Sample Strategies

English Language Development

Role of the Teacher

Language is an essential tool for learning. Oral language development in English differs from acquiring academic English, and involves using English within different contexts for different purposes. As a result, you should foster children's learning and development through both direct and indirect teaching of language in a rich, stimulating environment.1 

Planning learning experiences based on high expectations is important but it is not enough for English language learners.2 Intentional teaching should also include curricular enhancements and strategic use of the home language to support English language learners. Provide fun and interactive enrichment activities that extend learning for your English language learners to practice and explore new concepts and ideas, and plan hands-on opportunities to develop oral language.

Click here for online professional development modules from Loyola Marymount University, that focus on a Dialogic Reading framework for effective practices for Dual Language Learners/English Learners in early learning and transitional kindergarten classrooms. (NOTE: If you can't see the videos, check whether your browser is blocking the content by clicking on the shield in the address bar.)

Creating a Classroom Environment that Supports English Language Learners
  • Learn key phrases and vocabulary in all home languages represented in the classroom.
  • Instead of large group activities, plan for small group and pair activities and focused small-group interventions.3
  • Color-coded labels in the classroom (one color per language, all languages represented in the classroom should be included).
  • Promote family-school partnerships4 and volunteering to read and participate in the classroom.
Key Instructional Approaches
  • Explicitly teach vocabulary to support concept development in English language learners. Plan for indirect and direct interactive teaching of words.5
  • Teach new vocabulary through stories and using the home language strategically.
  • Incorporate Total Physical Response (TPR) strategies for children to understand stories and learn new words.
  • Avoid back-to-back translation during class time. Instead, use gestures, movement, realia, photographs, songs and poems to illustrate new concept or word. Read stories in the child's home language and in English, but on different days/time of the day.
  • Describe and model how to ask for help in English when children cannot solve a problem or follow an activity (e.g. math exploration activity).
  • Model the use of the dictionary and teach the use of transferable strategies (e.g. cognates).

Five English Language Development Teaching Strategies

The teaching strategies below give concrete approaches for English language development in your classroom. They are designed to guide developmentally appropriate TK instruction, moving your students along a continuum of learning by bridging the Preschool Learning Foundations with the Kindergarten Common Core. Click through to view all five.

Strategy 1: Comprehension of English (Receptive English)
Strategy 2: Self-expression in English (Expressive English)
Strategy 3: Understanding and Response to English Literacy Activities
Strategy 4: Symbol, Letter and Print Knowledge in English
Strategy 5: Integrated Approaches for English Language Development and Family Engagement

  • Strategy 1: Comprehension of English (Receptive English)

    Competency: Child is progressing toward fluency in understanding English (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 1)

     Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in Context
    While assessing background knowledge on a specific topic, ask a small group of children to "bridge" with their home language and identify key words on a picture book. Ask open-ended questions and provide opportunities for children to demonstrate their understanding.
    Use manipulatives, realia, movement and songs to teach new vocabulary. Model how to respond using complete sentences and provide examples of linguistic frames.
     Give Opportunities for Practice
    Plan for activities throughout the day for children to interact with new words and apply them to new situations (e.g. placing realia into centers, providing a writing activity where children have to think of a new ending for the story, etc.) Share with families the topics and new vocabulary so that they can discuss at home using their home languages. Provide opportunities for families to create picture books using new vocabulary to be added to the class library.
  • Strategy 2: Self Expression in English (Expressive English)

    Competency: Child is progressing toward fluency in speaking English (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 2)

     Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in Context
    When teaching new vocabulary, ask children to think of examples and encourage them to respond in both English and their home languages.     

    During a read aloud activity, plan enrichment activities for children to become storytellers and describe the sequences in the story to other children in pairs. Circulate the room to support children’s developing receptive and expressive English language skills by briefly engaging with pairs.
    Learn key phrases in the children’s home languages. Use them to show respect and value, and to aid in teaching new concepts and vocabulary in English. Model key phrases in English and ask children to repeat (for example, how to ask for help)    Place pictures of a book that shows the story plot on the carpet. With help from their peers, children retell the story.
     Give Opportunities for Practice
    Search for books and music in the children’s home languages that relate to the theme/topic being introduced.     Place these materials in a learning station for children to access and tell the story to each other.
  • Strategy 3: Understanding and Response to English Literacy Activities

