Essay Teaching English As A Second Language

English as a Second Language (ESL) is defined as the formal instruction of English to those (usually immigrants, international students, or refugees) whose native language is not English but who live in an English speaking country. Through instruction in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, ESL provides the necessary communication skills to help nonnative speakers enroll in school, obtain employment, and function effectively in the host country. Common instructional methods are the silent way technique, total physical response, scaffolding, the direct approach, the whole language approach, and the interactive student centered approach. Among the unresolved issues in the ESL community are inclusion, mainstreaming, and separation.

Keywords Bilingual Act of 1968 (Title VII); Bilingualism; English as a Foreign Language (EFL); English as a Second Language (ESL); Immersion; Inclusion; L1 Learners; L2 Learners; Lau v. Nichols; Limited English Proficient (LEP); Mainstreaming; Non-English Speaking (NES); Scaffolding; Separation; Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL); Teaching Methods; Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)


Recent patterns of economic globalization and significant demographic shifts in the United States have created a pressing need for viable English proficiency programs. The current trends suggest that one of the largest growing groups in this country is people who speak English as a second language. The ESL population among students K–12 in the United States grew 138 percent between 1979–1999, and in the early years of the twenty-first century, one out of every five students spoke a language other than English at home (Coppola, 2005). The US Census Bureau reported in 2011 that 58 percent of US residents five years and over spoke a language other than English at home (US Census Bureau, 2013). By the year 2020 it is predicted that 50 percent of school-aged children will be of non-Euro-American background (Harper & de Jong, 2004).

In response to this growing cultural and linguistic incongruity, several different English instructional programs were implemented in public and private academic institutions in the United States and abroad. One of the most effective and widely used methods of English fluency is known as ESL or English as a Second Language. Since the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965, public schools in the United States have been required to offer ESL programs in any school that has LEP (Limited English Proficiency) students. As if 2013, there were over 5.5 million school-age children in the United States who required some form of ESL instruction (Galvez, 2013, p. 1).

English as a Second Language (ESL) is defined as the formal instruction of English to those (usually immigrants, international students or refugees) whose native language is not English but who live in an English speaking country. Through instruction in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, ESL provides the necessary communication skills to help nonnative speakers enroll in school, obtain employment, and function effectively in the host country. During ESL training, English is the target language and medium of communication.

ESL is just one of the many English instructional methods used around the world. Other systems include EFL (English as a Foreign Language), ESP (English for Special Purposes), EIL (English as an International Language), EAP (English for Academic Purposes), ENL (English as a New Language), and ELL (English Language Learners). The term ESL is mainly used in the United States, Canada, and Australia. New Zealand, England, and Ireland refer to the practice as ESOL or English for Speakers of Other Languages.

Although the genesis of non-native English instruction can be traced back to the early 1700s, ESL was not formally recognized as a credible pedagogy until the middle of the twentieth century. The landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) paved the way for several legislative and judicial actions that bolstered the legitimacy and application of ESL such as the National Defense Education Act of 1958, the Bilingual Act of 1968 (Title VII), the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, Lau v. Nichols (1974), Castaneda v. Pichard (1981), Doe v. Plyler (1982), and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

The development of ESL in the twentieth century was also greatly influenced by the creation of TESOL in 1966. TESOL, or Teachers of English to Speakers Other Than English, is a professional organization with thousands of members from countries around the world who are dedicated to ensuring excellence in English instruction to speakers of other languages. One of TESOL's fundamental goals is to address "the need for a professional organization that would be permanently devoted to the problems of teaching English to speakers of other languages at all levels" (TESOL, 2006).

In order to obtain a position as an ESL instructor in the United States, students are required to complete an undergraduate program in a related linguistic field and an achieve a master’s degree in teaching of English to speakers other than English. Moreover, all students must obtain individual state licensing by completing mandatory field work through student teaching. The TESOL degree qualifies individuals to teach both ESL and EFL courses abroad.

The student population of ESL can be divided into two groups based on linguistic needs: LEP, or Limited English Proficient, refers to non-native English speakers who have difficulty writing, speaking, and reading English. NES, or Non-English Speaking, students do not speak or understand English and may even lack literacy skills in their native language (which further complicates the quest for English fluency).

At the college and university level, students are tested for English language fluency prior to admission. The TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language, measures linguistic competence of non-native speakers of English by measuring reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Due to the growing demand for the test, TOEFL is now accessible via the Internet as an online exam. Student who fail the TOEFL are advised to complete specific ESL programs based on individual need.

Although ESL has advanced as an academic discipline, many public and private schools lack the resources and programs to adequately respond to the growing population of LEP and NES students. In fact many schools don't even have ESL programs to offer. The dearth of viable ESL curricula can also be attributed to the recent increase of anti-immigrant attitudes and resentment toward preferential treatment for minority groups (Hafernik, Messerschmitt & Vandrick, 1996).


Most ESL curricula in the United States offer various levels of study in five fundamental areas: reading, writing, grammar, speaking/conversation, and listening. ESL models differ from other English developmental programs by using only the L2 (the target language) in the classroom. The goal is to provide students the fundamental skills needed to complete the traditional all-English curriculum without relying on the L1 (the primary or native language). Some criticize this pedagogy as exclusive and argue that L1 development and fluency is necessary in order to acquire the L2, as is practiced in bilingual education.

Due to the diverse nature of the ESL population, the instructor must consider several factors about the students in the group before considering a methodology.

• Age: Linguists argue that older students have more difficulty assuming a second language and children under twelve learn languages faster than older students.

• Native Language: The instructor must consider the fluency level of the original language and the L1's phonological and syntactical proximity to English.

• L1 Literacy Level of Parents: Research suggests that if a parent is illiterate in their L1 there is a greater chance that the student will have a more difficult time learning the L2.

• Reason for Immigrating: Understanding the various motives for immigrating helps to address personal issues that may arise in the classroom.

Common strategies that have developed in K–12 and college ESL instruction include previewing (instructor reads the sections aloud before the students read), shared and paired reading, books with tapes, multicultural literature, interactive writing, theme-based instruction, reading aloud, and storytelling. All of these methods allow students to hear and apply the appropriate phonological and syntactic representations of the language.

Other ESL teaching methods include, but are not limited to:

The Silent Way Technique

This method rests...

“Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end.”

Many of us recall our teachers drilling this writer’s mantra into us and our fellow students.

This is as true for a good essay as it is for a good story.

An essay needs a coherent structure to successfully articulate its arguments, and strong preparation and planning is crucial to providing that structure.

So, how do we go about this?

After all, essay writing can be challenging for the ESL student. Not only does the student writer have to contend with the challenges of ordering their thoughts and constructing their arguments, they have to do this in their second language.

Navigating the rocky bluffs of syntax and idiomatic expressions isn’t easy at the best of times! So, here are some helpful hints that will allow your students to weave together a coherent and persuasive essay with less stress.

The 7 Helpful Habits of ESL Essay Writing

1. Build the essay around a central question

Encourage your students to build all their writing around one central question of the essay.

That central question is the engine of the writing, it should drive everything!

If a word or sentence is not assisting that forward motion toward the explication of that question and its possible answers, then it needs to be reworded, rephrased or just plain cut out and discarded.

Lean writing is merciless. Focusing on that central question throughout the prewriting, writing and rewriting stages helps develop the critical faculties required to discern what to keep and what to throw away.

2. Use the traditional 5-paragraph essay structure

Providing a clear structure for the student to approach essay writing can do much to build their confidence. The 5-paragraph essay, or “hamburger” essay, provides that clear structure for emergent ESL writers.

Generally, this structure employs five separate paragraphs for the entire essay. Each paragraph serves a specific purpose, melding together to form a coherent whole.

Paragraph 1: The introductory paragraph. It makes the thesis statement, orientating the reader to the purpose of the essay.

Paragraphs 2 to 4: The body paragraphs. These make individual points that are further backed up by the various forms of evidence.

Paragraph 5: The conclusion paragraph. This provides a summation of the arguments and a final statement of the thesis.

While they do not need to follow it rigidly forever, this simple structure outlined above can serve as excellent training wheels for your students.

3. Work from a plan

Using the 5-paragraph structure as outlined above makes planning clear cut.

Once they have their theses and are planning their paragraphs, share with the students the ridiculously useful acronym P.E.E. This stands for point, explanation, evidence.

Each body paragraph should make a point, or argument, in favor of the central thesis, followed by an explanation of this point and relevant evidence to back it up.

Extol the necessity for students to constantly refer to their planning. The mind-mapping techniques popularized by Tony Buzan can be useful at the planning stage and make for easy reference points to ensure focus is maintained throughout the essay. Having a visual reference such as this can help ensure that your student-writers see each piece of the whole as well as that elusive “bigger picture,” so it become a case of seeing the forest and the trees!

4. Do the homework

Just as the planning is crucial, so too is the research.

Often ideas or connections do not occur until the writing process has begun. This is a good thing. Essay writing is a creative act, so they can have more ideas along the way and work them in. The key is to always be able to back up these ideas.

Students who have done their homework on their subject will be much more confident and articulate in expressing their arguments.

Even with thorough planning and research, writing oneself into a linguistic cul-de-sac is a common error. Once the plan is completed and the student embarks on the choppy seas of essay writing, it may or may not be plain sailing. Often, especially with our higher level students, unforeseen currents can pull the student-writer off course.

Sometimes just abandoning the sentence helps. Going back to the drawing board and rewriting it is often best.

Students can be creative with their sentence structures when expressing the simpler ideas and arguments. However, when it comes to expressing the more complex concepts, help them learn to use shorter sentences to break down their arguments into smaller, more digestible chunks.

5. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Essay writing falls firmly in the camp of non-fiction. That is a given. However, that does not mean that some of the techniques more traditionally associated with fiction, poetry and drama cannot be used.

One technique that is particularly useful in essay writing is repetition. Just as poetry relies heavily on rhythm, so too does argument. Repetition can provide that sense of rhythm. Written language has its origins in the oral language. Think of the great orators and demagogues and their use of repetition. Speech-writers are well aware of the power of repetition.

The writing principle of the “rule of 3” states that ideas expressed in these terms are more convincing and memorable. This is true of words and the ideas they are expressing.

The very structure of the 5-paragraph essay lends itself to planning for this repetition. Each idea that is explored in a body paragraph should be outlined first in the introductory paragraph. The single body paragraph devoted to the idea will explore it at greater length, supported by evidence. The third rap of the hammer occurs in the summation of the concluding paragraph, driving the point securely and convincingly home.

6. Close the circle

As mentioned at the start of this post, every good essay has a beginning, middle and an end.

Each point made, explained and supported by evidence is a step toward what the writing teacher Roy Peter Clark calls closing the circle of meaning.

In planning for the conclusion of the essay, the students should take the opportunity to reaffirm their position. By making reference to the points outlined in the introduction, driving them home one last time, the student-writer is bringing the essay to a satisfying full circle.

This may be accomplished by employing various strategies: an apt quotation, referring to future consequences or attempting to inspire and mobilize the reader.

Ending with a succinct quotation has the double benefit of lending some authoritative weight to the argument while also allowing the student to select a well-written, distilled expression of their central thesis. This can make for a strong ending, particularly for ESL students.

Often the essay thesis will suggest its own ending. If the essay is structured around a problem, it is frequently appropriate to end the essay by offering solutions to that problem and outlining potential consequences if those solutions are not followed.

In the more polemical type essay, the student may end with a call to arms, a plea for action on the part of the reader.

The strategy chosen by the student will depend largely on what fits the central thesis of their essay best.

7. Edit to the end

For the ESL student, the final edit is very important.

It is one final chance to check form and meaning. For all writers this process can be daunting, but for language students especially.

Often ESL students will use the same words over and over again due to a limited vocabulary, encourage your students to employ a thesaurus in the final drafting before submission. This will freshen up their work, making it more readable. This will also increase their active vocabulary in the long run!

Another useful strategy to use at this stage of the process is to encourage students to read their work aloud before handing it in. This can be good pronunciation practice, and allows for an opportunity to listen for grammatical errors. It also helps the students to hear where punctuation is required in the text, helping the overall rhythm and readability of the writing.


Essays are a great way not only for students to learn how the language works, but also to learn about themselves.

Formulating thoughts and arguments about various subjects is good exercise for not only the students’ linguistic faculties, but also for understanding who they are and how they see the world.

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