Strategies to Facilitate English Language Development

The four domains in English Language Development (ELD) of listening, speaking, reading and writing are crucial in acquisition of conversational and literacy skills. Whereas listening and reading are receptive skills involved in encoding, speaking and writing are productive skills involved in decoding; with the productive skills being more difficult to acquire. However, the four domains are intertwined especially during classroom teaching and learning, where topic and content approach recommends exploration of all the four domains before proceeding to the next topic or content. Hence, if one is for example teaching about road use, it is advisable to teach or acquire all the four domains before proceeding on to the next topic.

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Nonetheless, instructional strategies utilized in facilitating ELD usually render themselves best to a particular domain albeit that they can often be used across all domains. Moreover the strategies could be effective for early English learners, for long-term English learners or for both early and long-term learners. This paper explores five strategies employed in ELD, the domain each strategy is most effectively utilized in and at what stage the strategy should be most appropriately used.

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One of the main strategies in ELD is purposeful grouping. This involves a good understanding of the learners. The grouping will afford the learners useful, extended interactions with peers of different English fluencies, competencies and proficiencies. This provides the members of the group a variety of ways to appropriately use words and or structures. The group members are also able to provide personalized feedback. Depending on the domain or purpose of the task, the grouping can be homogenous or heterogeneous. It can be in pairs or bigger groups. Nonetheless, it is important it be a functioning group with achievers and preferably people who are able to get along well.

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Whereas purposeful grouping is effective in imparting all the four domains of ELD, it is most effective in oral communication, namely listening, speaking and even reading out aloud. It is especially useful in speaking where the learner is able to articulate themselves and receive instant feedback. Grouping is employed both for early learners and long-term learners in appreciation of the fact that humans are generally social and enjoy communicating with others.

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Another ELD strategy is scaffolding that is contingent, collaborative and interactive behavior aimed at assisting the learners enhance their understanding. Thus it provides comprehensible input to move the learner to a zone of proximal development through assistance by an expert, collaboration with others, assisting lower-level learners and or working alone. Scaffolding involves modeling (examples), bridging (known to unknown), contextualizing (identifiable analogies e.g. pictures and real objects), schema building (interconnected meanings e.g. in headings and captions), text representation (genre transformation e.g. prose to drama) and developing metacognition (conscious application, self-monitoring and evaluation). Strategic scaffolding in ELD includes visual aids, homework and organizers.

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Applicable to all the four domains, this complex strategy is most suitable for the relatively difficult productive and encoding skills especially writing. The learner is able to get assistance in their understanding and consequent encoding of words and structures. Scaffolding is more appropriate for early language learners, with the support being gradually withdrawn as skills develop.

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Provision of background knowledge prior to a topic is another effective strategy in the four domains of ELD. This activates the learners’ existing knowledge accentuating their interest and allowing them to focus on instructional goals. The learners are also able to seamlessly move from the known to the unknown, filling in contextual information and enhancing understanding. Suitable for listening, this strategy is suitable for both early and long-term learners, with the difference being the scope and breadth of background information provided. 

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Another strategy is discussions. These are especially important in enhancing comprehension of text through critical analysis to understand meaning or even to challenge the author’s conclusions. The learner is able to reason or apply personal knowledge, skills and experience. Effective discussions promote sustained exchanges in the classroom where individual views are presented and defended. Content, background knowledge and reasoning are brought to bear on the interpretations and conclusions. The discussion strategy is especially effective in reading where it is used in text comprehension. It is more suitable for long-term learners whose cognition, knowledge and experiences are more developed than early learners.

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Another important strategy in ELD is appreciation of different cultures and languages. This involves encouraging them to use their languages and encouraging interpretation. The teacher can also reach out to the learner’s homes and communities to enhance rapport and empathy or even learn different languages. Correlations and similarities can be highlighted. Suitable for all English learners, this strategy is best employed in the speaking domain. There are many strategies that are useful in ELD. This paper has highlighted five important ones that cut across the four domains of speaking, listening, reading and writing.

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