Today’s classroom has many English Language Learners (ELL), once referred to as English as a Second Language (ESL) or Limited English Proficiency (LEP). There are over 4 million students in public education classified as ELL—and these numbers continue to rise. In the 1990s, there were 14 million immigrants who moved to the US, and there were 14 million more between 2000 and 2010. In fact, ELL students are the fastest-growing student population according to the National Council For Teacher Education (NCTE).
As educators, it is imperative that we meet the needs of these students. Here are some quick and easy ways to help your English Language Learners:
- Cultural Background: In order to better serve your English Language Learners, find out about their cultural background. What country did they come from? How long have they been in America? Showing an interest in their country and their background not only makes your students feel comfortable, but can give you some insight for your instruction. For example, if your students are from Mexico, then you may know a few Spanish words to say to them to ease their transition into your classroom. Also, the Spanish language has many similar cognates (words close to English) that can help as they are learning the language. To further this understanding, find out about all students’ cultural backgrounds. Invite visitors (or parents) to the classroom from other countries to teach students about different holidays or other celebrations. If you have a diverse school, consider a Cultural Night—this brings the community and school together while teaching tolerance and acceptance.
- Visuals: Having many visuals will greatly enhance your instruction. As students are learning English, having a picture with the word/action you are trying to teach helps immensely. Consider labeling items in your classroom with English words as well. Students can be engaged in this process by drawing their own pictures to match different vocabulary words. There are many different apps, such as Kids’ Vocab or EF High Flyers, that can assist with this as well. Create a video of classroom routines or label photos of frequently visited areas in the school, such as the library or cafeteria.
- Peer Mentors: Pair your English Language Learners with English speakers—especially the “talkers” in your classroom! Allow for times when students can engage in speaking to one another. Have students retell a story to each other or talk about different activities they like to do. I know everyone likes a quiet classroom, but our English Language Learners need opportunities to talk in order to develop their language skills. I call them “talking buddies” and often tell my students to turn to their talking buddies and discuss various topics. This engages all students.
- Preferential Seating: Be sure to put your English Language Learners near your teaching areas. This can help facilitate your instruction and create a better learning experience for them. You can also check for understanding more easily and efficiently. Once you have given directions for an assignment, you can decipher right away if they understand what to do. I usually have English-speaking students sit near them as well so they can assist with various activities.
- Rich Language Experiences: Be sure to provide plenty of opportunities for students to experience English. Have students read to a class pet, sing and dance to fun songs in English, or have puffy pillows and stuffed animals in the classroom so partners can read together or engage in conversation. Implement partner or group activities as much as possible such as Play-Doh with vocabulary words, experimenting with magnets, playing Pictionary, etc. Creating classroom activities that engage students as much as possible will provide authentic learning experiences, making learning English more meaningful.
- Parent Communication: Reach out to your ELL parents—Google translate can be your friend! I use it to translate any communication I send home. It may not be perfect, but it gets the message across. I let my parents know I use it and to ask questions if something is unclear. Most school districts also have translators that can come to conferences to help as you discuss their child’s progress. Encourage parents to read to their child in their native language to help basic literacy skills. Also, suggest watching educational programs in English as well as downloading apps that can teach English. You can also invite parents to come into the classroom to teach the class about their native country.
- Modifications: You may need to modify assignments and tests for your ELL students. For example, create a sentence frame where students fill in necessary information without them writing an entire paragraph on a subject. Also, be sure to use wait time and a slower rate of speech. Remember, our ELL students are learning two languages and need extra time to process information. Teachers are on continual time constraints, so talking quickly comes very natural for us. However, we need to slow down for our ELL students so they can become more proficient in English.
- Model, Model, Model: Use nonverbal cues as you are teaching to show your ELL students what you want them to do. Have peers model behaviors and expectations as well. Don’t be afraid to act something out or engage others (including your ELL students) to do the same. Show student work samples, play charades, and point to or incorporate real life objects/ activities as you teach.
Taking the time to incorporate these strategies will help your ELL students in the classroom. English Language Learners need to feel accepted and welcomed from day one. Creating a classroom with a variety of teaching methods and experiences will facilitate their learning and language proficiency. Some of these strategies are just good teaching practices and can benefit all students. However, keeping in mind and tuning in to the needs of our ELL students will help us provide a higher quality of instruction for them, ensuring student success and English acquisition.
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