This lesson will highlight ways in which curriculum can be developed for English as a Second Language. A short quiz will follow to test your knowledge of concepts and ideas.


The primary goal of English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction is to provide support for those students who have limited or no exposure to the English language. ESL curriculums should be designed to provide student the foundation needed to access the content area curriculum while they work towards mastering the English language.

Because the needs of ESL students are varied, it is necessary for teachers to differentiate or find different ways to make instruction meaningful for all learners in the classroom. Developing ESL instruction requires educators to be aware of the problems that ESL students have in the classroom and be aware of research-based practices that been proven to be effective.

Standards and Objectives

Standards provide the foundation for what students at each grade level should be able to do. In most cases, there are sets of standards for each content area (math, language arts, science and social studies). Some of the skills that are addressed through the standards include reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Standards are very important to the development of ESL curriculum. Whenever content area lessons are created, teachers must use state standards as their guide to ensure that students are learning what they should based on grade level expectations.

Many states are following the Common Core State Standards, which aligns curriculum and instruction for all content areas for all grade levels so that they are the same for every state and district across the United States. Other states have their own set of standards for curriculum and instruction. Before creating curriculum for ESL, it is important to know which set of standards are being used in your district.

In addition to standards, there will be a need to create objectives for the curriculum. Objectives address the learning outcomes that students are expected to achieve once a lesson is over. In the case of ESL students, there may be a need to have additional objectives that address both their ability to successfully apply content related knowledge and become proficient or masters of the English language.

Developing ESL curriculum requires:

  • Clear application of the state standards for each content area.
  • Explicitly defined learning objectives.
  • Inclusion of materials and resources that will support each ESL learner based on his level of English language mastery.
  • Differentiated instruction so that all students benefit from the lesson.
  • Meaningful instruction that is not ‘watered down’ or over simplified.
Incorporating a variety of classroom activities where students can work independently or in groups, and receive help from the teacher when necessary, can help differentiate instruction

Curriculum and Instruction

When teaching ESL students, instruction should be explicit or thorough and supportive of each student’s needs. A variety of instructional strategies should be used so that the lesson is understandable and appropriate for each ESL student’s English language mastery level.

  1. Mini Lessons: Teachers can use mini lessons as a time to go over previously taught concepts that students continue to struggle with or build background knowledge for a new skill concept or idea that students are learning. However used in the classroom, the mini lesson should be carefully planned and be meaningful to the goals and objectives of the lesson.
  2. Guided Practice: Before students are given time to independently practice a new concept, it is important for the teacher to take them through the necessary steps of completing the assignment successfully. Guided practice is very helpful for ESL students as they are able to follow along while the teacher as she demonstrates how complete a particular activity.
  3. Modeling: Like guided practice, modeling is used to demonstrate the correct way in which students are expected to complete an assignment. For example, the math teacher may work through several word problems by showing students how to highlight key words in the problem. Once the key words are highlighted, the teacher will begin the process of solving using the correct operation (adding, subtracting, etc.) in order to get the right answer.
  4. Scaffolding: The scaffolding technique allows teachers to break down instruction so that students are not overwhelmed by too much information at one time.
  5. Independent Practice: Once the teacher is comfortable that students have enough information to complete the assignment without assistance, ESL students should be given an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
  6. Partner Activities: It may be a good idea in the beginning to partner ESL students with more proficient students so that they have an increased chance of successfully completing the activity. However, partnering should be used when necessary and tapered as the school year progresses so that the teacher is able to assess student’s individual abilities.
  7. Assessment: ESL students will likely need to be assessed for understanding more frequently because of their limited English language mastery. Students can be assessed formally through tests and quizzes or informally by engaging in group discussions or the use of student work samples.

Lesson Summary

The development of ESL curriculum requires educators to understand the challenges that ESL students face in the classroom in order to find the best research-based instructional strategies to support their learning. When creating ESL curriculum:

  • Lesson standards and objectives must be clear.
  • Resources and materials should be supportive of student learning.
  • Curriculum and instruction must be rigorous, not watered down or over-simplified.