3 Tips for Keeping ELL’s Engaged This Summer

By Malana Walus, MA
Alumna, College of Education

Students looking at a book

One of the most difficult things to do as an English Language Acquisition (ELA) instructor is to go on summer break, because one never knows which English language learners (ELL) will keep up with their studies.

Fortunately, Grand Canyon University offers programs that help future educators become more familiar with techniques to help Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

For me, teaching English language arts at a local community college has become my labor of love. The art of guiding learners to become more proficient in English literacy skills (i.e. reading, writing and speaking) can be both rewarding and challenging.

The same rewards and challenges are true for the ELL. There is nothing more rewarding as an educator than watching each student rise to the challenge of learning to meet and exceed their educational expectations.

Every year when the spring semester is over and summer break begins, I find myself taking the time to speak to my ELL’s about what to do while not enrolled in the class and constantly practicing their English literacy skills throughout the week.

Through my experience as an instructor, I have learned the only way information can be retained throughout the summer is through practicing reading, writing and speaking in English. Every ELL is responsible for being self-directed during this time, but I still feel a responsibility as an educator to guide them by promoting literacy and reading in fun and creative ways.

Scholars have argued that there is a difference between academic and non-academic instruction for K-12 learners (Markova, 2016), but what about the adult learner?

As a student, I know that it can be difficult to leverage life responsibilities and learning. As an instructor, I can help my ELL’s be more self-directed during their time outside of the classroom by providing them with a few tools and resources to practice their English literacy skills.

While I cannot be there every step of the way for my ELL’s during summer break, I can provide them with a good head start by encouraging them to learn in a nontraditional sense every day they are on summer break. The three elements that I find to be most useful are:

Provide Reading Lists and Vocabulary Words

While this can take some time to prepare, providing ELL’s with a packet of information to practice at the end of the school year is extremely helpful. Reading lists can be as long or as short as an instructor would like, and can include favorite books of fiction and nonfiction, which would assist ELL’s in practicing their English skills.

If thinking of a book list is hard, try to collaborate with a local library to see if any summer reading lists could fit your students’ reading interests and abilities.

Encourage ELL’s to Listen to Music, in English

Historically, music has been used in the foreign language classroom to teach vocabulary, rhythm, sentence patterns and pronunciation of speech sounds (Davis & Fan, 2016). Many ELL’s laugh when told to practice reading, writing and speaking in English throughout the summer. They laugh at me even more when I put a popular song on the whiteboard and begin singing in class.

Practicing English literacy skills is vital, but it does not have to be hard. Listening to music and singing along is something everyone does. Not only does this activity help with fluency, familiarity and pronunciation, but music also helps ELL’s retain new information.

I encourage my ELL’s to use their favorite music app on their phone. Pandora is a great tool, and will often provide ELL’s with lyrics to songs. Seeing words is crucial to the ELL. If a song does not have lyrics listed, it is important to instruct learners where they can go to find what they need. YouTube, for example, has plenty of karaoke versions of songs that will provide lyrics on the screen.

Put Smart Devices in the Hands of Learners

Remind ELL’s of the technology that they have at their fingertips. By using Google translate, ELL’s can translate basic words or sentences easily. Using the Google Play app on any smart device learners and searching for English language apps, will locate a plethora of free apps and games that will help ELL’s to practice their English skills.

Remember that there are always other ways to utilize technology, and the use of social media can be a blessing in disguise. For example, I have created a classroom page or blog for my ELLs to stay connected to throughout the summer months. While policies and procedures for Internet use may vary, this has helped build community amongst ELLs. As the educator, remember that you are the innovator and leader of your classroom, and the sky is the limit.


  • Davis, G. M., & Fan, W. (2016). English Vocabulary Acquisition Through Songs in Chinese Kindergarten Students. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 39(1), 59-71.
  • Markova, I. (2016). Effects of academic and non-academic instructional approaches on preschool English language learners’ classroom engagement and English language development. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 1476718X15609390.

More About Malana:

Malana Walus received her master’s degree in special education from Grand Canyon University and is an ABD doctoral learner. She teaches adult leaners as a special education instructor at a flexible day program in Bloomingdale, IL. She is also an adjunct and evening English Language Acquisition coordinator at South Suburban Community College located in South Holland, IL.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.