Teaching Approaches

Jim Cummins' 5 Basic Principles for Teaching Content to ELLs

Dr. Jim Cummins has identified three key pillars of effective academic language instruction for English Language Learners. The Five Principles presented here build on these three pillars by describing each principle and it's relationship to the pillars.

Principle 1

When presenting content objectives

  • Simplify language (active voice, use same term consistently)
  • Paraphrase
  • Repeat
  • Avoid idioms and slang
  • Be aware of homophones and multiple meaning words
  • Clarify (with simplified language, gestures, visuals)
  • Check for understanding

When working with language objectives focus on

  • Key content vocabulary
  • Academic vocabulary found across the curriculum
  • Language form and function essential for the lesson





Principle 2

Provide opportunities to frontload or preteach lesson elements.

  • Activate Prior Knowledge by connecting to students' academic, cultural, or personal experiences.
  • Build background by explaining new vocabulary or unfamiliar facts and concepts.
  • Preview text by reviewing visuals, headings, and/or highlighted text. 
  • Set a purpose for reading by clarifying comprehension questions at the end of the lesson.
  • Make connections by helping students see relationships between the lesson and other aspects of their lives



Principle 3

Make oral and written content accessible by providing support.

  • Visuals photos, illustrations, cartoons, multimedia
  • Graphics graphs, charts, tables
  • Organizers graphic organizers, outlines
  • Summaries text, audio, native language
  • Audio recordings, read-alouds
  • Audiovisual aides videos, dramatizations, props, gestures
  • Models demonstrations and modeling
  • Experiences hands-on learning opportunities, field trips



Principle 4

Structure opportunities for oral practice with language and content.

Listening and speaking

  • Make listening input understandable with a variety of support.
  • Model language.
  • Allow wait time for students to plan what they say.

Reading and writing

  • Tailor the task to each student’s proficiency level.
  • Provide support and scaffolding.
  • Expect different products from students with different levels of proficiency. 

Increasing interaction

  • Provide collaborative tasks so students can work together.
  • Encourage the development of relationships with peers.
  • Lower anxiety levels to enable learning, as indicated by brain research.



Principle 5

Monitor progress and provide reteaching and intervention when necessary.

Diagnostic Assessment

  • Determine appropriate placement.
  • Identify strengths and challenges.

Formative Assessment

  • Check comprehension in ongoing manner.
  • Use appropriate instruction and pacing.

Summative Assessments

  • Provide alternative types of assessment when possible, such as projects and portfolios.
  • Provide practice before administering formal tests.


  • Provide extra time.
  • Use bilingual dictionaries.
  • Offer oral presentation of written material.