    Competency: Child shows an increasing understanding and response to books, stories, poems and songs presented in English (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 3)

    Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in Context
    When presenting a new story, ask children to point to a depiction of the new vocabulary word. Introduce a poem or rhyme to contextualize the new vocabulary, and encourage children to respond physically to the new words, such as picking apples or planting seeds.    Expand children’s responses, building upon their thoughts and ideas. Promote conversation to include new words and phrases.
    Model using gestures to explain and/or describe what you are doing and asking children to do. Encourage children to copy gestures and use key words in a fun, engaging way to encourage peer communication. Provide examples of the new vocabulary word in different contexts. Ask children to make connections with real-life experiences and share with their peers.
     Give Opportunities for Practice
    Teach simple words and phrases, and encourage children to use them during familiar routines.

    Plan for one-on-one interactions (with yourself and/or peers) throughout the day to encourage conversations in a non-threatening environment.   
    Support children in learning new vocabulary by offering linguistic frames. Create a topic-related book with the child. The book can be about feelings, for example. The children do a page each day completing the sentence, “Today, I feel…” Scaffold the child by first supporting the child through dictation, and eventually through encouraging writing a letter and then working the whole word as the child gains confidence.
  • Strategy 4: Symbol, Letter, and Print Knowledge in English

    Competency: Child shows an increasing understanding that print in English carries meaning (corresponds with DRDP-SR Measure 4)

     Exploring Competencies
     Building Competencies
     Embed in Context
    Use written materials in English and home languages such as songs, poems and rhymes to talk about print concepts.    Provide ample opportunities for children to recognize and play with printed words in English (e.g., using a word wall that includes math and science vocabulary).
    Share differences and similarities between the languages represented in the classroom (e.g., alphabetic vs. non-alphabetic, letters in the alphabet, sounds in each language, etc.).    When children identify a new word in English or another child’s name, provide ample opportunities for them to write on paper or in the air using big body movements.
     Give Opportunities for Practice
    Use songs and rhymes using movement and gestures for children to play and experiment with English sounds.    Review new vocabulary and provide journals for children to write and draw freely about the topic and connect with their own personal experiences. Give children time to share their journal entries during story sharing times.
  • Strategy 5: Integrated Approaches for English language Development and Family Engagement

    Integrated Approach: English Language Development
    Ensure that goals and activities for ELD and other domain areas (e.g., math, language arts, science, etc.) are all aligned and build on each other. Children who are dual language learners/English language learners need multiple, meaningful opportunities to build new vocabulary and develop comprehension and narrative skills. Providing enrichment activities embedded in other domains (e.g. learning new math words and using them during a science activity) will provide a wholesome language experience.
    Collaborative Approach: Family Engagement
    Ask families to share information about their child’s early experiences with language(s), their interests and cultural background. Build partnerships by starting early in the year with focused conversations around home language development and the important role this plays in their child learning English successfully.

    Share target vocabulary and topics of instruction with families throughout the year. Communicate with families the importance of quality child/adult language interactions and encourage use of the home language.

1 Adapted from the Preschool English Learner Guide (CDE, 2009)

 2 Espinosa, L. (2010). Getting it right for young children from diverse backgrounds: Applying research to improve practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

 3 Vaughn, S., Cirino, P. T., Linan-Thompson, S., Mathes, P. G., Carlson, C. D., Cardenas-Hagan, E., Pollard-Durodola, S. D., Fletcher, J. M., & Francis, D. J. (2006). Effectiveness of a Spanish intervention and an English intervention for English language learners at risk for reading problems. American Educational Research Journal, 43, 449–487.; McMaster, K. L., Kung, S.-H., Han, I., & Cao, M. (2008). Peer-Assisted learning strategies: A "Tier 1" approach to promoting English learners' response to intervention. Exceptional Children, 74(2), 194-214.

  4 Goldenberg, C., Reese, L., and Gallimore, R. (1992). Effects of school literacy materials on Latino children's home experiences and early reading achievement. American Journal of Education, 100, 497-536.; Hancock, D.R. 2002. The effects of native language books on the pre-literacy skill development of language minority kindergartners. Journal of Research in Childhood Education 17 (1): 62–68.

 5 Castro, D.C., C. Gillanders, M. Machado-Casas, & V. Buysse (2006). Nuestros Niños early language and literacy program. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute; Vaughn, et al.