Teaching Tips

These tips for ELLs represent pedagogical strategies that aim to create a more inclusive learning environment—one that accommodates students with differing learning styles and needs. We've included tips for in the classroom and online teaching:

Creating a more inclusive environment for ELLs starts with the way we plan our courses and includes the way we interact with students in the classroom. Below are some general principles and tips:


Foster an inclusive environment.

  • Consider including linguistic diversity in the syllabus statement on diversity/inclusion to show that you both recognize and welcome ELLs. Below is an example of a modified Human Rights Statement, which includes linguistic diversity. Feel free to use or modify. 

As an educator and a human being, I care about your growth and wellbeing. I pledge to foster faculty-student relationships of trust and collaborate with you in creating a learning experience that upholds values respecting your unique identities, respecting cultural, racial, and linguistic diversity as well as differences in gender and sexual orientation. I pledge to make sure respect for basic human rights is carried by all students. You can see an elaboration of these values here: www.smu.edu/values. I also expect you to uphold these values in your interactions with your classmates and me.

  • Encourage empathic behavior in classroom discussion guidelines.
  • Do your best to incorporate ELLs in your classes. Be on the lookout for ELLs that appear to be on the fringe.
  • Treat students as individuals. Consider cultural as well as personality differences when attempting to involve students. Recognize that cultures provide individuals with sets of general scripts for interacting in certain situations, but avoid simplistic judgments that overlook regional, class, and subcultural variation.
  • Feel free to approach a student about their language proficiency. Be curious rather than accusatory. If you gather class info, ask everyone where they are from and what other language(s) they grew up speaking.
  • Allow students to have time to think before discussing, providing discussion questions in advance or using a Think-Pair-Share or Read-Think-Talk-Write strategies

Make clarity an aim when communicating with students in the classroom.

  • Consider your rate of delivery and enunciate clearly. While we do not want to appear as if we are talking down to anybody, we do want to speak as clearly as possible.
  • Highlight key points and signpost transitionsConsider providing periodic summaries in your lectures to recap.
  • Include slides that periodically reinforce the overarching structure of the lecture rather than just providing one at the beginning and the end of the lecture.
  • Reinforce lower frequency or new vocabulary as it is introduced by providing a synonym or alternate terminology. For example, rather than saying, "They were completely discombobulated,we could tack on a brief phrase: "looking around, obviously confused about what was going on."
  • Ask questions that elicit specific information to check learners' comprehension rather than settling for a general comprehension check, i.e., "Everybody got that?"
  • Use longer pauses after questions to allow all students time to process and to increase willingness to contribute.
  • Be patient and let students formulate a response. Never finish a student's sentence unless they ask for help.

Consider potential gaps in background knowledge.

  • Consider whether students will catch pop cultural references or other asides that rely on specific cultural knowledge that ELLs may not be privy to. Consider including a brief explanation or omitting obscure references that do not contribute to class learning goals. At times, tangential tidbits simply reinforce generational as well as cultural differences.
  • Keep in mind that knowledge is constructed, that learning is a process in which we build upon current mental models or schema. If students are unable to attach knowledge to their current mental models, deep learning is less likely to take place. As educators, we should be trying to help students to attach new learning to preexisting models and to help them to identify when their preexisting mental models are insufficient.
  • Provide students with any necessary background knowledge related to the course content beforehand. Some possible strategies for doing this:
    • briefly surveying the class and inviting discussion
    • including guiding questions that address context
    • using a flipped approach that front loads supplemental readings, videos, and activities to prepare students to work with higher levels of cognitive processes in class. Canvas provides a useful platform that is quick, easy, and confidential. 

The lack of face-to-face interaction can bring added challenges. Below are some general considerations for reaching ELLs online.


When relevant, consider difficulties due to time zones:

Make an effort to maximize clarity.

  • Be explicit about your expectations. Outline what constitutes good participation and netiquette.
  • Make the directions as clear as possible. Consider using screenshots or screencast videos to demonstrate procedures. 
  • Use closed captions on any videos shown for class, including recorded lectures.  For the latter, proofread and edit automatically generated captions before publishing. 
  • Be sure to record live sessions. Even if students attend live meetings, some may miss parts or prefer to view the video.

Increase a sense of belonging.

  • Provide opportunities for students to interact with you and their classmates.
  • Consider incorporating video discussion into your course by utilizing platforms, such as Flipgrid, that integrate with Canvas. You might also consider responding to students via video rather than in writing on occasion.
  • When comment on a activity, write to the student directly, using their name and comment on what they have done well and what could be improved. Avoid generic responses.
  • Schedule optional synchronous meetings with the whole class and consider meeting with students one-on-one on occasion.
  • Host virtual office hours.
  • Have student do activities in virtual groups.

Consider potential copyright issues.