Create a List

List Name

Rename this List
Save to
Back to the Top Teaching Blog
February 17, 2016

15 Tips for Working With English Language Learners

By Amanda Nehring
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    No matter your grade level, subject area, or location, it is likely that you will have a student in your class that is learning to speak English. The diversity of our nation’s schools is one of our most valuable traits, but it can still be scary for students and teachers alike when language differences make classroom learning more difficult. If you find yourself needing a few tricks of the trade and some new resources for working with your ELL (English Language Learner) students, then read on!

     

     

    Introduction to ELLs

    ELL students will come to your classroom with a wide range of language abilities. Newcomers to this country and younger students may find themselves in early language development stages where they are silent observers or speak in shorter sentences. This is normal and while it can make communication more difficult it doesn’t mean that those students aren’t learning.

    As students become more comfortable with English they will begin to practice speaking. At this point it is important that you be encouraging and foster a safe classroom environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. This is where students will make great strides in their language development, beginning with basic social language and working their way to academic vocabulary.

    A great resource I have found to help teachers is Easy & Engaging ESL Activities and Mini-Books for Every Classroom. Many of the activities and strategies that follow can be enhanced by the games, worksheets, and mini-books in this book, so I recommend grabbing yourself a copy!

     

    Tips for helping your ELL students

    • Use lots of visuals. Students who are developing English language skills will benefit from seeing pictures, videos, and real-life examples of objects and concepts being studied. You can make sure to provide visual support through picture dictionaries.Dictionary of new math words

    • Create a safe environment for practicing language. Confidence is key for students trying to learn a new language, so it is imperative that your classroom be a safe place for students to practice speaking English and even feel comfortable making mistakes. Try to avoid correcting students in general conversations, instead modeling the correct usage of vocabulary and grammar in a simple and slow manner.

    • Clearly communicate objectives. Students will be most successful when they are told upfront what they will be expected to learn and to do as a result of a lesson. This is true for all students, not just English language learners. Dedicate a section of your whiteboard to listing both content and language objectives for each lesson. Review the objectives with students at the end of the lesson to make sure that you all accomplished what you set out to do.

    • Introduce new vocabulary at the start of a lesson. Before you begin to explain the life cycle of a butterfly to your students, for example, you should take the time to introduce your ELL students to the relevant academic vocabulary. Make sure to use visuals and maybe even have your students keep a dictionary of new words they learn. This will help them assign meaning to the language of the concepts you are about to cover.

    • Anchor chart of Spanish-English CognatesBe flexible with your assessments. ELL students will be more successful if they are assessed in ways that allow them to use all of their resources and skills to show what they know. If a student can’t write out a description of a story’s main character, can they draw and label the character to show traits? If mathematical word problems are too difficult, can they understand better when they hear the problem read aloud? Look at each of your ELL students’ strengths to decide on the best assessment method for each child.

    • Make use of the students’ native languages. Many students coming with languages like Spanish, French, or German will find similarities between their native language and English. Use those similarities to foster language growth! Encourage students to keep a notebook of cognates, the words that sound the same in both languages, to help them bridge the language gap. Ask your ELL students to share the connections they’ve noticed with the class, allowing all students to see the basic building blocks of language and maybe even learn some new words in a different tongue!

     

    Communicating with ELL parents

    • Make the effort to meet parents in person. You’ll be amazed how far a simple meeting can go to make ELL students’ parents feel comfortable. You can give a tour of the school, share some work that the student has done in class, or just say a quick hello to show that you care. If your district has translators for the family’s native language, ask them to come to the meeting and introduce themselves to the parents.

    • Avoid using students as translators. It may be easy to ask students to help you communicate with their parents, but this can actually cause problems. Many times you want to share information with parents that you wouldn’t want going through a student. You’d be amazed how the translation of “Ben had trouble getting along with his partner today,” can change when you are sending it through Ben himself. Using children as translators also creates an imbalance in the hierarchy of the family. Parents should feel like they are in charge, so it is best to use an outside adult translator whenever possible.

    • Never assume that a parent can’t speak English. Making the assumption that ELL students’ parents can’t speak English can be both insulting and inaccurate. Many times a student receives ESL services because more than one language is spoken at home, but parents still speak English. I have found that it is best to send a home language survey at the beginning of the year to get to know the family dynamic and language preferences up front.

