5 Ways To Jumpstart Your ELL Class This Year

Two months ago, we were wrapping up postservice training. Now we’ve either started our preservice training or are counting down our remaining days of vacation. That means we have to get our classrooms ready for new students, and when our students are English language learners, there are some specific things we can do to make the first few months easier for us and for them. These include:

1. Use name cards.

I’m a big believer in using folded cardboard cards as temporary name tags for my students until I get to know their faces. Instead of filling them out myself, I have the students write on it what they would like me to call them so they can choose whether to use their real names, a nickname, or an Americanized name. I collect these at the end of class so I can use them to take attendance. For the next few classes, I pass these out again so I can see their face and name at the same time, which helps me make the connection a little quicker.

2. Plan for an icebreaker.

A good word game, like “Two Truths and a Lie,” or having students talk about what their names mean (both translated and what they personally like about them) can give you a quick assessment of how well your students can understand and follow simple procedures.

3. Give students a tour without leaving the classroom.

It’s not uncommon to see ELL students switch schools several times before graduation. You may want to consider some early activities that have students give and follow directions around the school so you can worry about them less when class ends. This is also a great time to show your students any resources your school can offer them, such as a writing center or adult ESL programs.

4. Plan for your school’s culture.

Another problem with ELL students moving so much is that they may not know what to expect at your school. This is a good time to reflect on skills struggled with in push-in settings and try to make it easier for them. For example, if your colleagues put a lot of emphasis on writing assignments, make that a priority for your first few activities.

5. Contact the parents.

It’s easy to give students a packet with your contact information, school attendance policy, and academic calendar, but getting this from your students’ backpacks to their parents’ hands isn’t always easy. You may want to place a call to the parents within the first month to make sure they got the information and to find out how well they speak English. This is also a great opportunity to make sure your contact information is accurate, which will save you some aggravation if you have to call later in the year and you get a disconnected phone number.

Do you have any other ideas or practices you use to kick off the school year? If so, please share in the comments section, below.

About Nathan Hall

Nathan Hall
Nathan Hall, MA TESOL, MS Education, lives in Pottstown, PA with his wife and two daughters. He has been involved in ESL since he volunteered as a tutor in 2001, which inspired him to leave the field of journalism for education. He has since taught English language learners in a variety of settings ranging from community programs to colleges as well as in several different types of middle schools and high schools. He is currently an ELL specialist at Achievement House Cyber Charter School in Exton, PA.
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2 Responses to 5 Ways To Jumpstart Your ELL Class This Year

  1. erin says:

    I second name cards regardless of students’ age/level!

    Great post,

  2. I love the idea of name tags, too. May I add a couple of ideas? I went to a workshop where we all drew three things that we like to do on the back of our name cards – another way to quickly learn something about students. You might also like the blog that my colleague, Karen Taylor, wrote – “What color is your name?” It’s a great way to help students learn to pronounce their names is a way that they peers and teachers can understand and pronounce.


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