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As most teachers are likely well aware, many English language learners (ELLs) are currently being educated in US schools.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, over 4.8 million kids in the education system do not have English as a first language and, as a result, have different educational needs from native speakers. This equates to around 10% of kids in the school system. If you have kids in your class who are not yet fluent in English, there are a few ways you can help them to integrate into the classroom and keep up with their peers academically. We’ve put together a list of 10 ways to support English language learners in the classroom to get you started.

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1. Create a welcoming and open environment

One of the most important ELL strategies to help language learners feel comfortable and confident is to foster an environment in which all students are encouraged to take intellectual and emotional risks. This means letting students know that embracing their culture and language can be wonderful and that they may learn from each other’s experiences.

Remind English learners that brushing their English skills is not about erasing their cultural identity. Still, a means to help them enjoy more meaningful relationships with other students and flourish academically. Nurturing a supportive environment means helping kids appreciate the value of diversity through open conversation, a broad and varied curriculum, and ensuring that facilities such as the classroom library are stocked with items that reflect students’ diverse identities.

Another good way of supporting ELL students struggling with culture shock is to find another student with a working knowledge of their native language. This could help them to feel a little less isolated while they are still settling in.

2. Teach language skills across every subject

The role of a teacher with ELL students is not merely to help learners get to grips with the English language in conversational terms. Rather, it is to help them grasp the different ways the language is used across academic subjects.

Math and science are good examples of subjects with specific vocabulary sets. If you’re a math teacher with ELL students in your classroom, it is a good idea to take extra care teaching language learners the meanings of terms such as ‘algebra’, ‘add’, or ‘calculator’.

3. Communicate frequently with the school’s ELL teacher

If you teach ELL students, the likelihood is that they will have been assigned a special ELL teacher to help them hone their English language skills quickly. By sharing lesson plans, ELL teachers and classroom teachers can help create an integrated curriculum that helps learners thrive. For example, if a classroom teacher decides to do a lesson in human biology, the ELL teacher can use relevant new vocabulary in their class.

4. Emphasize the importance of productive language skills

The more sophisticated dimensions of language fluency, such as speaking and writing – also known as productive language skills – should be at the forefront of learning, regardless of how reluctant students may be to exercise and hone these skills.

It is natural for new ELLs to master receptive language skills such as reading and listening first. Therefore, it is important to understand that students who appear to perfectly comprehend written or verbal instructions may not have attained fluency. The path to mastering a language is tricky, and speaking, writing, reading, and listening skills all need equal attention.

To ensure that all the skills are being covered in the classroom, teachers can try to get every student to do a little independent speaking and writing during every class. This will boost their confidence and language proficiency, as well as help them to integrate with peers.

5. Allow students to stay silent for a while

Many new ELLs are reluctant to speak when they first join a new school. This is often because they want to sound perfectly fluent when building relationships with their peers and want to avoid embarrassment. This is particularly true for young teenagers who are highly concerned about public judgment.

The best thing teachers can do about ELLs who are reluctant to speak is to acknowledge that the silent period is a very common stage in acquiring a second language. Allow them time to settle in a do not feel pressured to help improve their language skills very quickly.

6. Speak slowly and be patient

Remembering to speak slowly and clearly at all times can be very difficult and may take a little getting used to. It is, however, a very important part of making your classroom more accessible and open to ELL students. If you struggle to speak at a rhythm and pace that works for language learners, you can use a few tips and tricks to help yourself adjust. These include:

  • Record yourself speaking in class to assess how easy you are to understand. Use this information to adjust your voice.
  • Wait a few seconds after posing a question to allow students to think carefully about their answers. As well as giving ELL students time to translate and process the words, it gives native speakers a chance to think deeply about the question. Remember that calling on students immediately fosters a classroom environment that discourages deep deliberation and intelligent thinking.
  • Give yourself time to answer questions from students. Kids tend to emulate the actions of adults, so taking time to provide them with thoughtful and considered answers to their questions is a great way to create a learning environment in which everyone listens carefully to each other.
  • Ask students whether they can understand you. Although your ELL students may seem receptive to your information and instructions, they may simply be working hard to cover up the fact that they are struggling. Simply asking whether you need to slow down will easily fix this.

7. Allow ELL students’ native languages into the room

Remember that ELL students should be working towards bilingualism, not towards replacing their first language. In this way, you should allow students to explore topics in their language and English. Students may learn well by using their language to preview educational material before moving towards learning it in English.

Technology may come in useful here. You could start by encouraging students to look at online videos and resources introducing a certain topic in their native language. When you teach it in English, they may be able to pick up the knowledge much faster and more effectively.

Google translate may also be a useful tool for students as it may help them quickly translate unfamiliar words. It is important, however, to stress that the tool should be used sparingly to avoid students becoming dependent on it. The main perk of translation tools is that they avoid the need for teachers to repeat themselves too many times and avoid any embarrassment kids may feel if they keep asking about the meanings of words.

8. Be mindful of language unique to US culture

Some language and cultural activities are very specific to American or Western culture, so teachers must be mindful of this. As well as teaching your students new words, make sure that they understand cultural practices that may seem strange or unfamiliar. Allow them to ask questions and offer to explore certain topics with them in more depth if they struggle to understand them.

9. Learn about your students’ cultural backgrounds and avoid stereotyping

Learning a few things about your students’ cultural backgrounds is a good way of demonstrating that you respect them and are interested in broadening your horizons as well as theirs. Avoiding acknowledging your students’ different upbringings and backgrounds could even offend. If they practice a certain religion that prohibits certain foods, they may be upset if you only offer that type of food during a classroom party or celebration.

At the same time, it is important not to make too big of a deal about a child’s differences. Practicing cultural inclusiveness does not mean making students speak for their entire country or culture. Remember that they are not there to represent diversity or to help other students learn about other cultures. They are in your class to learn like any other pupil.

If you are teaching an upcoming topic relevant to an ELL student, discuss with them beforehand whether they want to discuss it and share their knowledge and experiences with other students in the class.

10. Give ELL students extra material to help them keep up

It may be helpful to provide ELL students with copies of the upcoming week’s learning material so they can absorb the information. This will boost their chances of understanding the information you will cover when the class takes place and could even allow them to teach their peers a thing or two. Relaying information this way is a great way to boost confidence and language proficiency.

If you want to empower ELL students in this way, please send them any worksheets or links to YouTube videos you plan to show to the class.