Multicultural Classroom Ventures in the Land of ELLs

Salvador, Imad, Jonathan, Rita, Loi, Pierre, Ana, and Cruz. These are the names of just a handful of my ELL students. These are the names I think about often—the names of students who challenged, humored, and taught me in the classroom each day while I taught English as a Second Language at CSU Pomona. For five years I learned some of the ins and outs of teaching ELLs. For you seasoned teachers reading this, many of these tips will sound familiar. But for those just entering the teaching field, I hope to impart the little bit of wisdom I have learned from my multicultural classroom ventures.

A General Tip:
It’s true when people tell you that “Every day is a new adventure.” My mentor warned me of this prior to my first day of teaching, but of course I shrugged it off as nonsense. However, after the first five minutes of class, I realized how true it was, and I clung to the sentence the rest of my time as a teacher. I think what’s most important about this advice is that if your teaching isn’t adventurous (and if you’re not having fun), then your students won’t be on the safari with you. And what fun (for you and the students) is that?

The Specifics:
—Try to add cultural elements into your lessons as often as possible. Your students will love this! First of all, it shows that you respect their culture. Second of all, it’s automatically a topic of interest for them. And, finally, students in the class who aren’t of the culture you’re studying will become more culturally aware. I once talked about Chinese New Year after spending a summer in China. I brought in red envelopes and talked about how children receive these from their parents and relatives during this holiday. They are filled with money, and they represent a wish for a happy and healthy new year. This “lesson” only took five minutes, but it made my students’ eyes light up in appreciation.

—Try to speak slowly, but avoid speaking loudly. I used to always hear the “Speak slowly and loudly” tip before I started teaching. It’s rather insulting if you think about it. Your students aren’t hard of hearing, but chances are, they are taking notes. This is why speaking slowly is a good idea.

—Try not to assume that your ELLs don’t know the grammar rules. If they don’t know them, you’ll know because they’ll have questions, be taking notes, or do poorly on quizzes and/or tests. Instead, do a diagnostic paragraph (or request sample sentences) during the first class to see what the majority of your students have already learned. Then you don’t have to waste class time going over that material.

—Try not to give them too much drill work. If you can recall being in school, then I’m sure you remember how boring drill work was for you. And it still is! Instead, try giving them practical practice. For example, you can ask them to attend a baseball game (preferably a Padres game—they’re my favorite!), listen to some of the language used, and write down the sayings they hear (especially anything that has an unclear meaning). Then you can go over some of the sayings in class. You never know—some of them may be idiomatic (a perfect addition to a lesson)!

—Try to share some catchy tips with them, like mnemonic devices (e.g., FANBOYS). My mentor created a list of “31 Flavors of Instructional Verbs.” On this list, definitions and examples were given for thirty-one verbs. These really helped my ELLs whenever they were instructed to write paragraphs.

Remember to enjoy your journey in the land of ELLs, and if you happen to have a round-trip ticket, I hope you’ll pay me a visit and share with me your experiences and tips. In the meantime, enjoy the adventure!

3 thoughts on “Multicultural Classroom Ventures in the Land of ELLs”

  1. Alice W.

    Great food for thought—these “morsels” will not only help the new teachers, but also remind the well-experienced ones to keep it fun and interesting as well as educational.

  2. Tere S.

    I use to have a copy of 31 Flavors of Instructional Verbs and would love to get another–could you send it to me?

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