11 Back-to-School Strategies for Teachers of ELs

Have you ever thought of what kind of support you would need if you were dropped into a classroom in a country where very few people spoke English? Think now of the newly arrived English learners (ELs) in our classrooms who must learn to speak, read, and write in English, but also must become acclimated to a new culture and learning environment. Because August is my fifth anniversary of writing blogs for TESOL, I went back over the list of what I have written to find 11 back-to-school strategies for teachers of ELs. Here are 11 ideas to use when you go back to school.

11 Back-to-School Strategies

1. Create a welcoming environment for ELs
Teachers can alleviate many fears experienced by newly arrived ELs by creating a welcoming environment in their classes. A nurturing teacher and welcoming classmates can greatly help beginning ELs cope with the challenges they face. The more comfortable new arrivals feel in your classroom, the more quickly they will be able to learn.

2. Build a positive asset-based relationship with ELs
When you genuinely care about the ELs in your classroom and demonstrate concern for their social and emotional well-being, you will have a substantial influence on their motivation to learn. Your relationship with these students is crucial to their success in school.

3. Pronounce students’ names correctly
Mispronouncing a student’s name can negate his or her identity and impede academic progress. Depending on their context, your ELs may have lost all that is familiar: friends, extended family, school, teachers, and so on. Don’t take their name from them, too.

4. Understand how culture shock affects ELs’ adjustment to learning in the United States
Moving to a new school can be difficult for any student, but for those who have to learn a new culture and language, the change can be devastating. If your ELs are coming to a U.S. school for the first time, they will experience culture shock that can dramatically affect their first year in a U.S. school.

5. Celebrate the cultures of your ELs and help them develop pride in their heritage
Take advantage of the natural resource that is in your classroom and support ELs from diverse backgrounds to develop pride in their heritage.

6. Teach the hidden curriculum of your school
The hidden curriculum encompasses various characteristics of schooling that “everybody knows.” It usually consists of a wide variety of social skills, such as interactions with peers and teachers, and includes the fundamental values and beliefs of a school community.

7. Allow ELs to speak their home language in school for academic purposes
When students speak their home language to learn English, it is an asset, not a barrier. As Jim Cummins says, “To reject a child’s language is to reject the child.”

8. Become a culturally relevant or responsive educator
Adopt a pedagogy grounded in the idea that educators teach to students’ unique cultural strengths. Consider what schema your ELs bring to the classroom and link instruction to their personal, cultural, and world experiences.

9. Teach Content-Area Vocabulary explicitly
Teachers need to know what ELs have already learned or experienced. Explicit links to previously taught text should be emphasized to activate prior knowledge.

10. Meet the language needs of ELs through scaffolding
Teachers need to take into account the language demands that ELs face in content classrooms and use scaffolding to meet these demands. When you scaffold lessons, the language is broken down into manageable pieces or chunks. This way, ELs can be given the necessary support to understand the content information provided in the lesson.

11. Communicate early in the school year with families of your ELs
One of our roles as ESL teachers is to facilitate the communication between our school and the families of our ELs. EL families may not be familiar with the practice of meeting with their child’s teacher and may not know what is expected of them during such a meeting. Many classroom teachers do not know how to communicate with family members who do not speak English and who are not familiar with U.S. school practices.

Have any of these tips worked particularly well in your practice? Do you have other ways you prepare yourself and your classroom for the new school year? Please share in the comments section, below. And have a great school year!

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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