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.
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 ELL/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 of ESL Students
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.
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.
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.
As a bonus, many ESL teachers have benefitted from our free Reading Horizons Online Reading Workshop. Sign up today!