5 Powerful Engagement Strategies to Support English Language Learners

Engagement strategies to support English Language Learners: 5 effective ways to engage your language learners

Are you looking for engagement strategies to support English Language Learners in your classroom? Whether you are a dual language teacher, or an English-only teacher working with language learners, it can be difficult to create a dynamic learning environment that meets the needs of all students. However, with a few simple engagement strategies, you can make the language learning experience more interactive and enjoyable for your students.

Engagement Strategies to Support English Language Learners:

Pronounce with me

When introducing new or challenging words, have your students practice pronouncing them with you

For example, fraction words are difficult in English because most of them have that subtle -th ending. So I might say something like, “We read this fraction as three-fourths. Hear that -th at the end? Let’s practice. Say ‘three-fourths’”. 

To make this more fun and engaging, you can say things like, “Say it in a squeaky mouse voice! Now say it in a deep, giant voice.” I promise, even the big kids will love this!

In our English Learner department in my district, we talk about “time on the tongue”. It’s the idea that people need to feel the words in their mouths. The “pronounce with me” strategy gives our language learners this opportunity to know what it feels like to say a word and to practice before they are asked to perform.

Echo reading

In the upper grades, I try to solo read as little as possible (unless modeling a read-aloud), and instead work hard to shift that burden to my students.

One way I do this is through echo reading. The way this works is that I read a phrase or sentence, and then my students echo it. This way your language learners both hear a strong model (you!) and get a chance to practice reading.

Choral reading

Choral reading is another excellent strategy for shifting the work of reading to the students! In choral reading, students read all together. This works best for a short reading, like a list, a sentence, or a question. 

If you have a larger piece of text, you can highlight certain words that everyone will say chorally, and you can read the rest.

For very large texts, I like to use a version of choral reading that I call drop reading because I drop a word and ask students to fill in the blank. I usually have the text displayed and students typically have their own copy as well. As I read the sentence, I’ll pause at a word. So to give a simple and familiar example, I might read out loud, “If you give a mouse a…” and I pause. Students then say chorally, “cookie.” It’s a way to keep my students engaged in reading without making them read too much. It also keeps the classroom environment calmer than if everybody was trying to chorally read several pages of text. 

Choral reading is great for all students because it makes them active learners but it’s especially great for our language learners. They get to practice reading and speaking the language, but without the pressure of being in the spotlight. Since everyone is reading nobody will notice if they didn’t say things quite right or if their pronunciation is a little off. It makes choral reading feel like a safe way to practice.

For more on reading comprehension, be sure to read Dual Language Reading Comprehension Made Easy.

Sentence frames

Sentence frames are an instructional staple for a reason. They work! 

I strive to have a sentence frame or two ready for every question. But sometimes you’re teaching and you’re inspired to ask a question that you hadn’t prepared for!  

In a pinch, use an oral sentence frame (a term I made up). If, on the spot, you ask, “Why do you think the author included a quote?” You can tell students, “To answer, you can say, ‘The author included a quote because…’ Let’s practice that together”. Having a written sentence frame is probably the best practice, but I found oral sentence frames to also be really effective! It gives my language learners the start they need even if I didn’t get a chance to prepare a frame in writing.


For more about using sentence stems in your class, be sure to read 11 Powerful Math Sentence Stems in Spanish and English.

Think pair share

Think pair shares are an absolute must in a bilingual classroom! In a think pair share, you pose a question (with a sentence frame!) and give students about a minute to think of their answer. This way, your language learners have a chance to process and form an idea. 

Then they share with a partner. This gives everyone a chance to practice their answer and hear somebody else’s answer. This helps many students, but is incredibly crucial for language learners.

Finally, it’s time to share with the class! I like to call two non-volunteers (using numbered popsicle sticks) and one volunteer. I find this helps with accountability because they know they need to be on task during partner talk because “the teacher might call on me!” I’ve given them enough tools with the frame, the think time, and the partner talk that I expect them to be ready to share. We need to maintain those high standards for all students and NOT lower our expectations for our language learners

Putting it all together: Engagement strategies to support English Language Learners

Engaging language learners does not have to be difficult or time consuming. By utilizing these no-prep engagement strategies for English Language Learners, you can create dynamic, meaningful learning experiences in the classroom. Whether or not you’re teaching in a bilingual education setting, these strategies will help all students become active learners, improving their language abilities and overall academic success.

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