ESL Speaking Strategies, having meaningful conversations with ELLs

ESL Speaking Strategies -How to Have Meaningful Conversations with your ELLs

As an ESL teacher, I have had many rewarding experiences watching my ELLs learn and grow in their English Language Proficiency. Sometimes, they come to me knowing very little English, if any. By the end of the year, we are having wonderful academic and social conversations. However, this has come with much reflection on which ESL speaking strategies work best and most efficiently.

ELLs also go through silent periods. They have times where they are confused, feeling isolated, or frustrated. In these moments, it can seem that having meaningful, academic conversations are far from possible but that is not necessarily true. Therefore, I’ve reflected upon the ESL speaking strategies I feel work best for my students.

Don’t Be Afraid to Correct Them

This is often a debated topic, and I do agree there is a fine line between correcting too often and not correcting enough. In my experience, ELLs do not get offended when you correct their English. They are learning the language and are happy to know the correct way to say something so that they aren’t making the same mistakes around their peers. The best way I have found to do this is to simply restate what they said but using proper English without sounding condescending.

Visuals are Great ESL Speaking Strategies

Using any type of picture prompt to get students to share either an emotion, an idea, or a memory is a great jumping off point. I developed these conversation cards for my ELLs specifically so they have something to speak about. I like using the nonfiction set the most because students love discussing animals, planets, and sharing their knowledge. I’m always in awe of how much they know at such a young age! Sometimes I feel like my students are teaching me more than I am teaching them!

ESL Speaking Strategies Conversation Cards

Conversation cards are a great ESL Speaking Strategy.

You can find these conversation cards here.

Don’t Be Afraid to Translate-Especially in the Beginning

I love using translation apps on my phone as a speaking strategy for ELLs and for myself! When a newcomer comes into your classroom, they are most times afraid and usually missing home. Speaking to them in their first language will comfort them. It will ease their minds. It will relax them enough to ask questions that they need answered right away. Such as, “Where is the bathroom?” Or, “What time in lunch?” I am comfortable enough in Spanish. However when a student comes that speaks another language, I often will have another student translate for me. Or I will use my phone translation app, or allow the student to use translation on their computers! Slowly, after they become more comfortable, we can start to say things like, “Do you remember how to say that in English?”

Ask Them Questions

This is tricky in the beginning. We don’t want to overwhelm students with too many questions at once. However, we want to make sure their needs are being met both emotionally and academically. This is where those wonderful translation apps come in handy! Something else I will do is translate a question for them in the morning on their computer such as, “Tell me what you are looking forward to today.” Or, “Tell me something you are nervous about.”

Allow Them to Talk About Their Countries

Students are coming from their homes. To us, they are foreign countries. But we have to remember these are their homes that often times have memories and special meaning to them. Whether they are coming from a difficult situation or not, they have still most likely left the only place they’ve ever known. Ask them questions about their countries. Take interest in their lives before America. Ask them what kinds of food they ate or what they did for fun. They will appreciate that you are taking time to ask. Having our annual International Night was a great way to do this and involve families at the same time.

International Night, ESL Speaking Strategies

International Night engages both students and families.


Trust Yourself

Having an ELL student that does not speak any English can often times be overwhelming. We can feel like we are not doing or saying the right thing, ever. Remember to trust your instincts. It takes time and patience for students to adjust and each one is different. Trust your teaching ability, and you will both do great!

Looking for more ESL tips/ideas, check out these posts!

5 Tips for Welcoming an ESL Newcomer

Using Task Cards with English Language Learners

Need a resource to get your ESL Newcomers Speaking, listening, reading, and writing? Check it out here.



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