Designing effective ESL programs
Arizona Republic
May 6, 2008


by Mark Ryan - May. 6, 2008 07:58 AM
Special for the Republic

With so many youngsters coming to school needing to learn English, is there a better way to help these students learn English as a Second Language?
We know there are several factors that go into designing successful English as a Second Language (ESL) programs.
As with all effective school learning models, what is called for is a multifaceted approach.
In other words, both the academic development of ESL students and the social growth of these English language learners, as they meet youngsters who speak English as a first language, must part of a comprehensive program.
Unfortunately with many ESL programs, although the goals may be clear, the expectations are too low, and funding too often is insufficient to the task.
As a result, blame is routinely assigned to the school administration, the teachers and even the students.
What to do?
Research is clear that the role of ESL tutors can really make a great contribution to student success.
Sound like an extra budget item for the schools? Actually, this resource already exists at every school site today, just ready to be utilized.
This resource is known as peer tutors - just think of it as "kids helping kids."
Imagine a school where everyone is a language tutor. Just think of the possibilities for reinforcement and cultural enrichment with two students of different languages working in tandem in a structured curriculum and in informal situations to help each other in the learning process.
Friendships are made via mutual assistance (You help me learn English while I'll help you learn Spanish!).
Peer tutoring eliminates the negativity typically associated with being helped, because every student participates in both giving and receiving assistance.
There are in-depth preparation and training programs for peer tutors readily available to every school right now.
Peer tutoring can really transform not just the ESL program, but the entire school as it leads to student-centered schools, where youngsters can mature socially and develop academically as, little by little, they peer mentor and peer mediate.
Sound like pie in the sky?
Successful education begins with high expectations - it's not where you line up, it's where you end up.
The historic failure of many ESL students to master the English Language and move successfully through postsecondary education along with the failure of 95 percent of English speaking students to master a foreign language stems in part from low second language acquisition expectations.
Peer tutoring may well provide a big part of the answer for many schools to stop the self-fulfilling prophecy of low expectations and begin to see every student as a valuable resource.

Surprise resident Mark Ryan has taught at all levels from elementary classes to university seminars. Contact him at his blog,, with your questions. Visit for Ryan's book, "Ask the Teacher