When you’re teaching English language learners (ELLs), it’s sometimes necessary to adapt lessons to meet their needs. This lesson provides tips and techniques you can use to adapt lessons for ELLs.

When to Adapt

If you’ve been teaching for a while, chances are you’ve built up a personal library of lesson plans and activities for your students. You’ll also know that a single lesson can almost never be reused without undergoing some changes.

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If you’re using a lesson plan that was not specifically intended for use with ELLs or needs to be adapted, don’t worry. There’s no need to start over. However, before you adapt a lesson for ELLs, be sure to identify that the lesson needs to be. Reasons you may want to do so include:

  • Difficulty level too high; for example, this may include choice of vocabulary, difficulty of reading or research material, pace of lesson, and required assessments
  • Lesson originally designed for native English speakers and doesn’t address the specific needs of ELLs

Once you’ve identified why you need to adapt, the next step is figuring out how to adapt. This is not as difficult as it sounds.

How to Adapt

The first step when adapting a lesson is to identify its strengths and weaknesses. You’ll also want to review the key points versus the details of the lesson. ELLs initially benefit from focusing on the bigger picture rather than the details. Regardless of the subject you teach, you should try to highlight key points and concepts slowly and clearly.

When you adapt a lesson, think about incorporating the following suggestions.

There’s nothing wrong with ‘dumbing it down’ a bit if it helps ELLs understand the concepts you are teaching. However, don’t omit any key vocabulary terms. Just be sure to explain them clearly.

Consider doubling the ELL version of any lesson. If the pace is too slow, you’ll feel the students dragging. Also, leave ample time for questions. Give students the option of submitting anonymous written questions. Some students may be hesitant to ask questions in class for fear of losing face.

ELLs need as much practice as possible, so ensure that supplementary exercises are available. Also, repeat and review key lesson concepts as needed. Always review the key points of the previous lesson at the beginning of a new one.

All assessments and homework should be about helping students retain what they’ve learned. Again, focus on key concepts rather than details.

Deliver the Adapted Lesson

Once you’ve adapted a lesson, how are you going to deliver it? One key to effective delivery is to change your speaking speed. It’s helpful to think in terms of speaking at half of your normal speed. Many ELL students are mentally translating your words as you speak, so allowing them extra time to comprehend is important.

As you talk, scan the faces of your students for signs of agreement and comprehension. It can also be helpful to explain the same item two or three different ways. While one ELL may understand one definition, another explanation of the some topic may benefit another ELL.

Lesson Summary

A lesson that was not created for ELLs is one that needs to be adapted. However, before you adapt a lesson for ELLs, be sure to identify that the lesson needs to be. After you determine that adaptation is needed, follow these steps to adapting a lesson plan.

  1. Identify the lesson’s strengths and weaknesses
  2. Ensure that the lesson focuses on key concepts
  3. Use simpler vocabulary and grammar
  4. Slow down the pace of the lesson
  5. Provide for extra practice and review
  6. Focus on comprehension and retention

Finally, when delivering the adapted lesson, be sure slow down your pace and explain key concepts in two or three different ways. By using the suggestions in this lesson, you can use lessons designed for native speakers with ELLs and your students’ appreciation for English will continue to grow.