Supporting ESL Students: 10 Tips For Mainstream Teachers

Guest Post by: Robyn Shulman, M.Ed.

From the 1997-98 school year to the 2008-09 school year, the amount of ESL learners enrolled in U.S. public schools increased from 3.5 million to 5.3 million, a 51% increase (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2011). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2008, there are now over 200 languages spoken in the United States.

tips for mainstreaming esl students

The number of ESL students is highly disproportionate to the amount of ESL and/or Bilingual teachers in the US today. Without the number of necessary trained ESL/Bilingual teachers, and lack of first language support, it is imperative that mainstream teachers play a major role in contributing to the success of the ESL student. ESL students can and will be successful given that all teachers provide the necessary platform and ongoing continuum of support. This support must come from both an ESL pedagogical view, as well as, an emotional, social, and developmental lens.

The 10 tips and strategies below are intended to help mainstream teachers meet the needs of our wonderful, diverse population. The first 5 tips focus on social, developmental and emotional needs, while the last 5 focus on ESL pedagogy, methods and strategies. Using these tips together will provide a balanced approach, as they are both integral to English acquisition.


Social, Emotional and Developmental Needs


1. Cultural Awareness

All teachers should take a moment to self-reflect about their own understandings and questions in regard to cultural differences. Take the time to learn about different cultures, gestures, and traditions and celebrate these differences with all of the students in the classroom. Encourage all students to share their culture with classmates.

2. Empathize

Try to imagine how overwhelming it must feel to leave your home country and family members while trying to assimilate, learn, and socialize in a foreign language. Be aware that ESL students will be in culture shock and feel highly alienated for some time. Garner patience and understand that it will take time for ESL students to talk, as a silent period is highly expected. Smile and show support to your best ability.

3. Provide A Comfort Zone

Assess where the ESL student's abilities are in relation to basic survival skills and needs. Assign a friendly and welcoming buddy to assist with common school locations, requirements, and routines. If possible, keep an extra eye out during busy transition times to assure the student gets to the correct location. If possible, find someone in the school, another classmate, parent or volunteer that may speak the student's language. Connecting the student with someone who speaks his/her native language will provide a great deal of comfort.

4. Spotlight Respect For All Cultures

Reaffirm the message about being supportive of one another, kind, understanding and patient. Encourage everyone to openly talk about his or her personal culture, traditions, and languages. Have parties celebrating the different cultures in the class, sharing music, historical family photos, dances, games, food and traditions. Hold discussions about the history of America, immigration, and the value of diversity and differences. Encourage students to share their own stories of immigration, passed down from generation to generation.

5. Community

If parents and/or guardians do not speak English, request an interpreter if possible for all school communication, including parties, conferences and special events. Invite parents to all school community functions to encourage and foster a sense of belonging. If possible, introduce other students and/or families who speak the same language as the ESL student. Sharing cultural commonalities will provide strong bonds for students, parents, and teachers.


ESL Pedagogy, Methods, and Strategies


6. Assess Student Informally

Assess ESL students on an informal basis when they first arrive to class, and ongoing during the school year. It is imperative to primarily check for understanding in regard to basic and social needs. Pay attention from the sideline to see if they know numbers, letters, and/or short English phrases. Continuously check for comprehension and growth informally, make notes, and never be afraid to raise the bar and challenge a bit.

7. Don't Discourage Native Language Use

With all good intentions, this is a common mistake teachers can make. ESL students who have a stronger foundation of their native language will have a shorter route to acquiring English. Don't discourage native language use, as this will result in negative feelings about the student's language, culture, and may cause delay in English language acquisition. Provide free time for the ESL student to read and write in their native language.

8. Use Manipulatives, Visuals, Games, Music and Hands-On Activities in the Classroom

According to William Glaser, we learn 80% of what we experience, and 95% of what we teach others. ESL students do exceptionally well when this theory is followed. Involve them in projects that will encourage them to talk as much as possible with their classmates. Some ideas for projects are the following: cooking (following easy directions), art (drawing, painting, sculpture), musical activities (music provides an amazing platform for learning), and acting (for example, charades).

9. Provide Various Opportunities For Talking and Consider Seat Placement

It is very important to consider seat placement in the classroom for the ESL student. All too often, ESL students are seated in the back of the classroom, which leads to a great lack of contribution, listening, and participation. Try and seat the ESL student close to the front, especially with other students who are inviting and enjoy conversation. Provide the most opportunities as possible for talking and listening to others in the class via group work. You will be surprised how much shorter the silent period will end.

10. Communicate with the ESL teacher

Maintain communication with the ESL teacher as much as possible. The sooner both teachers are working together, the quicker the student will learn English. Be open to the ESL teacher's suggestions, let him/her share in the modification of classwork, and invite the ESL teacher into your classroom. If there is a concern, a question, or if you simply need some advice, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Build this open communication bridge together, as both teachers are there to support and help the ESL student succeed.


About Robyn:

Robyn Shulman, M.Ed., is an ESL and mainstream certified teacher in the state of Illinois. She taught in both areas for 7 years, working with pre-school through adult learners. For the past 6 years, she has been working as an academic and career advisor in the ESL/Bilingual field. She currently works for Max My Career as an ESL/Bilingual consultant, working with Illinois school districts, providing workshops, recruiting teachers, and offering career guidance for teachers. You can visit her website at: http://www.maxmycareer.com for more information. 


mainstreaming-esl-students


3 Comments

  • Nicholas Tee

    Here is something that might also provide some tangible assistance with and for those students. Have a look at Zane Education ....video develoed specifically to teach over 260 curriculum topics. Every video is purposely subtitled. Each student has the choice to watch, listen to and hear, or read each presentation. The study tools alonside each video enable the student to stop the video, and without leaving the page can investigate the meaning of the words or find our more about the topic. The reseach over the last 30 years into the link between the use of subtitles on video and the improvement in reading and literacy skills has been significant, and the same advantages are there for the ESL student. We have been accomodating homestay students from a number of other countries for several years who have come over to learn English and study at school here at the same time. I've seen many who have been bright students in their own country have their grades tumble because the Biology teacher introduces a word like "photosynthesis" but because they cannot be there to be an ESL teacher as well, the student starts falling behind....and quickly. Using these subtitled or closed captioned videos enables most children to study a curriculum topic and improve their reading and literacy skills simultaneously. But for the ESL students this really provides a solution. As well as being able to hear how the words are spoken and pronounced, they can see how the words are spelled, and sentence structure and evereything else improves significantly. There is an awful lot of information available online about this subject but of all the companies providing online video, only Zane Education has provided the use of subtitles and is strong in the area. http://www.zaneeducation.com And Zane is very keen to work with yourselves to enable more children to take advantage of this. So if this is of interest, please don't hesitate to contact me and lets see what we can do together.

  • Renee Mizrahi

    It is important to know that children should learn how to read in their first language. As a college level reading specialist at CUNY, (I work with students who need to strengthen their literacy skills to enter the college)I don't discourage native language use, but I do encourage my ESL students to speak with other students in English, listen to TV and radio shows in English and to read as much as possible in English. I have found that the reading level for ESL students is generally lower because of weak language skills and vocabulary. To remedy this I use the QRI-3 to ascertain the student's independent reading level. I also make sure that they are in possession of a library card. I then recommend that they speak with the librarian and find books that interest them on their level to read. This method has resulted in tremendous success with the ESL students who follow through. Most pass the exams and and perform as well or better than the English native speakers.

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Jan 24 2012

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