful.

  2. Recommend the Writing Center.

    In conjunction with the above instructions, a Writing Center tutor can provide additional help with the writing process. Please refer students to either the Writing Center or the Writing Center website to make an appointment. 

Issues in the Classroom

  1. State the agenda at the beginning of the lecture.

    English Language Learners may have difficulty understanding a lecture due to the professor’s rate of speech and accent. Stating a clear agenda will help prepare the students to listen for the information that follows. It can also be helpful to use key signal phrases, such as “Now, we will cover the second item,” to alert students that ideas are being changed.

  2. Use the board.

    Because students may have trouble with listening comprehension, write the agenda and key ideas or terms on the board to emphasize their importance.

  3. Post lecture notes on blackboard.

    Even if they are a skeletal outline, making lecture notes available to students will provide them with another tool to aid their listening comprehension. 

  4. Encourage participation.

    Class participation can be extremely difficult for English Language Learners. Student participation is not expected in many different countries. Furthermore, they may have trouble understanding the professor and be concerned about what their peers may think of their accented English. To overcome these hurdles, teachers could provide them with the discussion questions or outline before class, so they are familiar with the key concepts. Also, ask students specific questions and encourage them to explain their ideas. If students are having trouble understanding a question, rephrase it and speak clearly, but do not speak excessively slow and loud, which is demeaning. Remember to give them time to process the question and formulate an answer. If they need more time, tell them to think about the question and go back to them after a few minutes. Do not be afraid of giving them a word if they are having trouble finding a word. Above all, be encouraging and always say something positive about their response.