English Learners (ELs)

Setting Clear Objectives and Providing Feedback on Students' Output

  • May 24th, 2011
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Setting clear language and content objectives for students who are ELs is critical for effective teaching and learning. Students who are English learners have to learn not only the content of a subject, but also the language of a subject. Stimulating English through word selection (vocabulary), modeling, expanding, and helping students develop academic English can make subject learning and language learning happen simultaneously.


  • Setting goals for instruction and language acquisition helps students focus attention on information specifically related to the goals.
  • Teachers should encourage students to personalize the learning goals for them. Once instructional goals are established, students should be urged to adapt them to personal needs and desires. Students who are ELs can be encouraged to do so by using sentence starters such as “I want to know…” “I wonder if…” “I want to say …,” “I need to find…”
  • Goals should not be too specific, as this will limit learning. A narrow learning goal (e.g. “Given five practice sessions, students will be able to connect 10 pictures with their matching vocabulary terms with 80 percent accuracy”) will restrict the breadth of learning for students who are ELs. They will do better with a more general goal, such as, “Students will be able to predict meanings of new vocabulary in the water cycle lesson by drawing pictures and/or labeling a graphic organizer.”
  • Goals, though important, should be general enough to allow for some flexibility. The Second recommendation helps students who are ELs because it gives them a great deal of control over their learning.


  • Effective learning requires feedback. When teaching ELs, it is particularly important to ensure that your feedback is comprehensible, useful and relevant.
  • Oliver (2003) notes that the way in which teachers correct language usage affects students’ verbal modifications. When teacher feedback on errors is constructive, students use the feedback to rephrase. According to Schoen and Schoen (2003) and Short (1991), rather than immediately correcting students, teachers should simply restate what the students say using the correct grammar, pronunciation, or vocabulary. Students can refer to this model in the future when they want to say something similar. Modeling correct grammar is beneficial for the student, but overemphasizing grammar is not.
  • To be able to give feedback on language, you must have a firm foundation in how our language works. Wong Fillmore and Snow (2000) put forth a strong rationale for the need for classroom teachers to understand language function and structure: Because knowledge of English language usage has been emphasized less and less over time, they recommended more training for teachers in the areas of linguistics, sociolinguistics and language use.

Feedback should be…

  • Corrective in nature. The more information you can provide on what is correct and what is incorrect about a student’s oral and/or written responses, the better. This can be helpful to students who are ELs, but not when correcting their grammatical errors or the articulation mistakes. The best way to provide corrective feedback is simply to model the correct English without overtly calling attention to the error.
  • Timely. Timing can be critical for students who are ELs, particularly when you are offering feedback by verbally modeling correct grammar or pronunciation.
  • Criterion-referenced. The research indicates that using criterion-referenced feedback is better than using norm-referenced feedback. In other words, telling students how they are progressing in learning specific types of knowledge and skills is better than giving them a score reflecting the number of correct answers. The practice of using rubrics is especially helpful for students who are ELs.

Students can effectively provide some of their own feedback through self-evaluation. Students who are ELs can monitor their own progress in learning English and subject matter by keeping track of their performance as language and academic learning occurs.

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