4 Ways Teacher Aides Can Support ELLs in the Classroom


While English language instruction must be provided by a certified ESL instructor,  some schools do at times make the decision to include classroom aides in ESL, Bilingual or General Education classrooms.  While typically grateful for the assistance, teachers often struggle with ways to best utilize classroom aides to enhance teaching and learning.  Below are four steps that can easily be incorporated into a teacher’s lesson plans and/or daily teaching routine to strengthen learning for ELLs by introducing a classroom aide into the setting.

1. Additional Images: A teacher who follows best practices knows that visual aids are a great tool to help make English more comprehensible for English Language Learners but in a classroom with mixed tiers or a classroom with both ELLs and non-ELLs, it can be time consuming to incorporate the amount of additional images that may be necessary for students at the lowest proficiency levels to strengthen their learning. A classroom aide can assist with this by proving those students with additional images at their desks, draw for the students or allow the students to include their own artistic representations before, during and after the lesson.

2. Build Background Knowledge: Teachers of ELLs know that with English learners building background knowledge is often more necessary than activating prior knowledge since many ELLs may have grown up in a country that is vastly different from the US. Allow the classroom aide to build background knowledge prior to formal lesson delivery. Short videos through sites such as YouTube or simpler, print-rich text can help your ELLs become better prepared to understand the lesson when it is delivered by the teacher.

3. Build in Increased Wait Time: One of the  first strategies teachers of ELLs learn is to allow increased wait time for ELLs. English Language Learners benefit from increased wait time because it allows her or him to process the question or prompt given in English, complete any mental translations s/he may need to perform, activate knowledge and vocabulary in her or his L1 and then formulate a response in English. Certainly this will cause a teacher got struggle to stay within the confines of the class period and/or struggle with ensuring that all parts of the lesson are delivered. Prior to the lesson, create questions that are to be asked of your ELLs. Give these questions to the classroom aide and have her or him imbed them into the support that is given. Have the student begin to formulate a response with the aide so that when you ask the question of that student s/he will have already begun thinking about it and processing a response. Essentially, you are providing additional time to formulate a response without taking time away from the regular instruction.

4. Repeat/Rephrase Important Terms and Facts: ELLs are faced with the double challenge of working toward developing their language proficiency while simultaneously trying to learn grade level content. When English proficiency is low, students will struggle with discerning the more important words and concepts from the rest of what is said. This can occur even in a class where the teacher is modifying for language tiers and/or employing sheltered English strategies. By providing a classroom aide with a list or chart of key terms and facts to use when repeating or rephrasing will help make the materials more concrete and minimize confusion for ELLs.

One last thought:

While a classroom aide is an excellent resource, it cannot be overstated that she or he is, in no way, a replacement for an ESL teacher. All decisions regarding support given by an aide must be initiated by an ESL-certified teacher and cannot serve as a replacement for a certified teacher. However, with the right guidance, planning and collaboration,  a classroom aide can become one of the richest resources available within the school.