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English Language Learning Programs

Across the United States, most schools use the below 5 English language learner programs to teach English language learners. Program models in schools vary depending on staff availability and school-wide resources. Some models are more effective than others and vary from district to district and sometimes from school to school.

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The type of English language learner program a school uses determines the quality of language instruction students receive. What is done within programs and services is what provides English learner students with the necessary English language skills that students need. These are skills that students must acquire in a timely manner to reach academic standards.

The following is a list of elementary school program models most commonly used. The list focuses on pull-out, push-in, co-teaching, dual language immersion, and transitional bilingualism.

Pull-Out Instruction

The pull-out model has been schools’ most used teaching model for years. In this model, students receive 20 to 45 minutes of pull-out instruction. Pull-out instruction refers to instruction in the English language offered to students outside their regular classroom, often in a designated ESL classroom. The instruction focuses on direct language instruction in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

ESL teachers, paraprofessionals, or tutors use a school or commercial language curriculum to teach areas of need for the students. Some pull-out models use a language curriculum that aligns with the English language development standards; however, some teachers create their instruction using multiple resources. An English language curriculum allows teachers to address language-specific needs when students are grouped based on language proficiency levels.

Instructional time

Collaboration between the content and ESL is necessary to create a specific time to provide the pull-out instruction. A time that won’t impact content area learning, such as math or English language arts, is often the recommended time for pull-out instruction. Pulling out a student during content area learning time is never recommended because this often causes students to miss necessary classroom instruction.

Regarding research-based models, the pull-out model is the less effective model of instruction for English language learners. This instructional model is less effective because it often isolates English language instruction from content learning. As a result, students often feel isolated and may miss instruction from the regular classroom that they may have to make up. We know that learning a language takes time, and in most cases, more than 20 to 30 minutes of instruction is needed to teach all of the skills a student needs to speak, read, and write the English language.

Push-in Model

The push-in model has become very famous over the last few years. This English language instruction model provides immediate intervention and instruction in the regular classroom. The push-in model regularly supports English language arts, math, science, or social studies content learning. A well-prepared ESL teacher uses the English language development standards to align language needs to content area learning during push-in.

When an ESL teacher targets language instruction with content, they simultaneously facilitate language and content growth. This English language learning model allows the ESL teacher to serve more students and advocate for student needs more easily. Push-in is known to be more effective than the pull-out instructional model.

Instructional time

In this model, the ESL and classroom teachers agree on a specific time to serve students in the classroom. Most push-in instruction happens during reading and writing instructional time, such as English language arts. However, some students receive push-in support during math, science, or social studies. Some co-planning may be necessary among the ESL and classroom teachers. This allows the ESL teacher to prepare to teach language skills to support content learning.

Co-teaching Model

Co-teaching is the most effective teaching model for English language learners. During co-teaching, the ESL and classroom teacher co-plan as partners to teach listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The ESL teacher implements small group instruction with some students during content area teaching. The instruction is based on the student’s academic and language needs. Pre-planning is essential for this teaching model to be effective.

Over time and as the teachers get comfortable with each other, planning time may reduce or become more strategic and specific. For example, a well-prepared ESL teacher uses the English language development standard to align language needs to content area standards. This connection also facilitates language and content growth simultaneously.

Instructional time

Co-teaching happens during core content area learning. The ESL and content area teachers both teach the same content. They both focus on teaching language and content. Sometimes, they are in small groups, and sometimes, they are partner teachers, leading in front of the class. This English language learning program model allows the ESL teacher to serve more students and advocate for student needs more easily.

Dual Language Immersion Model

The dual language program model is the ideal bilingual education instructional model for English language learners. Unfortunately, most dual-language programs are often only available in specific languages. This is because this teaching model requires a lot more resources. In this model, students learn English and another language simultaneously.

For example, in dual language programs, students learn math, social studies, and Spanish language arts in Spanish. Spanish speakers who are English language learners succeed in these programs because these students get to learn and develop both languages. The goal of dual language instruction is for students to master their native language and English simultaneously. Immersion programs are an excellent option for newcomer students. Newcomers experience a smoother transition when they can continue learning in their native language while they acquire English.

Instructional time

Dual language immersion programs have a unique way of teaching languages. Instruction in both languages happens throughout the day. Some schools teach core content and specials such as art or music classes in both languages. Others focus on core content in both languages.

Transitional Bilingual

Most transitional bilingual programs focus on providing content and language instruction in the student’s native language. This usually happens during the first years of a student’s school. Once students acquire “enough English,” they transition to another instructional model—such as one of the above-mentioned top three models.

Instructional time

Transitional bilingual models are available in elementary and secondary schools. Students receive instruction during the day for part of the day in their native language. In addition, some schools choose to offer bilingual education all day for the first years of school.


If you are an educator, I hope this program description helps you better understand what each program entails. Parents of English language learners should inquire about the instructional services provided to their children when they arrive at a US school. Discuss with your child’s ESL teacher to inquire about the school’s educational programs to service your English language learner.

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