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To Do or Not To Do: Working With ELL Students

Leer esto. Lesen Sie diese. Прочтите это. 阅读此。قراءة هذا. Some quick hints on working with your ELL/ESL students.

If you're teaching at a school in the US, you're more than likely working with a diverse group of students. An ever-growing student population within our buildings in recent years is our ELL (English Language Learner)/ESL (English as a Second Language) population. These may be students who have recently come from a different country or students who come to us from a household where English is not spoken. As active participants in our classrooms, ELL students can literally bring a whole new world to the table during activities and discussions as we shared in Diversity- Embrace Each Face1 Each student has their own story to share, and as we meet the educational needs of our ELL students, we are giving them the confidence to share those stories.

When working with ELL students, it's important to realize the challenges they are facing as they try to learn new concepts while learning a new language. Take a moment to think about how overwhelming certain ideas and concepts can be for any student on a given day and add the challenge of having to process the lesson or activity in a non-native language before tackling it. For our emerging ELL students, it's no wonder they may seem to shut down or act out when the material gets difficult. They're overwhelmed by having to add an additional step to complete the work. By employing some key strategies and modifications, we can help these students find success in English-speaking classrooms.


Speak loudly

While this may seem cliché, it's an important reminder. Our volume and tone are key factors in how our communication is received. Raising your voice won't lead to comprehension and could bring unwanted attention to someone who may already be having trouble connecting with his/her peers. It can also be received as a negative interaction and cause the student to avoid interaction with the teacher in the future.


Speak clearly

Speaking clearly does not mean over-enunciating everything you say. It's just a reminder to be aware of how you communicate. If you're facing the board or your head is down because you're reading or writing, your projection and clarity are probably affected. This can make it difficult for all of your students to follow what you say but especially an ELL student who may be relying on expression and gestures to assimilate meaning.


Only speak directions

Verbal directions can pose additional challenges for the ELL population. If a student has difficulty understanding what has been said, he won't be able to successfully complete whatever has been directed. Making verbal changes to existing directions can also be problematic for the same reason. If you're only going to repeat it louder, he probably won't ask for clarification.


Provide Written or Visual Directions/Cues

This is a great strategy for all of your students and will make a big difference for ELL students. If you make verbal changes to written directions, give students time to record these changes. Write directions on the board when students have an activity to complete or create icons that you can post as visual reminders of progression for group work or multi-step activities.


Overuse Figurative Language

While figurative language creates some flair and intrigue in communication, it can create confusion for non-native speakers. If you say "It's raining cats and dogs," you might have a second grader ducking under her desk for cover! The nuances of idioms will be lost on students who are solely focused on literal translation. These are also difficult for students on the autism spectrum.


Use Precise Language

Say it like you mean it. When working with ELL students, it's best to be direct and precise in language when communicating. While expanding and elaborating have their place, sometimes more is just too much to process and can lead to unnecessary confusion. If you make yourself approachable and check in often, students can come to you if more examples or further clarification are needed.

I have always loved working with ELL students, and there are so many great strategies and modifications to help them find success. Using graphic organizers is another very effective strategy for making information manageable and comprehensible. The Seven Teaching Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs2 by Judie Haynes from her book Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas adds some more great ideas. Linking to prior knowledge and cooperative learning are two key strategies that can easily be incorporated. If you take the time to reflect on your strategies and practices, you'd probably be surprised to see how many can be tweaked or modified just a bit to meet the educational needs of your ELL population. In fact, the majority of these To Do's can be beneficial to every student in your classroom.

Don't make your classroom a place where any student finds you unapproachable. Do be mindful of the individuals who sit before you and employ strategies that will bring your curriculum to life for all of them. Give your ELL students the educational foundation and confidence to share their own story!

Всего наилучшего!

Additional Resources & Works Cited

1. Diversity: Embrace Each Face

2. The Seven Teaching Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs

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