6 Back-to-School Tips to Support Your ELLs

Thursday, August 4, 2016 -- Sarah Cornelius

Back-to-school time is just around the corner! As you're preparing your classroom, curriculum, and lesson plans, it's important to think about specific things you can do to support the English Language Learners (ELLs) you'll be working with. We've put together six tips to help you get these students off to a strong start in the new school year.

1. Get to Know Your Students

This may seem obvious—but it’s absolutely key to the success of your ELLs. Make the effort to get to know each student on both a personal and academic level. Look closely at the results from any language proficiency tests that were administered, and ask students about their previous academic experiences, their families and home life, and their general interests. Not only will this help give you a clear understanding of where these students’ language skills stand, but you’ll also make a connection that will help them feel at ease and ready to learn in your classroom.  

2. Create a Visual Classroom

Designing and organizing your classroom for the upcoming year is the favorite part of back-to-school time for many teachers (after all, this is the year everything will have a place and actually stay there, right?). Focusing on the visual aspect of your classroom design can be a great way to support the success of your ELLs. Make sure that everything—such as supplies and homework folders—is clearly labeled, and work to incorporate pictorial labels as well as labels in your ELLs’ native languages. Posting your daily schedule in a visual manner can also be very helpful to ELLs in following along with what is happening in the classroom. Check out this article from Colorín Colorado for more ideas on How to Create a Welcoming Classroom Environment.

3. Connect with Support Staff

As you go through back-to-school professional development workshops, make an effort to connect with other staff members in your building who work with ELLs. Get to know dedicated ELL or ESL specialists whom these students may be working with outside of your classroom. Build a relationship with these coworkers early on to ensure that the lines of communication are open and you can effectively partner to support your ELLs’ learning. These coworkers are also a great resource for ideas and best practices for working with ELLs and can help you determine how to overcome any challenges you encounter.

4. Reach Out to Students’ Families

It’s well known that support from family is a huge factor in all students’ academic success. However, there may be a language disconnect between the home lives of ELLs and their time at school. Try to address and overcome this challenge early on by building a relationship with your ELLs’ families. Include multilingual materials in your start-of-the-year take-home packets, reach out about scheduling an in-person meeting to introduce yourself, and have translators available during parent-teacher conferences. The most important thing is to make the effort at connecting; even if language barriers make it difficult, students can often step in as added support and your ELLs families will know their participation in your classroom is welcomed and valued.

5. Foster Multicultural Learning

There is a growing body of research on the benefits of bilingual education. So, embrace your ELLs’ native cultures! Encourage them to share their language and traditions with the class (if they’re comfortable), and be sure that a variety of cultures are represented in your classroom materials and lesson plans across all subjects. For instance, incorporate culturally diverse backgrounds in reading materials and in math word problems. This will help your ELLs feel at ease and included—and in turn, they will be that much more motivated and ready to learn.

6. Educate Yourself on Language Acquisition

Language acquisition is a complex process. Making the effort to better understand that process can be hugely beneficial to you in planning lessons that will support it and in covering your standard curriculum. An important first step is to make sure that your classroom is a language-rich environment. Work to incorporate speaking, writing, reading, and listening activities into all of your lessons; reference visuals like word walls and posters during instruction; and provide consistent verbal directions and expectations for learning. This kind of consistent exposure to language is key to helping your ELLs achieve proficiency. For more info, Colorín Colorado has a great article on language tips to support ELLs in the mainstream classroom.

Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s online solutions to support your English language learners? Find out how you can Promote English Proficiency with ESL ReadingSmart!