How to Use Technology to Support ESL Learners

Posted by on November 19th, 2015

Teaching students who don’t speak English adds another layer of challenge for both the student and the teacher. The many subtleties in the English language can be difficult to convey. Thankfully, modern technology offers many programs designed to reduce barriers between instructors and English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Tools wrought by technology have recently become the go-to option for successful instruction and classroom management.


Technology presents methodology in novel, colorful, and self-rewarding ways. Whether it involves gaming, interactivity, or lesson building, technology engages and facilitates. In doing so, it supports and supplements the instructor’s work. After all, even the most adult of your ESL students has grown up in a technology-centered world.

  • Promote group work in class or at home.
  • Provide individual attention and feedback.
  • Increase student’s time in content and method.
  • Entertain with color, movement, and design.
  • Enable student self-pacing and earned recognition.

Seven Ways to Use Technology

1. Video: YouTube and other resources offer short videos on teaching and learning English. Avoid amateur videos by carefully screening them before offering videos to students, opting for professional productions when available. Consider selecting videos that focus on the language lesson of the day, say Parts of Speech or Linking Verbs.

2. Virtual Textbooks: Most contemporary textbooks link to supporting online programs where students can read, listen, and speak at their own pace. They can test and retest themselves to raise the bar on comprehension while earning and accumulating points. Some vocabulary programs use games similar to classics like Battleship and Hangman.

3. Blogging: A number of sources let instructors create an engaging website to publish students’ blogs to allow them to practice and demonstrate writing skills. This encourages self-expression while giving them a real-world publication venue. Student-authored blogs can then become a center for analysis and conversation in follow-up classes.

4. Visualization: Visual presentations link pictures with words or actions. These can be helpful when teaching synonyms and antonyms to help clarify subtle differences in vocabulary. Assigning presentations to small groups engages more students and may offer a chance for students to demonstrate their learning.

5. Apps: There is a wide selection of computer apps that support teaching ESL. An app might let a student create his/her own game or video. It might enable whiteboards or note taking. Or, it might create challenges for instructor and class. Students can use built-in computer programs to write, translate, and proofread.

6. Social Media: Most social media platforms are places to meet, post, and comment. These hubs are a way of life for your students. You can partner with them to create a location where students can facilitate open discussion, offer encouragement, and help with difficulties in language acquisition.

7. Reading. Technology makes reading a different event. Content copy has more dimension than it once did. Look for text with call-outs, active visuals, and self-correcting devices. Popular digital reading devices, for example, let students highlight, take notes, and easily acquire definitions.

One Final Caution

Using technology well requires a bit of finesse. Ask yourself key questions:

  • Does it truly engage students productively?
  • Does it relate directly to ESL goals?
  • Does it effectively increase proficiency?
  • Does it have clear metrics for writing, reading, writing, and comprehending English?

Stay on top of the success of tech tools and prepare to update or delete them as necessary. Although technology offers great options for enhancing curriculum and class management for ESL instructors, it must always be used wisely.


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