Tips for Teachers

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Quick Tips For Teachers

These short, helpful tips can help the teacher make learning easier for the ELL in the mainstream classroom.

Help students develop cognitive skills

Encourage the parents of your English language learners to use their native languages at home. Explain to them that cognitive growth in their native language helps their children develop English academic language. It is easier to teach the water cycle, for example, if the student has already learned it in his or her own language.

Develop pride in cultures

Help your students develop pride in their cultures. Display pictures in your classroom from your students' home counties. Have newcomers write in a home-language diary, read books in their home language, draw pictures of people and places in their home countries, and listen to native language music.

Cooperative learning fosters social interaction

Newcomers who work in cooperative groups have real reasons to learn English. They become an essential part of the class community. Even beginners can learn the basic vocabulary of the unit you are teaching. Encourage members of the cooperative group to help newcomers learn.

Foster social interaction

Provide a variety of activities for newcomers. Set limits on the amount of time English language learners listen to tapes or work on a computer. They need to interact with real speakers of English. Social acceptance is a powerful motivator for learning a new language.

Building Background Knowledge

When teachers present a new concept to ELLs it is essential that links are made to the students' background experiences or to past learning. This link should not be inferred but must be made explicitly. Teachers need to connect what students are going to learn with what they have already learned. This can be done through KWL charts, student journals, reviews of previously learned information, and information charts.

Comprehensible input

Students do not acquire language in a vacuum. It does not seep into their brains when they sit in a classroom. Comprehensible Input is an essential part of Stephen Krashen's Input Hypothesis. This hypothesis maintains that in order to acquire a second language, the learner must understand what is said to him. Learners should receive input that is appropriate to their age and language level. This language should be just beyond the learner's current proficiency but easy enough for them to understand. Teachers need to develop background knowledge, deliver content that is contextualized, and use gestures, pictures and realia to make input comprehensible.

Be aware of culture shock

The newcomers in your classroom are probably suffering from culture shock. Being in a strange place and losing the power to communicate can be quite painful. Creating an environment where the newcomer feels secure will lessen the intensity and duration of culture shock.

Make lessons visual and kinesthetic

Two methods of helping your English language learners (ELLs) acquire content knowledge are: Provide plenty of visual clues to meaning and assign "hands-on" tasks. Visuals include pictures, photographs, realia, maps, graphic organizers and charts. Hands-on activities that help ELLs are collaborative projects such as mobiles, murals, demonstrations, science experiments, timelines, and pictures with labels.

Check for comprehension

Good communication with ELLs requires that teachers check periodically for comprehension by asking questions at the student's level of comprehension. Do not ask ESL students "Do you understand?" in front of the class. They will usually say "yes" whether they do or not.

Make an I.D. card for newcomers

More than one newly arrived student has become lost during their first few days of school and this is a terrifying experience. Write the newcomer's name, home address, telephone number and school address on an index card. The student should keep this card in his/her pocket.

Support home language development

Don't discourage the maintenance of home languages. Encourage the parents of your students to develop literacy skills in their native language. Whatever your students learn in their home languages will eventually be transferred to English.

Be an active listener!

When listening to your newcomers as they learn to speak, give feedback, nods, encouragement, and praise. Give your whole attention when trying to understand the communication. Demonstrate your patience through your body language.

Give simple directions

Give clear, simple directions to ESL students. Break complex directions down into simple steps. Ask students to retell, in their own words, what you are asking them to do before they attempt a task.

Communicative compentency does not equal academic success

Your ELLs may interact well with classmates but be floundering academically. BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) may be learned quickly. However, CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiencies) may take 5 to 7 years to acquire. If your students are unable to understand your language arts or social studies lessons, they have acquired BIC skills but lack CALP.

Assessing ELLs for Learning Disabilities

The referral of an English Language Learner (ELL) by the Child Study Team should not be taken lightly. All avenues must be explored before a second language learner is identified for special education. It is important when evaluating ELLs to throw away the traditional testing model and to collect data in a portfolio. Input from the ESL/Bilingual teacher, the classroom teacher, and the parents should all be considered during the assessment process. Students should be tested in their native language unless they speak a language for which there is no test. At this time, a trained interpreter can be used.

Explain BICS and CALP

Do the mainstream teachers in your school know the difference between BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency)? Explain that BICS may take up to 2 years to develop and CALP may take 5-7 years. Ability to speak English does not mean the student is able to work academically in English.

Comprehensible output

Comprehensible output is crucial for students learning English. ELLs need to negotiate meaning through interactions with fluent English speakers. This exchange provides second language learners with corrective feedback and knowledge about how to communicate their ideas.

