Eight Language Program Models: Four Linguistic Roads

Author: Tracy Dennis, Bilingual/ESL Education Specialist

All students must travel down the educational super highway. However, English language learners (ELL) must be diverted down different educational roads in order to keep up with the regular population. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 fired up states, districts, and schools to construct and/or reconstruct alternate routes along the American highway of education.

A variety of language program models are utilized to assist ELL students, so they can shift gears and reach the same speed linguistically as other students. Eight language models being implemented today are ESL pullout, ESL class period, sheltered instruction, newcomers program, transitional bilingual education, developmental bilingual education, and dual language program.  Four specialized roads and/or routes have been built along the super highway to provide ELL students with assistance: the “pullout feeder road,” the “ELL cul-de-sac,” the “bilingual one-way street” and the “bilingualism two-lane highway.”

In Table 1, Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models, 7 models are compared and contrasted by definition, characteristics of students served, which grade levels are offered in the program, entry grade stipulations, goals of the program, the number of years students can participate, and the qualifications of teachers (Genesee 1999).  Each language program model tries to help ELL students merge onto this busy and fast-paced education highway, but which model is better?

Table 1

Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models


Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models

(Click link above to download a copy of Table 1.)

Some ELL students are sent down the same highway of education as regular students, but are given more rest stops along the way. Pullout ESL programs place ELL students in the slow right lane of the highway, so students can fuel up with small group or individualized ESL instruction outside of the mainstream classroom. ELL students receive personalized attention and instruction. Nevertheless, ESL pullout is the most expensive of all language program models and is the least effective model (as cited in Ovando et al. 2003). Students pull off the education highway onto the “pullout feeder road” for extra English instruction. When this happens, ELL students miss out on classroom instruction and tend to feel isolated. An alternative road currently under way is the “ESL team teach road” with the ESL and mainstream teachers working as a team. Yet, these teachers must “share equal teaching responsibilities for the whole class, have joint planning time, and collaborate well together.” (Ovando, p. 74)  ESL team teaching allows ELL students to be on the highway without having to exit frequently, yet students still get the roadside assistance they might need.

ESL programs that provide specific classes for ESL students are similar to being on a cul-de-sac surrounded by other ELL students yet still within the mainstream educational community. ESL students might have regular classes for math, science and social studies but have special ESL classes for reading and writing. Also on the “ELL cul-de-sac” is sheltered instruction where students are provided more linguistic modifications and clarifications during content instruction. “Sheltered instruction provides students with continuing English language development, access to the core curriculum, and opportunities for classroom interaction.” (Ovando et al. 2003) The newcomer program in this cul-de-sac is designed for new immigrant students, usually at the middle school or high school level. This High Intensity Language Training (HILT) uses ESL instruction in content area classes, usually incorporating sheltered instruction, and then mainstreams students into linguistically less demanding classes such as music, physical education, and art. (McKeon 1987) The “ELL cul-de-sac” nurtures students as they acquire the English language while giving students access to the super highway curriculum.

The one-way street language program consists of students with the same first language traveling together to gain knowledge. This street has a fork in the road, where some ELL students are driven down the “transitional bilingual street,” or “early exit,” and others take the “developmental bilingual street,” or “late exit.” Transitional bilingual education uses students’ first language to develop English skills needed to quickly move onto the super highway of education. Bilingualism is used to transition students to all English instruction. (Genesee 1999) “The highest priority of most transitional bilingual programs is teaching English, with the goal of mainstreaming students into grade level classes as soon as possible.” (Ovando et al. 2003)  Developmental bilingual education seeks to obtain fluency in both languages before releasing students. Students are mainstreamed based on English proficiency that is sufficient for sustaining academic achievement in an all-English classroom (McKeon 1987). Another route constructed is the One-Way Dual Language, which supports “one language” groups of students to become bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate. Curriculum is separated 50/50 into two languages for instruction, consisting of no translation and no repeated lessons in the other language. The language of instruction is dependent on the content area. The goal of the One-Way Dual Language is to develop students’ English proficiency while maintaining their native language proficiency.

The bilingualism two-lane highway offers native English speakers and limited English speakers the ability to develop fluency in two languages. This highway may soon be the route of choice for helping all students to have the extra edge of being bilingual. On this highway, bilingual education is for all, not just for ELL. “Two-way bilingual programs integrate language minority and language majority students in a school setting that promotes full bilingual proficiency and high academic achievement for both groups of students.” (Ovando et al. 2003)  Dual language programs, originally developed in Canada in the 1960’s, allow for students to learn from each other and develop a sense of community and appreciation of different cultures. (Ovando et al. 2003) In order to construct this two-lane highway of bilingual education, there must be a common second language and a group of native English speakers willing to participate.

Currently, choosing the best language program model is often not centered on what is best for each individual child. The road students are given depends on the district’s and school’s demographics and available resources, as well as the ethnic relations within school and community and the national, state and local political climate. (Mora n.d.) In fact, principals’ and administrators’ knowledge of second language acquisition and attitudes towards ELL affects the services provided. (Mora n.d.)

Districts may implement a model because of the ELL population, lack of available teachers, and/or the district’s priorities. “The design of any ESL program must take so many factors into account that it is difficult to decide which program organization is best for a given set of circumstances.” (McKeon 1987) A district may choose pullout because of the variety of languages spoken by the populations of their ELL students. Or they may choose bilingual education because so many ELL students speak the same first language. If a student is a new immigrant at the middle school or high school level, then they might choose ESL classes, sheltered instruction and/or the newcomer program. All of these language models help students become successful. In a perfect world, though, schools would employ all language models to meet the needs of each individual student.

Advancing into the 21st century will require the rebuilding of America’s educational super highway. The United States is one of the few countries that only teach their children one language. Dual language programs should be promoted to ensure that all of our children are able to compete with the global market because “the 32 million Americans who speak languages in addition to English are at a competitive advantage.” (Jackson-Lee 1996).



Crandall, J. 1994. Content-centered language learning. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2005, from www.eric.ed.gov


Echevarria, J., & Short, D. n.d. The sheltered instruction observation protocol (SIOP).

Retrieved November 17, 2005. http://www.siopinstitute.net/pdf/sioppaper.pdf


Genesee, F. 1999. Program alternatives for the linguistically diverse students. Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence, 1-49. Retrieved Nov. 19, 2005 from CREDE Publications and Products database.


Jackson-Lee, S. 1996. Debate on English only legislation. Message posted to U.S. House of Representatives archived at http://www.humnet.ucla.edu/humnet/linguistics/people/grads/macswan/debate.htm


McKeon, D. 1987. Different types of ESL programs. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2005 from www.eric.ed.gov


Mora, J. n.d. Sheltered immersion. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2005 from http://coe.sdsu.edu/people/jmora/Pages/SEIvCanadian.htm


NCLB Action Briefs. Programs of English language learners (n.d.). Retrieved on Nov. 13, 2005, from http://www.ncpie.org/nclbaction/english_language_learners.html


Ovando, C.J., V.P. Collier, and M.C. Combs. 2003. Bilingual and ESL Classrooms: Teaching in multicultural contexts (3rd ed.).Boston: McGraw-Hill.


Rennie, J. 1993. ESL and bilingual program models. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2005 from www.eric.ed.gov

the attachments to this post:

Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models
Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models


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