Many educators who teach English as a Second Language (ESL) are worried about how they will be able to support their students remotely. Despite the challenges of online learning, it has been proven that it is possible for educators to provide a positive learning experience for ESL students.

What Is ESL?


Among public school students in the United States, about one out of every 10 is learning English as their second language. These students are referred to as “ESL” or “ELLs”—also known as English Language Learners. While the majority of ESL students were born in the United States and are U.S. citizens, there are almost 5 million ESL learners as of 2017. Most of these ESL students, around 3.8 million, speak Spanish as their first language. Other ESL students speak a variety of other languages, such as Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Vietnamese, and Arabic.

ESL students are categorized as a vulnerable population. Nationally, 82 percent of students graduate from high school, and, comparatively, only 63 percent of ESL students graduate from high school. Only 1.4 percent of the ESL students who graduate take college entrance exams.

ESL Students and Remote Learning

ESL students are facing more challenges due to remote learning. Some who are from low-income families cannot access online classes because of their unstable internet connection. Others are struggling to operate English-based web applications that are required for school.

How to Manage ESL Students During Remote Learning

Make Use of Digital Tools

Teachers can find ways to customize digital tools—like online learning platforms and collaboration suites—to better suit their ESL students. In fact, ESL students may have better access to translation and other digital tools when learning remotely than they did in a physical classroom.

For example, many collaborative online word processors support translation features that ESL students can take advantage of to improve their writing and communication skills. Going to class online means that translation software (many of which are available for free) is always only a few clicks away. Even if the learning platform that ESL students use doesn’t support translation features, they can still copy/paste the text into a free online translator. 

Digital tools can also help teachers better interact with the parents and families of ESL students, who often speak a primary language that is not English. It is important that teachers touch base with parents and let them know what is required of them to keep their child on track. Many chat applications have translation features that can make communicating with the families of ESL students easier. 

Digital tools can also be used in a more simple fashion. Teachers may wish to host an online vocabulary word wall on a digital noticeboard that is accessible by ESL students.

Incorporate Video

Video is an excellent medium to help ESL students learn the English language. Many ESL teachers are finding success with Flipgrid. The application allows teachers to facilitate video discussions. Another way to engage others through remote learning is by using platforms with translation or captioning features, such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Zoom for Education. Some teachers are even encouraging their ESL students to film their own video diaries. Students can use a smartphone or tablet to create their own video blog and share their unique experiences. Their topics can range from their favorite television show to thoughts about learning from home. The goal is to encourage ESL students to practice speaking in English. Ultimately, video gives students the opportunity to practice listening and speaking skills, while also feeling empowered to share their ideas.

Enable Self-Directed Learning

Students are often more invested in their education when they have some control over their learning—and ESL students are no exception. Teachers should remember that many students have to balance their school and home responsibilities. Giving students more autonomy over when and how they learn can boost their interest and performance. 

Some students may be sharing the devices they use for remote learning with other family members, causing them to be late or absent from live online classes. To overcome this issue, some teachers upload all of their lectures to YouTube so students can turn on captions or translations and learn the lesson at a more convenient time.

Teachers should ensure they provide activities that ESL students can complete at their own pace. For example, students can teach their parents a new word or tell the class a story over Zoom. Now is the optimum time to get creative and offer fresh ideas to engage students in online learning.

Create Reading Challenges

A reading challenge is a fun opportunity for teachers to inspire students to read in English. Present incentives or prizes for students who excel to make the challenge even more worthwhile. 

Don’t Overwhelm Your Students

ESL students are juggling how to learn English-based online learning platforms and transition into remote learning. If possible, teachers should try to avoid assigning extensive projects when a simple lesson could accomplish the same goal. Attempt to ease any anxiety or stress from online learning so the students can focus on absorbing a new language.

Remote for the Win

Because of current distance learning circumstances, educators must have dedicated online office hours to provide additional support for ESL students outside of online classes. Utilize the various digital tools available to engage your students during the remote learning experience. Brainstorm unique activities, such as video diaries, so they can practice their English. Go slow to monitor the progress of your ESL students. If you’re using GoGuardian Teacher™, take advantage of the connection features, such as chat or video conferencing, to offer additional one-on-one support for students.