    • Host a newcomers night at your school. Bring together all of the ESL resource teachers, district translators, school administrators, and, of course, ELL families for a night of introductions and information. Give a tour of the school. Explain how to use the school library. Introduce parents to the people that can serve as translators. Making newcomers feel welcome can help to increase participation in school events.

    • Make your best effort to provide materials in parents’ native languages. If you have the means to provide information to parents in their native language, do it, but only if you can be sure that it is a good quality translation. Translation websites can be great, but often the meaning of your message can be confused and even incorrect. If you use a translation site try to find someone who can read over the text to make sure it makes sense.

    Advocating for your ELL students

    • Foster an environment of acceptance and an appreciation of diversity. Be intentional about sharing other cultures with your class. Read one of these books with your students to impress upon them the importance of making everyone feel welcome and valued.

    • Let your ELL students share their culture. Provide students many opportunities to share their own experiences, customs, foods, and language with the class. You could have a weekly show-and-tell or even host a cultural celebration in the classroom.

    • Fight against stereotypes in your school and community. As a bilingual teacher I am often saddened by the stereotypes about ELL students that pervade. When you hear students, colleagues, or community members engaged in conversations that could be inaccurate and hurtful, don’t be afraid to kindly interject. Many people are just unaware of different cultures and would be happy to learn about your experiences with the ELL population.

    • Stay informed about best practices in teaching ELLs. Researchers are always uncovering new information about how language develops. Keep your eyes open for local conferences about language learning held by your department of education. You can also find articles like "Success for ESL Students" in Scholastic Teacher magazine.

    Some of the products in this blog post were provided to the blogger by Scholastic for her review and suggested use.

    No matter your grade level, subject area, or location, it is likely that you will have a student in your class that is learning to speak English. The diversity of our nation’s schools is one of our most valuable traits, but it can still be scary for students and teachers alike when language differences make classroom learning more difficult. If you find yourself needing a few tricks of the trade and some new resources for working with your ELL (English Language Learner) students, then read on!

     

     

    Introduction to ELLs

    ELL students will come to your classroom with a wide range of language abilities. Newcomers to this country and younger students may find themselves in early language development stages where they are silent observers or speak in shorter sentences. This is normal and while it can make communication more difficult it doesn’t mean that those students aren’t learning.

    As students become more comfortable with English they will begin to practice speaking. At this point it is important that you be encouraging and foster a safe classroom environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. This is where students will make great strides in their language development, beginning with basic social language and working their way to academic vocabulary.

    A great resource I have found to help teachers is Easy & Engaging ESL Activities and Mini-Books for Every Classroom. Many of the activities and strategies that follow can be enhanced by the games, worksheets, and mini-books in this book, so I recommend grabbing yourself a copy!

     

    Tips for helping your ELL students

    • Use lots of visuals. Students who are developing English language skills will benefit from seeing pictures, videos, and real-life examples of objects and concepts being studied. You can make sure to provide visual support through picture dictionaries.Dictionary of new math words

    • Create a safe environment for practicing language. Confidence is key for students trying to learn a new language, so it is imperative that your classroom be a safe place for students to practice speaking English and even feel comfortable making mistakes. Try to avoid correcting students in general conversations, instead modeling the correct usage of vocabulary and grammar in a simple and slow manner.

    • Clearly communicate objectives. Students will be most successful when they are told upfront what they will be expected to learn and to do as a result of a lesson. This is true for all students, not just English language learners. Dedicate a section of your whiteboard to listing both content and language objectives for each lesson. Review the objectives with students at the end of the lesson to make sure that you all accomplished what you set out to do.

    • Introduce new vocabulary at the start of a lesson. Before you begin to explain the life cycle of a butterfly to your students, for example, you should take the time to introduce your ELL students to the relevant academic vocabulary. Make sure to use visuals and maybe even have your students keep a dictionary of new words they learn. This will help them assign meaning to the language of the concepts you are about to cover.

