Tips for Offering ESL Student Support in the Classroom

Mar 28, 2019 by

As of April 2018, there were 4.8 million ESL (English as a second language) students in the United States. That means that chances are, you’ll encounter at least one or more non-native speaking students in your teaching career. And while many come into the classroom with a basic understanding of the English language, they’re still growing and learning each day. Most ESL students have a one-on-one tutor or teacher to help them navigate an English-speaking classroom. But as the teacher, you can make an effort to make these students more comfortable and the classroom more conducive for learning. Keep reading to discover 8 ways to support ESL students.

1. Utilize Group Work Activities

Sometimes, peers can act as the best teachers. A hesitant or self-conscious ESL student may respond better and more openly to a classmate than to authority figures. Utilize the many benefits of both small and large group activities to offer support in the classroom. Find a student who is especially helpful, patient, and kind to work directly with the ESL student. Start by facilitating the group work so that each member understands their role and the purpose of the activity. Then, leave them to interact independently. Just keep a watchful eye and close ear on the group to ensure the students aren’t missing the mark and they’re being encouraging and positive. Group work is sometimes less threatening for ESL students than class-wide instruction where students are called upon and put on the spot.

2. Use Visual Cues

Visual learning cues benefit all students, but this is especially true when trying to reach non-native speaking learners. Regardless of the student’s age, using photos and pictures for word-association can prove extremely beneficial. Make small adjustments in the classroom like labeling everyday items with both English and the ESL child’s native language. Things like door, window, chair, and book. This helps students make a connection between the written text and the tangible item. This also introduces English-speaking students to another language. When giving instruction to an ESL student, do more than just offer verbal commands. The student is still mastering the language, so to avoid confusion, write the directions down, draw pictures, or physically show them what it is you want them to do.

3. Work with the ESL Teacher

Pooling your resources is one of the best things any teacher can do. But when it comes to supporting an ESL student, working closely with their ESL teacher is imperative. After all, this teacher is trained in teaching English to non-native speaking children. They can offer recommendations, strategies, and other helpful tools that you may not think of. They also know the specific student on a more personal level, which can give you better insight to the type of learner they are. On the flipside, speaking with you helps the ESL teacher create lessons and vocabulary that supports what’s currently being taught in the classroom. This helps the ESL student feel less “left out”. When you introduce a subject or concept using words that the student recently learned with their ESL teacher, cognitive connections and associations are more easily made.

4. Incorporate Their Language Too

An ESL student is slowly integrating into an English-speaking classroom. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make the process a little easier by using their language as well. This shows respect and appreciation for their culture, language, and what they’re going through. Learning another language isn’t easy. Help the student feel more comfortable by teaching students simple words and phrases they can use with the ESL student. Things like “thank you”, “please”, “I’m sorry”, and “how are you”, are perfect places to start. This makes the ESL student feel more comfortable, which lends to a more open learning experience. If you’re unfamiliar with the ESL student’s native tongue, apps like Medita Spanish can help lay the foundation for learning a second language.

5. Use Sentence Frames

Simplicity is key when first introducing language to an ESL student in the classroom. It was already mentioned that using visual directions and cues gives students a deeper level of understanding. Why not break down language even further? Sentence frames are used not only for ESL students but also to teach young learners parts of speech, adverbs, and the importance of sentence structure. Trying something like this: “I think ________ is a _________ idea because ________.” Help the student fill in the blanks with specific names, feelings, and descriptive words. Have your native English speaking students perform the same tasks. This helps the ESL student feel included, but also supports the basic foundation of language and sentence structure in a non-threatening way.

6. Get to Know the Student and Their Background

Helping an ESL student succeed in the classroom goes far beyond academics. When you learn about their history, culture, and background, it gives you a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses. It also shows the student that you’re invested in them and their future. Speak with the student’s parents, the ESL teacher, and the student. Find out as much as you can about their background and how its shaped who the student is. Use this information to your advantage was crafting specific lessons for the student and introducing new ideas and concepts. Compassion and empathy are tools every teacher should have in their arsenal.

7. Help Them Relax and Be Patient

Let’s face it, learning any new concept can be frustrating, no matter what language you speak. But add a language barrier to the mix and it’s no surprise that some ESL students get very frustrated and discouraged during the learning process. You can help by showing the student that it’s okay if they don’t fully comprehend the lesson the first try. Teach them to take a break, perform breathing exercises, or try a different method without losing their patience. The inability to communicate is one of the most frustrating things for any child, and is often what leads to biting in toddlers. While you may not have to worry about your ESL student becoming aggressive, they may get frustrated and show signs of giving up. Encourage them to remain calm and forgive themselves. Remind them that all students struggle and that you and their ESl teacher are there to support and help them through the process.

Welcoming an ESL student into your classroom is really a gift. It exposes your students to another culture and gives you the opportunity to try new and unconventional teaching methods. Start by making the student feel comfortable and then learn as much about them as you can. Communication with their parents and the ESL teacher will also help you provide the support and guidance needed for them to succeed.

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