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5 Tips for Supporting English Language Learners

Monday, June 16, 2014 -- Sarah Wallach

Working to differentiate instruction in a multi-ability, multilingual classroom can be a juggling act. Implementing some key strategies to reach students is vital to helping them learn and grow. Consider the following as you look to meet the needs of your English language learners:

1.   Provide a structured environment with regular procedures and expectations.

Simple things like a predictable morning routine, defined procedures for putting away classroom supplies, and designated times for turning in homework are important for so many reasons, but they can really provide a safe foundation for English language learners. If you can do anything more to further refine your classroom procedures, it can be even more beneficial to ELLs as they work to find their rhythm with the rest of the classroom.

2.   Develop nonverbal cues for routine activities.

When appropriate, and sometimes this can vary depending on the age or your students, nonverbal cues in particular can help with providing a structured environment for ELLs. These cues may even help support their acquisition of the language you use when you give your classroom direction to do simple tasks during the day. When you’re trying to get their attention, asking students to line up, or even signaling that it’s time to clean up the room and pack up for the day, be on the lookout for any signals that will help your ELLs be able to follow along with any transitions to new activities.

3. Encourage native English speakers to support their classmates.

Native English-speaking peers can be a very beneficial support system for their ELL classmates when they understand and encourage ELLs facing different challenges. You can help students understand how different people often have different needs when they are learning, and this sometimes includes learning a new language. Also, it may be useful to point out that acquiring a new language, though difficult, can be a very beneficial skill because it means one can communicate with more people.

4. Identify unique ways to build student confidence in a group setting.

When working in groups, assign tasks to ELLs that they will feel comfortable doing. These tasks will vary based on the proficiency level of the ELLs, but it is important for them to feel they are contributing to the group. Make ELLs the” Materials Gatherers” or “Task Masters.” As their proficiency increases, they will be able to take on different roles. The key here is to give ELLs a task appropriate for their ability, increase their confidence, and make them feel like a contributor. Ensure they fully understand what the task is, which may include having a conversation with them in advance so they feel comfortable with their role.

5. Never forget the power of pictures.

We all know that pictures are worth a thousand words, but it's sometimes easy to forget that they are also the most basic way to engage your students in what they are learning. There may be some extra effort required to come up with creative ways to illustrate what you’re teaching, but images can be a very powerful way to make sure your message gets across and helps your ELLs build their skills.  

If you have any questions about how to help your English language learners, you can learn more about Edmentum's solutions for ELLs by clicking here.