Making ESL Class an Entryway for Community Involvement

A bulk of our training to become ELL specialists involves the nuances of linguistics and how to adapt curriculum, but it’s not until we’re in the classroom for a year that we begin to see how the education is only a sliver of our students’ lives. We learn how they may have jobs that leave them with no time for homework, how they move so often they barely know their own addresses, or how hard it can be to get their parents to attend IEP meetings or other school functions. There are two ways we can handle this realization: We can focus on our jobs as teachers and stick to our activities and tests, or we can try to help our students to gain the skills they truly need to succeed in society.

If you read this far, I’ll assume you chose the second option. The first step is to consider what you know about the students so that you can properly assess their needs.

  • Are they working?
  • Are they aware of community resources, such as food banks and rental assistance agencies, that are available to them?
  • What subjects could they use tutoring in?
  • What are their immediate health needs (this is especially important for pregnant teens and young parents)?

One successfully way to do this is to make it into an activity for the student—they can pick a particular charity from a list, practice reading to find pertinent information about it, and have them write or present a summary of their findings. The most important thing is that they realize these options are out there, available to them.

After that, it’s time to consider the parents’ needs, which may mean you’ll ask more questions at parent-teacher conferences than parents will.

  • Are the parents aware of translation services in the area?
  • Would they be interested in pursuing ESL classes through a community organization or a program at the school itself?
  • Do they have skills or previous education that they could still use, even as volunteers or aides?
  • Are they pursing citizenship, and, if so, do they need legal help?

Finally, consider the students’ culture in the local community. This is a great opportunity for teachers to talk to representatives and experts with these populations, so don’t be afraid to ask them about their traditions for education, what some common problems and misunderstandings are, or anything else that you and your colleagues may benefit from learning. Such knowledge can help you take a proactive approach to resolving small concerns before they become big problems.

For More Information

  1. This blog entry by Sharon Jacobs gives a great example of how to assess the students’ needs and meet them with local resources.
  2. Colorín Colorado has a great overview of the subject along with several links for more information.
  3. This article from All About Adolescent Literacy has some advice on how to make ELL students’ parents active participants and even leaders in the educational process.
  4. has an overview on how to foster community-parent collaboration through the school setting.

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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