Unit two - ESL students in the mainstream: Key issues

Unit goal

At the end of the unit the participants will be able :

What teachers need to know about their ESL students

Correction of English in the mainstream classroom

Specifically, should the mainstream teacher correct the ESL student's grammar (written and spoken), pronunciation, and spelling?

This is a complex issue so you might wish to read a more differentiated response on the correction of grammar, pronunciation and spelling.

The use of the mother tongue

Important: Knowledge, concepts and skills acquired in the first language are available for use in the second language. Two-language iceberg graphic.

Assessment and grading of ESL students


Assignments & Tests: Feedback, (bracketed grade)

First term:        Pass / Fail
  Second term:    Pass / Fail or 7-1, at teacher discretion
  Third term:       7-1, as for other students

Other ESL classes

Same assessment and reporting criteria as applied for all students.     [Cautionary Tale]

Sympathetic assessment

More on the Pass/Fail system and sympathetic assessment of ESL beginners.

Eliciting oral response

Mainstream teachers face a dilemma. They know that they can cause their ESL students anxiety by asking them for oral response in class. On the other hand, if they never do so they fear that ESL students may come to feel that the teacher has no interest or confidence in them. The solution is to match the oral task to the developing linguistic proficiency of the student:

Teachers should consider increasing 'wait time' when eliciting oral response: to give the students time to think what they want to say and how to formulate it in English.

- Bloom's taxonomy 1
- Bloom's taxonomy 2
- The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Krashen, S. & Terrel, T. 1983. Pergammon. Oxford


The participant discussions of the key workshop issues clearly showed that mainstream teachers confront a very wide range of issues pertaining to the presence of ESL students in their classes. For this reason the advice and suggestions made by the presenter in the workshop session and summarized in these slides (e.g. on the correction of English or the tolerance of the mother tongue) should not be regarded as uniformly applicable. There is no set of definitive answers that will cover every classroom situation in every subject. It is hoped, however, that workshop participants will now be in a position to make informed decisions on these issues.

Furthermore, the issues raised during this unit cover only the most important of those pertaining to ESL students in the mainstream classroom. Consult the Teachers' FAQ page on the ESL website for discussions of other classroom questions, such as Should I encourage dictionary use in my class? and Should I call on ESL students in my lessons?

It is important to stress that most of the recommendations for facilitating the learning of ESL students also applies to the other students too. See the summary information on the topic of the Brain and Learning written by FIS participants in the 2006 conference in Boston on this issue.