7 ESL Modifications to Set Your Students Up for Success

We ESL teachers are the experts in English language acquisition.

Our superhuman powers even allow us to impart knowledge to students through an osmosis-like processes.

Okay, not really. Excuse my wishful thinking.

Instead, we stay up late researching strategies to motivate our students.

We constantly seek new ways to liven up our ESL lessons, and we explore tools to meet the needs of various learning styles.

While all these things are great — and necessary — we need to make sure that we’re supporting our students 100%.

This only occurs by implementing the necessary and appropriate modifications and accommodations in the classroom.

But many of us don’t have firsthand experience learning a second language and, for those of us who do, most have had the benefit of receiving most or all of our education in our native language. Our students don’t necessarily have that luxury.

In fact, the majority of them are learning to navigate a new language and culture while simultaneously learning their native language. With content area teachers, students are learning various concepts and ideas for the first time in a language that they have yet to master.

That’s not an easy feat, to say the least.

So, how do we figure out which modifications and accommodations our students need to succeed?

The Importance of Implementing Modifications for ELLs

Many English Language Learners are identified as having Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and, in turn, struggle to access the material or concepts being taught in class. In this common situation, it’s imperative for teachers to choose appropriate modifications and accommodations in order to make the content more accessible to them.

Although these modifications are insufficient to place our students on a level playing field with their English speaking counterparts, they do make a huge difference in our students’ academic success.

The terms modifications and accommodations are often used interchangeably, but it’s imperative that teachers understand the differences between the two.

Modifications are essentially changes made to the core content so that the learning objectives are different and more accessible for the student.

Accommodations, on the other hand, don’t change the actual content being delivered. They’re add-ons, tools that ensure that students can demonstrate what they know without lessening their expectations. Since modifications do usually lessen the expectations for the students, they’re usually only used in extreme circumstances.

Both modifications and accommodations should be used carefully and with thoughtful consideration.

Let’s discuss some ideas on how we can use accommodations and modifications to make learning easier for students with LEP.

7 ESL Modifications for Lesson Plans That’ll Make Learning Easier

1. Alternate Responses

When assessing your ESL students, be sure that you’re clear on exactly what it is that you want them to demonstrate. Then, think of creative ways that they can demonstrate that knowledge. For instance, a teacher assessing students’ understanding of causes of the Revolutionary War may traditionally have required that students write responses to a number of questions or prompts. For ELLs, this may be restrictive and prevent them from communicating what they actually know.

If you’re not actually assessing their writing ability, then you can find alternate ways for the students to respond.

They can be allowed to draw a series of pictures with short captions or even speak their responses into a recorder in lieu of providing a written response. This way, you’re giving them the chance to communicate their knowledge in a way that circumvents the language and/or writing barrier.

2. Advance Notes

Just thinking about the advanced French class that I took in college makes my head spin to this very day.

The instructor spoke in French the entire time. Although I had a decent grasp on speaking and understanding French, it was still difficult for me to keep up with everything that was covered.

Our students face a similar problem in many of our classes.

One way that we can make things easier is by preparing and distributing advance notes. This gives ELLs the opportunity to preview what will be taught and, in turn, aids in comprehension of the material.

If your students are required to take notes, your ELLs can use your advance notes and make small additions as necessary. This decreases the amount of writing required, allows the student to slow down and helps them make sense of what is being said. It’s also a huge confidence booster that’s been proven to increase student performance.

3. Extended Time

It’s obvious that response time for ELLs is significantly greater than it is for students proficient in English. Given this, we know that ELLs may require more time to process and communicate information on assessments. To support your students in this area, give them additional time on tests to help. Extra time will also help to decrease anxiety, which often has a significant impact on test performance.

4. Teacher Modeling

As ESL teachers, we’re always thinking about reducing Teacher Talking Time (TTT). One great way to do this is to focus on ways to communicate non-verbally.

Modeling and using gestures to aid in understanding can be a very effective accommodation for ELLs. Make sure that you’re thoughtful about what you’ll model and how you’ll do it ahead of time. Also make sure that you’re not only modeling during instruction, but that you also model directions as well.

So, let’s say you’re going to tell your students that they need to get folders from their backpacks. Place your own backpack on your desk, find a place to sit and support your ELLs by modeling each step as you say it. You can point to a desk when you ask them to place their folders on their desks. You can also pick up a folder and point to your backpack when you ask them to do the first step.

The key is to keep your actions clear and simple. Too much moving around can distract students from listening to what you’re saying.

5. Simplified written and verbal instructions

Whether you’re giving instructions for a test or assignment verbally or textually, you should simplify them as much as possible for students with LEP. Many times, this can be easily done by taking out extra words or turning complex sentences into simple ones. Consider these directions:

Carefully read each sentence below and determine its subject and predicate. Then, underline the subject once and the predicate twice.

These directions can be easily changed to this simpler version:

Read each sentence. Put one line under the subject. Put two lines under the predicate.

These simple changes require minimal effort and time, but actually do make a huge difference for our students!

6. Frequent breaks

Learning is fun, but it can also be hard work!

This is especially true for students learning a new language. All that hard work may mean that your ELLs need more frequent breaks than others. Give your students frequent breaks during class time or tests so that they can perform at their best. Simply stepping out in the hall, walking around the room or taking a trip to the water fountain can make a huge difference, leave them feeling refreshed and get them in the zone to be ready for more.

7. eDictionaries

When used correctly, technology never fails to transform a classroom. Allow your students to use eDictionaries in your classroom to look up unknown words. Any regular dictionary will do, but eDictionaries allow students to hear the pronunciations of words. As you might imagine, this is extremely helpful for anyone learning a second language. If students encounter an unknown word, they can type it into an eDictionary, hear the word pronounced and either read or listen to the definition. Also, if they aren’t sure how to to spell a word, many eDictionaries will allow them to speak the word to have the correct spelling displayed.

Using Content Modifications When Necessary

There are definitely situations where accommodations are simply not enough. In these moments, you’ll need to actually change or modify content and learning objectives.

In these instances, you’ll actually change the overall expectations of the individual student and/or make the content less complex. The goal is that this will help the student to learn as much as possible while still working towards their overall learning goals. 

So, if one learning objective for your students is to be able to identify the causes of the Revolutionary War, a modification could entail that one particular student only has to identify all parties involved in the war, dates, and other specific bits of information.

Evaluating Effectiveness of Instructional Accommodations

There are many, many options for accommodating your students.

All of these accommodations aren’t equal.

What works for one student may not work for another, and what worked at one point in time may no longer be effective for your current classroom.

When implementing accommodations and modifications, be sure to continuously evaluate their effectiveness.

During this evaluation, it’s important to solicit and consider student feedback. If something is working well, then great. If not, then you’ll need to find other accommodations that are more effective. Talking to other teachers can be especially useful in this process. Many of your colleagues will have ideas and examples of accommodations that they’ve used successfully.

Keep in mind that the goal of the accommodation is to make the process of teaching and learning easier for the student. Put forth time and effort into carefully selecting accommodations and watch how these small changes make a world of difference!

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe