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Learning Tools for ESL Students

RWC tutors Jackie Arriaga, Annie Bautista, Carlie Carrizales, Patricia Santiago, & Gricelda Sanchez provide a helpful guide to tools to use for ESL students.

With a significant percentage of students speaking a language other than English, it is imperative that, as tutors, we recognize the tools necessary to efficiently serve these student population. Here at the Reedley College Reading and Writing Center, we apply Duolingo, TedTalks, Audiobooks, and various other forms of visual instruction during our tutoring sessions to help students. Using these resources has had a positive impact on how students approach and complete their assignments.

The interaction with these different methods mentioned has helped us tutors support students to expand and bridge their knowledge at the listening, speaking, reading, and writing level.


Evaluating learning on the listening level requires us to be mindful of how students understand the content of topics through methods of lectures, videos, and other tools that model academic language and vocabulary. Extending content discussion of vocabulary with various examples helps students learn on the listening level.


Learning at the speaking level requires us to focus on getting students to participate in discussions and structure conversations with various points of views. Giving students the opportunity to practice academic language, response in longer and complex sentences, and perform oral presentations support learning on the speaking level.


At the reading level, students learn by analyzing text structures and breaking down the meaning behind texts to ensure a full understanding of vocabulary usage. Analysis of text structures could be done using a graphic organizer for summarizing. Students can also connect better to texts by asking focused questions when reading (Ex. What emotions did the main character experience when x event occurred?)


At the writing level, learning is done through essays, discussion boards, brainstorming, outlining assignments. Students could expect to learn by working on expanding their academic vocabulary through their writing. Building on skills of understanding the target audience a student is trying to write to helps build critical thinking to further embed language within students.

To meet the diverse needs of ESL students, an effective approach involves employing innovative tools such as the versatile app and website, Duolingo. This platform facilitates self-paced learning, allowing students to progress through lessons independently and repeat them as needed.

Duolingo adopts a gamified approach, incorporating game-like elements such as points and rewards to keep users motivated and engaged. Particularly beneficial for ESL students who may struggle with maintaining interest, the app also includes a social dimension, enabling users to connect with friends and family, fostering friendly competition through leaderboards. Suited for beginners, Duolingo covers basic content, offering flexibility with various proficiency levels. The curriculum begins with foundational concepts, basic vocabulary, and essential grammar rules, gradually introducing more complex structures as users progress. Overall, Duolingo provides a personalized learning experience for each individual.

TedTalks are another great tool to implement into learning for ESL students. Most of us are familiar with this learning platform that is often used in classroom lectures to expand a student’s understanding on a wide variety of topics. TedTalks are presentation-based where learning is done through listening. TedTalks could be used to promote learning on a group and individual level.

We believe this tool can help tutors who are assisting ESL students by giving them a platform that helps them better connect and understand how to help them. Tutors could gain a better understanding of subjects through videos as short as 5 minutes long, which is great so clearing understandings do not take up the whole meeting. At the Reading & Writing Center, students come in seeking help on papers that are not always from English classes. Sometimes students come seeking help on papers from other classes, like psychology and history. It is always helpful to have some background knowledge on the subject  students are writing about and watching TedTalks is a helpful tool to bridge this gap in understanding. Bridging this gap in understanding helps create fewer problems for ESL students. With these tools, learning within the tutoring setting can stay focused on getting the help they need to improve their reading and writing skills. 

Students who have English as their second language will reach out to a tutor for help on more than just writing. The student might feel overwhelmed within their classes regarding reading assignments as well. They may find themselves not being able to understand the book they are reading or could be having a hard time keeping up with the rest of their class in completing chapters in time. Audiobooks can help the student keep up with their reading assignments and help them understand the reading material so they do not fall behind in their courses.

With audiobooks, ESL students could feel less stressed about catching up on reading and are given a better chance of understanding the content within their reading. Audiobooks allowing learning to occur through listening and grant students the opportunity to hear reading material and follow along with the words on the page helps them better retain information and expand their understanding of vocabulary used within complex texts. 

One program that is accessible to students is Libby, which is a free app that they can enjoy. This app has eBooks, digital audiobooks, and magazines from our local library. All the student needs to get started is a library card. Programs such as these are extremely helpful for a tutor who can use them to help the student struggling to understand the book they were assigned. The accessibility of Libby being an app also yields students the benefit of having convenient access to their reading materials all in one place anywhere they could carry their devices with them.

The use of visual instruction can play a significant role in helping students engage with learning materials and retaining information during the reading process. Many traditional strategies focus heavily on lecture formatting, reading, and rote memorization, but visual instruction is a more effective approach that helps students better understand and demonstrate what they learned. A few examples include creating a mind map, making illustrated flash cards, making gestures or a little dance to memorize vocabulary, and making comics for dialogues. Concepts maps, for instance, drive critical thinking by allowing students to connect ideas and show the connections between various ideas and topics. This specific strategy is especially useful when writing a cause-and-effect essay because the arrows, labeled lines, and shapes help break down complex subjects, develop logical thinking, and contextualize evidence within a larger scope. Graphic organizers are another visual tool that help facilitate problem-solving and decision-making by assisting students plan their research and brainstorm together. Finally, Lucidspark is a virtual whiteboard with features such as drawing tools, sticky notes, and real-time collaboration capabilities. Visual instruction encompasses a variety methods, strategies, and tools, but the primary purpose is to meet the needs of all students and, more specifically, make learning accessible to those who speak English as a second language.

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