Monday, August 10, 2015

8 Great Ways To Welcome And Support ELL's In The Mainstream Classroom

Holy cow, it's August! Summer never fails to whiz right by, especially for teachers and students, it seems. Even though Frontier ESL was in full swing during the month of July in tutoring mode, this part of August is dedicated to planning and preparing for another great academic year. I'm looking to incorporate a few new rituals and routines in my ESL classroom, which I most certainly will be blogging about in the coming weeks. But right now, my thoughts turn to my incoming students and how I can best potentiate their learning in their mainstream classrooms as well as in mine.

Below I've outlined eight solid strategies that all teachers can use in their work with ELL students. They're simple, they involve minimal prep time, and most of all, they benefit all students, not just English language learners:

1. Use sentence frames for support with academic language.

Many ELL's need support with academic conversations and vocabulary. Post partially completed sentences like, "I disagree with ____________'s point because _______________" or "__________ is similar to _______________ because ________________." Post these and other frames relevant to your content in visible places in the classroom. It will reinforce all students' academic conversation and it provides opportunities for practice with tier 2 and 3 vocabulary words.

2. Visualize.

Whenever possible, use pictures, graphic organizers, kinesthetic movement -- anything to avoid "teaching in the air," which refers to relying on speaking to instruct students. ELL's have a harder time deciphering spoken language independent of other supports, so be sure to post written instructions, even for classroom routines. More complex tasks and concepts can be diagrammed and/or supported with photographs and illustrations. 

3. Provide scaffolding with a student's native language.

Students will learn new vocabulary in the target language, or L2, much faster if they can connect with words they already know in their native language, or L1. Provide L1/L2 glossaries for content vocabulary. Post FAQ's in both a student's home language as well as in English. For example, a set of mini posters that say "How do you say ___________?" "Can you repeat that, please?"and "Can you explain ____________?" provides newer ELL's with ways to practice speaking and asking for clarification, both of which strengthen language acquisition and help the student gain confidence and a sense of belonging in the classroom.

4. Pre-teach.

Identify key vocabulary words in reading material and spend a few minutes going over those prior to beginning an assignment. Consider giving ELL's articles or videos that you're going to use in class a day or two ahead of time. When given the chance to preview material, ELL's stand a much greater chance of understanding content on the day it's presented to the rest of the class. This also gives ELL's an opportunity to ask or prepare questions in advance.

5. Consider using NewsELA.

NewsELA ( is a great, free website that collects nonfiction current event articles across a variety of disciplines (science, money, law, health, etc.) and presents them at several different reading levels. This is a FANTASTIC tool for teachers working with any classes made up of students with varying reading abilities. If you assign an article on the rare, mysterious bonneted bat population to a 9th grade biology class, an ELL student with a 4th grade reading level can access the same article as his or her peers and participate in relevant discussions and activities. Both my students and I have found this site to be very engaging and useful. I can't recommend it enough.

6. Recognize that language ability does not equal cognitive ability.

So often I see evidence of teachers looking at ELL's as less intelligent, less capable, less than their native English-speaking peers. Just because a student may not be able to express him or herself in English, it doesn't mean that these concepts don't exist inside their brains. Beginner ELL's work twice as hard as their English speaking peers, and they tend to have half as much to show for it. Remember that language acquisition is a process that takes time. Look past the mispronunciations and L1 accents, and praise ELL's for their efforts and contributions, no matter how small.

7. Set the tone for the class.

ELL's, particularly beginners, can feel isolated and lonely. Make a clear statement and set a strong tone of empathy, tolerance and celebration of diversity in your classroom. Encourage all students to welcome ELL's and value the unique contributions they bring. Students who work with others of varying language abilities and cultural backgrounds develop skills that help them to become more productive, empathetic and global-minded citizens.

8. Communicate with your school's ESL teacher.

The ESL teacher in your school has a wealth of training, knowledge and expertise specific to working with second language acquisition. Seek this person out if you have questions or problems. Ask to have this person sit in on a class, troubleshoot, or simply lend an ear to whatever situation you're dealing with. You're likely to find the support you need from an in-house expert.

I hope that these ideas are helpful as you gear up for this school year! As always, comments and suggestions are most welcome.

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