According to Genessee (2016), when teachers incorporate the native language of their students into instruction, there is greater academic success, including literacy and other content. Students who are literate in their first language generally become literate in English easier than their illiterate peers. They are also able to make more connections when teachers draw upon their background knowledge. Teachers should be familiar with students’ native languages in order to capitalize on similarities to English and to discover differences. Here is a wonderful article about the importance of understanding the Home Language of ELLs.
There are many things teachers can do to facilitate the acquisition of English for English Language Learners. First, students must receive comprehensible input in order to make meaning of language. Teachers can facilitate this in many ways including using pictures, gestures, realia, modifying their pacing, using predictable routines when possible, paraphrasing and using simplified language. Students also need opportunities to practice speaking in a non-threatening environment. Teachers can facilitate this by increasing wait time when asking students to speak, having them speak in a smaller group and by scaffolding their responses using sentence frames or prompts. In all language domains, teachers must build on students’ background knowledge and provide them with additional background knowledge in order to better make connections to new learning. At The Everyday Language Learner, there are several good posts about how to make or provide comprehensible input (Krashen) for ELLs.