ELL/ESL Aids: Helping ELs develop oral skills


Maya Goodall

Can students learn to speak and read in two languages at the same time? This is a common question in the United States, but overseas, students learn two languages simultaneously as a matter of course. So discovered Maya Goodall, founder of Lingual Learning and senior director of EL curriculum for Lexia Learning, when she taught English overseas. Goodall says that any student can learn two languages simultaneously, including students with special needs.

Goodall came to a couple of realizations in her journeys. The first was that we should celebrate those who learn two languages since it is such a valuable skill. Many U.S. states concur, and 38 of them now award a Seal of Biliteracy to students who achieve this.

The second of Goodall’s realizations was that people only really learn a language when they speak it. Speaking allows the learner to formulate a sentence, speak it aloud, see if it is understood, and either experience success and reinforcement, or failure and the opportunity to try again. Therefore, students should be encouraged to speak as much as possible. Students who don’t speak English at all should be taught the basics right away. This includes “My name is _____”, “Hello,” “Goodbye”, “Thank you”, and other common phrases.

To progress successfully, the learner must feel safe, secure, and happy, and not be afraid of failure and embarrassment. To create a safe, secure environment, Goodall recommends three language scaffolds: purposeful repetition, language frames, and release.


Repeat yourself many many times to allow the learner to hear every word you are saying. Many words sound alike, such as “in” and “on”. Also do a lot of purposeful repetition when the learner is speaking. Allow the learner to repeat many times to practice.

Language Frames/Sentence Frames

Language frames, also called sentence frames, show grammar and sentence structure, so the student just fills in key words. See example below.

Example of language frames

There are many language frames on the Internet and information about them. Here are a few.

How to create them

Downloadable Examples of Language/Sentence Frames


Allow the learner moments of time to practice speaking the language. Allow them to make mistakes. If they don’t know the correct way to say something, give them that information so they can try again. Only in the practice of speaking can the learner learn the language.

For example, if when speaking about a girl’s backpack, the student says “His backpack was in my way,” it’s not enough to say “Did you mean that *her* backpack was in your way”? The learner will not notice the difference. You must make the learner say the correct sentence; tell them “Say, ‘Her backpack is in the way.’” If there is time, ask a question, “How do we talk about a girl’s backpack?”

For more information, see Goodall’s edWeb.net webinar, “How to help English learners develop oral skills and become engaged participants.”


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