ELD versus ESL

Our classrooms are becoming very diverse and this may include students that are coming from areas where English is not the native or secondary language. These students may need to spend time learning English by transferring the language skills they have or by learning the fundamentals and academic language together, Not all students come to our classrooms at the same level, and the same is true of students coming to our classrooms from other countries.

Depending on student grade levels and areas where you teach students who need to learn to comprehend, speak, listen, read, and write in English may be put in one of two different types of classroom/classes. These are often referred to as ELD and ESL classes.

Generally students in the younger elementary classes or students in schools with high levels of second language learners attend ELD classrooms. These are classes where teachers have studied working with language learner populations within their credential coursework. In ELD classrooms, students are kept in the same class all day. ELD stands for English Language Development and that occurs in every subject matter throughout the day. Teachers use research backed best practices to engage students and embed language development within academic curriculum, This includes frontloading vocabulary, adding pictures, using sentence frames and building background content together.

According to ColorinColorado.org the definition of English Language Development is:

English language development (ELD) means instruction designed specifically for English language learners to develop their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in English. This type of instruction is also known as: English as a second language (ESL) English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)


But I am making it more specific. I find a lot of information on Teachers Pay Teachers, blogs, forums, and otherwise using the term ESL but find that that term usually relates to stand alone classrooms of middle school and higher grade levels. What occurs in a stand alone classroom is not the same of an integrated, self-contained classroom. Integrated classrooms have students with varying levels of language proficiency, cultural backgrounds, and learning needs. This does not apply to English learners solely but does include second language learners. ELD classrooms teach all subject matters throughout the day, the students in the class stay in one classroom all day.

ESL classrooms tend to be a stand alone classroom where students are gathered by their proficiency level to study how language works and may be rooted in a subject matter outside of English. The same researched based practices are in place in either style classroom. The classes are typical in middle school and above due to numbers of students. It can also be a forced elective for students who have not tested out after elementary school. All grade levels have ELD standards in California.

Whether students are in ELD or ESL classes it doesn’t reflect their learning background. Sometimes we find students who are not strong in either their home language or English. Other students will be strong readers in their native language and will soak up English like a sponge. Our classrooms may be filled with those types of learners and many in-between. Knowing researched based best practices will help in both ELD and ESL classrooms. This includes making sure we pronounce our students by their name. See this article from Curriculum Associates about name activities.

There are benefits to both camps of helping students learn English. I will not be arguing a side. I have taught both styles. What I think is important to remember are the basic fundamentals:

  • We are adding a language not losing one- make connections to students home languages, encourage them to practice all their languages and teach families how important it is to save their cultural identity and language.
  • Call your students by their names- the name they choose, the way it is said, the pronouns they use— it’s their name and their identity and we as teachers don’t get to change that. It may take awhile but practice helps and it makes your students feel seen and heard.
  • Languages take time to learn so allow for a lot of practice! A vast majority of us learned to speak before reading and writing, this is important to remember when we are learning/ teaching a second language. Students need to speak a lot, that means using sentence frames, collaborative conversations and hearing stories, videos, conversations, choral response and rereading over and over again.
  • Make connections as much as possible to native languages using cognates, prefixes, and root words.
  • ELD and ESL and ESOL (English to Speakers of other Languages) all teacher students English. Language is only one part of the whole child…make connections to your students.
  • Language is power. Education is power. They both open many doors so they are important to teach to our students, not to change our students.

Remember if you are teaching students in elementary school, in a self contained classroom you are teaching ELD and incorporating researched-based strategies into all subject matter from reading to art, science to p.e., math to social studies and everything else, Look for strategies and curriculum using strategies.

Find some of my ELD curriculum and strategies below on TpT.

Published by Curve Your Learning

Hi everyone, thank you for visiting! I'm Liz and the creator of Curve Your Learning and The Reading Curve. I created resources and drive teachers, coaches, and parents to increase student learning success. I have been in education for 17 years, have a multiple subject credential, M.S., a literacy certificate, and am working towards my Ed.D. At home, I am a boymom and wife of 16 years who loves to glamping, paddleboard, and have fun!

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