When it comes to learning a new language, newcomers have a unique challenge. Unlike most English-speaking students, ELLs have the task of learning a second language and learning content simultaneously. Because language plays a critical role not just in reading and writing, but in several other disciplines also, you’re challenged with making lessons comprehensible and with ensuring that students have the language to understand instruction and express their grasp of principal concepts orally and in writing. Learners need long-term support to deal with new and ongoing problems, therefore, having specific and measurable goals visible remind you of what you want to accomplish.
Here are six ways to try to improve obstacles for ELL learners to help them make the grade:
1. Assess Needs
Within a few days of the newcomer’s arrival to your classroom, assess their English-language proficiency. Do they know letter names, sounds and phonics? Can they follow clear directions and tasks? Are you able to assess literacy levels in their own language? Ongoing, informal assessment will give you a clear picture of where the student is so you have a good place to start when designing a program that caters to their needs.
- Provide dedicated support for learners
Imagine how overwhelming and alienating it is to be educated in an unfamiliar language and culture. Help the newcomer feel welcome. Make sure to be patient and friendly. There are two key items ELLs need in order to improve their English — time and practice. Discuss with the rest of your class how they might help the new student adjust to the class and the new routines. Speak to the other students in your class and assign a “buddy” who will help the newcomer find his way around school, master classroom routines, get involved in games at recess and understand directions and classroom expectations.
- Explicitly teach English Language Vocabulary and Structures
It’s important to remember that language, literacy and life go hand in hand and these facets will benefit ELLs from increased exposure to print and language. A print-rich environment (whether that be text will include access to books and reference materials, labels and posters, and student work on bulletin boards. Word walls are also a great support for ELLs, and may be organized around a number of concepts, including the alphabet, phonetic sounds, new vocabulary words, grammar rules, conversational phrases and writing structures.
- Be flexible and understanding
Help the student who’s a newcomer feel welcome by fostering a sense of belonging. If you can find someone who speaks the student’s native language (another student, a parent volunteer, or school personnel), have them write or record a welcoming message in that language. You might even have the new student answer her classmates’ questions in her native language while her interpreter translates her answers for the class.
- Respect and empower learners
Remember that ELLs may not understand instructions and key vocabulary words, and that reading something aloud doesn’t always help comprehension. Because ELL’s do not have the same vocabulary as their English-speaking peers, especially when it comes to references to Canadian culture and geography, it’s important to identify key concepts, vocabulary words, and references before the lesson, and give students as much time and practice with the new material as possible before starting the lesson. Remember, you can simplify the language without “dumbing it down.”
- Keep Track of Language Progress
Keep a portfolio of the student’s work throughout the year. You might audiotape conversations with the student at different times of the year to show him how he has progressed.