Provide time-outs

Provide frequent "time-out from English" periods for newcomers. Allow the newcomer to spend time each day during those first weeks speaking with others of the same native language. He or she needs to ask someone "What's going on here?"

Teach to your newcomer's learning mode

Most newcomers learn best kinesthetically. Don't expect them to sit and listen to incomprehensible auditory input for long periods of time. Use gestures, drawings, sketches, drama, or other visual support. Give students hands-on activities to complete.

Use manuscript writing

Your newcomers may know the Roman alphabet but will probably not be able to read cursive writing. Either write in manuscript or ask a mainstream student to copy homework in manuscript.

Learn that name correctly!

Determine which part of a newcomer's name is the given name and which is the family name. Two-part first names are common in many cultures, and may appear to be a first name and a middle name. Ask. Use both parts of a two-part name.(Asian names are given in reverse order from ours; this may or may not have been reversed in the office.) Hispanic family names may also be two-part. Saying the name right isn't always easy, but it's important.

Try to learn a few new words

Join with the your mainstream students to learn a few words in your newcomer's native language. When you show your good humor about making mistakes and risking smiles and laughter, your newcomer will be more willing to risk speaking in English.

Help ELLs negotiate meaning

Provide ELLS with opportunities for negotiating meaning. Comprehensible input is not enough to guarantee comprehension. Your students need the opportunity to interact in a meaningful way with peers who speak English.

Reading strategies are universal

Students who are already literate in native language learn to read at a higher level in English than those who are not. Literacy related skills are transferred from one language to another even if the writing systems are quite different. However, only concepts that are completely learned will make that transfer. Building native language literacy is important.

Teaching the Text Backwards

It is very difficult for ELLs to understand a textbook if it is taught in the traditional sequence: Read text, answer questions, discuss, and apply information. When teaching the text backwards you do an application such as a science experiment first. Then you discuss the material in class, and answer the questions at the end of the chapter. Reading the text is the last thing you have students do.

Teach about fire drills

Schools in many countries do not conduct fire drills and the noise made by the bell can be frightening for a newcomer. Ask a bilingual person to explain what a fire drill is before your newcomers start school.

Pronounce that name correctly!

Don't let your new student lose his/her name. Write it on the board with a phonetic translation. Practice until you can say it correctly. Don't Americanize a student's name unless requested by parents.

Allow translation time

Newcomers are translating the language they hear back to their native language, formulating a response, and then translating that response into English. Allow extra time for this translation.

Be generous with thanks

Thanks and praise will go a long way with your English-speaking buddies and cross-age tutors. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts. Acknowledge their contributions frequently and point out the progress newcomers in your class have made.

Respect newcomers "silent period"

Don't force your newcomers to speak before they are ready. ELLs will acquire language when they have comprehensible input and their affective filter is low. Allow students a "silent period" during which they acquire language by listening and understanding English.

Where should newcomers sit?

Give advance thought to where you will seat an incoming student so the decision doesn't have to be made on the spot. Put a new student near your desk so you can provide help or near a student who has been trained as a buddy. Avoid front-row center. If your class sits in groups, place newcomers with sociable English speakers.

Encourage participation

Encourage ESL students to participate in class. Some students may know the answer but will hesitate to speak. Give them the question ahead of time so that they can be prepared to respond.

Avoid drawing unwanted attention to newcomer

If you have something important to convey, speak one-on-one to the newcomer rather than in front of the class. The anxiety of being in the spotlight interferes with comprehension.

Assign a buddy!

A buddy or cross-grade tutor who speaks the newcomer's language is a wonderful asset at the beginning of the school year. During the adjustment phase, the buddy or cross-grade tutor can explain what's going on. You may want to rotate buddies so that the bilingual buddy does not miss too much work.

Keep a list of translators

Keep a list of the people in your building who speak the languages of your students so that classroom teachers have a resource when they need someone to translate important instructions. Make sure that the main office and the school nurse have a copy of these lists.

Tie culture to your curriculum

Tie the cultures of your second language learners to your curriculum. Children with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds have stories and experiences that are unique. Teachers should build on the background knowledge and cultures their students bring from their home countries.

Focus on the positive

The more comfortable ESL newcomers feel in your classroom, the quicker they will be able to learn. Focus on the positive. Give lots of encouragement and praise for what the student can do. Don't dwell on all that they can't yet do. Create frequent opportunities for their success in your class.

Enlist parent volunteers

If possible, have parent volunteers or older students who speak the newcomers' languages take your new students on a tour of the important places in your school. Have a bilingual student or parent show newcomers immediately where the bathrooms are and explain what the rules are for leaving the classroom.

©"Quick Tips" Judie Haynes,,2005


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