This article on the various instructional program models, such as push in and pull out, for English language learners (ELLs) is number 7 of the Collaboration for ELLs Series.  

inclusive program models for English Language Learners

Before we talk about the nuts and bolts of co-teaching, we have to pause to consider the different program models that exist to serve ELs. The programs that schools use directly shape the co-teaching that occurs between content and English language teachers (ELTs).  

This is not an exhaustive list of program models in education – just the most common ones.  You can also read this article from the School Superintendents Association.

English Immersion
  • Focused on developing English proficiency
  • English is the language of instruction
  • Small class sizes allow for more interaction and targeting of instruction
  • Students are in an all-EL classroom where they receive English and content instruction
  • Often used by schools to serve a student population with many different languages
  • ELs are in socially isolated classrooms without much interaction with other students
  • Content instruction runs the risk of being not as academically rigorous as ones delivered to non-ELs by content specialists (Honigsfeld & Dove, 2010).

English Immersion is most appropriate for elementary school children who are completely new to English.  The focus is on learning language rather than content, and the small group environment really is conducive to doing so.  This model is often used to provide intensive content instruction to ELs by trained ELTs who provide extensive scaffolding and differentiation based on language needs.

English Immersion is the least effective practice of all the program models or ELs in secondary school:

  • It’s the most socially isolating and
  • Involves the least amount of co-teaching.  

At my secondary school, we used to have a room designated for all the ELs.  An ELT delivered English, science, and history instruction, while content teachers would teach ELs in art, music, drama class, physical education, and home language classes. It was like having a language school inside a secondary school. However, this works better in theory than in practice.

My school’s implementation of English Immersion limited ELs’ exposure to content specialists and restricted their chances of using language authentically with native-English students. We had prioritized learning language over content instead of learning language through content.

English as a Second Language  (ESL) aka the Pull-Out, Push-In (POPI) Model
  • Focus on developing English proficiency
  • English is the language of instruction
  • ELs are pulled out of content classes for a period of time to receive language instruction
  • Pull-out causes students to miss out on content instruction
  • Small class sizes allow for more interaction and targeting of instruction
  • Language specialists push into the content class to provide assistance to ELs
  • Often used by schools to serve a student population with many different languages

This program model works well in elementary school where learning is process-focused. Also, if your school has the funding to hire ELTs, it produces a favorable teacher-student ratio. During pull-out sessions, ELs receive more attention because of the small-group setting.  While the pull-out sessions can be used to deliver fundamental English lessons, the push-in service allows the ELs to stay in class and learn from content teachers, which is less socially isolating than English Immersion.  

It isn’t effective for ELs in secondary school where learning becomes more content-driven. The ELs miss out on learning both content and language in context. This model also isn’t collaborative because the ELT doesn’t plan with the content teacher to integrate content standards. Though there are possibilities for co-teaching, the ELTs are often treated as teaching aides. Most importantly, the push-in service often prioritizes learning content itself over using content to develop language skills.

Because most schools follow the ESL model, I’ll describe how to make this it more inclusive in next’s week’s article.

Sheltered Immersion (Content-based English Instruction)

This is a preferable model for secondary schools because it doesn’t outsource content instruction to ELTs.  Instead, the ELTs co-plan to share strategies that scaffold instruction and facilitate interaction with the tasks.  ELTs can also attend classes to co-teach and model language-friendly practices.  

Teachers who practice Sheltered Immersion believe that everyone is a teacher of language and that all content teachers have to explicitly teach how language is used in their specific discipline. Most importantly, this model proposes that learning language and content can go hand-in-hand.  Content topics provide the context not just to learn language – but to use it.

Many schools, especially in secondary schools, find it difficult to adopt a Sheltered Immersion model because content teachers want to delegate language instruction to the ELTs.  They don’t subscribe to the belief that they can use content to develop ELLs’ language skills. Furthermore, some schools might not have enough funding to pay for continuous training that is recommended for the Sheltered Instruction model.

Transitional Bilingualism
  • Focus on English language proficiency
  • Goal is to prepare students for English-only classes
  • English and home language are used during instruction
  • Home language instruction gradually phased out when ELs develop English proficiency
  • Teachers must be proficient in both languages
  • Often used by schools with a large group of students speaking the same language.

This model is effective with ELs from primary to secondary school because home languages are seen as instructional tools not barriers to learning.  Students also understand content instruction more because teachers often teach in the ELLs’ home language if there is enough overlap among students.  Lastly, students feel less stressed by school because they’re allowed to use their home language in a new setting.

Unfortunately, while there’s greater engagement with content standards, the priority is still on using the home language to develop English skills.  This model explicitly values English over other languages, but at least it’s a more culturally inclusive practice than other program models. Students who learn in the United States do need to learn English to be successful and participatory members of society, but English proficiency can still exist alongside home-language mastery.  

Transitional bilingualism is also more difficult to implement unless you’re in an area with a large population that speaks the same non-English language.

Dual-Language Program

This program model is the most socially inclusive because there’s no need to isolate ELs from other students, and it directly values a second language besides English.  The goal is not just to use the home language, but to strengthen ELs’ ability to use it academically.  The home language is seen as a tool to develop critical thinking and communication skills.  NPR published a fascinating article entitled “6 Potential Benefits of Bilingual Education”, which illuminate the value of this education model.

Dual Language programs work best when there are enough faculty members who are bilingual in English and the target language.  Unfortunately, this pool of teachers is quite small.  It does not work for a school that serves students who speak a variety of languages, which characterizes most schools districts in the U.S.


The effectiveness of instructional program models is a hot topic, but also a controversial one because they are connected to resource allocation and political persuasion. But instead of presenting them as effective or ineffective, I like to consider how inclusive is the learning experience for ELs. Inclusive means that the ELs are:

  1. Learning alongside their English-literate peers and
  2. ELs’ cultures, languages, and experiences are seen as assets instead of roadblocks to developing English skills.

I understand that each school has a different set of circumstances and that schools have to construct the model that works best for them.  Whatever model your school chooses, make sure to it’s the most inclusive experience for ELs that your school can support.

How do you think we can help schools implement more inclusive English programs?