As summer winds down and a new school year begins, you will likely be introduced to an entirely new group of students in your classroom. While each student will have his or her own specific strong suits and challenges, it is important to note that English Language Learners (ELLs) have a unique set of challenges compared to other students. If you have ELL students in your classroom this year, here are a few tips to help ease the transition from their summer at home back into the English-speaking classroom.
1. Work with the students’ previous teacher or ELL teacher to understand more about their skillsets. Find out what helped them the most the previous year and what did not seem to help them succeed. When possible, incorporate some of these best practices – no need to reinvent the wheel if your colleagues have already worked with these students successfully!
2. Be patient. While some of your ELL students will have spent their summer engaging in activities that helped them practice their improving English skills, others may have spent the majority of the break only speaking their native language at home. Just as there is expected to be some information loss across normal school subjects, your ELL students who have not been practicing their English language skills may be a bit rusty at the beginning of the year.
3. Incorporate SWRL (Speaking, Writing, Reading and Listening) in class daily. SWRL encompasses the domains of language acquisition. When ELL students exercise all four of these domains on a daily basis, it will help improve their language learning more quickly. ELL students may not read, write, or speak perfectly, but encouraging them to practice these skills frequently will help them improve more quickly. However, you should also respect that there may be times when your ELL students wish to remain silent. Encourage participation, but do not force them to speak aloud, as they will likely engage more in classroom discussions as their confidence improves throughout the year.
4. Use visual aids. ELL students often have a more difficult time processing spoken language over written language. When possible, write simple, clear instructions on the board. You can also add pictures and diagrams for more complex topics to help aid their understanding of the topic. If it’s something you can demonstrate or show them how to do first, even better!
Above all else, it is important to be patient with and encourage ELL students. They are usually working harder to master concepts than the rest of the students in the class, since processing information in a second (or third!) language can take two to three times as long as it does to process in their native language. Feel free to communicate directly with your students and their parents to determine if you need to make any adjustments to your teaching technique, since, like any other student, their individual needs may vary significantly from those of native English-speaking students.