    • Anchor chart of Spanish-English CognatesBe flexible with your assessments. ELL students will be more successful if they are assessed in ways that allow them to use all of their resources and skills to show what they know. If a student can’t write out a description of a story’s main character, can they draw and label the character to show traits? If mathematical word problems are too difficult, can they understand better when they hear the problem read aloud? Look at each of your ELL students’ strengths to decide on the best assessment method for each child.

    • Make use of the students’ native languages. Many students coming with languages like Spanish, French, or German will find similarities between their native language and English. Use those similarities to foster language growth! Encourage students to keep a notebook of cognates, the words that sound the same in both languages, to help them bridge the language gap. Ask your ELL students to share the connections they’ve noticed with the class, allowing all students to see the basic building blocks of language and maybe even learn some new words in a different tongue!

     

    Communicating with ELL parents

    • Make the effort to meet parents in person. You’ll be amazed how far a simple meeting can go to make ELL students’ parents feel comfortable. You can give a tour of the school, share some work that the student has done in class, or just say a quick hello to show that you care. If your district has translators for the family’s native language, ask them to come to the meeting and introduce themselves to the parents.

    • Avoid using students as translators. It may be easy to ask students to help you communicate with their parents, but this can actually cause problems. Many times you want to share information with parents that you wouldn’t want going through a student. You’d be amazed how the translation of “Ben had trouble getting along with his partner today,” can change when you are sending it through Ben himself. Using children as translators also creates an imbalance in the hierarchy of the family. Parents should feel like they are in charge, so it is best to use an outside adult translator whenever possible.

    • Never assume that a parent can’t speak English. Making the assumption that ELL students’ parents can’t speak English can be both insulting and inaccurate. Many times a student receives ESL services because more than one language is spoken at home, but parents still speak English. I have found that it is best to send a home language survey at the beginning of the year to get to know the family dynamic and language preferences up front.

    • Host a newcomers night at your school. Bring together all of the ESL resource teachers, district translators, school administrators, and, of course, ELL families for a night of introductions and information. Give a tour of the school. Explain how to use the school library. Introduce parents to the people that can serve as translators. Making newcomers feel welcome can help to increase participation in school events.

    • Make your best effort to provide materials in parents’ native languages. If you have the means to provide information to parents in their native language, do it, but only if you can be sure that it is a good quality translation. Translation websites can be great, but often the meaning of your message can be confused and even incorrect. If you use a translation site try to find someone who can read over the text to make sure it makes sense.

    Advocating for your ELL students

    • Foster an environment of acceptance and an appreciation of diversity. Be intentional about sharing other cultures with your class. Read one of these books with your students to impress upon them the importance of making everyone feel welcome and valued.

    • Let your ELL students share their culture. Provide students many opportunities to share their own experiences, customs, foods, and language with the class. You could have a weekly show-and-tell or even host a cultural celebration in the classroom.

    • Fight against stereotypes in your school and community. As a bilingual teacher I am often saddened by the stereotypes about ELL students that pervade. When you hear students, colleagues, or community members engaged in conversations that could be inaccurate and hurtful, don’t be afraid to kindly interject. Many people are just unaware of different cultures and would be happy to learn about your experiences with the ELL population.

    • Stay informed about best practices in teaching ELLs. Researchers are always uncovering new information about how language develops. Keep your eyes open for local conferences about language learning held by your department of education. You can also find articles like "Success for ESL Students" in Scholastic Teacher magazine.

    Some of the products in this blog post were provided to the blogger by Scholastic for her review and suggested use.

Comments

Share your ideas about this article

Amanda's Most Recent Posts
Blog Post
It's National Write to a Friend Month!

December is National Write to a Friend Month, so let's look at some great books, crafts, and activities to encourage your first and second graders to get writing. 

By Amanda Nehring
November 30, 2016
Blog Post
October Read-Aloud Books and Activities

From Fire Safety Week to Halloween, these read-aloud books and accompanying activities will help your class fall into October themes. 

By Amanda Nehring
October 6, 2016
Blog Post
Printable Teacher Planner

Get organized for the start of school with this free printable teacher planner. 

By Amanda Nehring
August 18, 2016
Blog Post
Make the Most of Your Summer

Here are some tips for making the most of summertime both professionally and personally.

By Amanda Nehring
May 24, 2016
My Scholastic

Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2
About Us