Tag Archives: English language learners

ESL – Another Perspective

I suppose one way to get a “crash course” in teaching English Language Learners is to go to them. I had just that opportunity last year, when I traveled to Slovakia to teach English for two weeks. In our classes we had students of all ages, at all stages in their process of learning English. I was privileged to work a week with the beginning class, and then a week with the advanced class. Our task, as much as teaching the students English, was to engage them, motivate them to come to class each day, and encourage them to speak only English in class – a tough challenge when we were in their country, and they could—and would—speak their native language as soon as they stepped outside the classroom. I was surprised to find the same basic principles of ELL instruction I had learned in an American class on how to teach ELL students put into practice in another country.

Build Background Knowledge

  • Get students talking with simple sentence frames:

I am _____.

I have _____.

I like _____.

Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Have students use pictures to help them describe themselves, their pets, families, favorite foods, places, etc.

  • Allow students to use translation resources, such as picture dictionaries, for introductory activities.
  • Students need to know how to say the letters in English to help them spell and learn new words – a spelling bee or a game of hangman is a great way to have students practice their pronunciation.
  • Teach students simple questions they can use to help in their process of learning English.

How do you say that?

What is that word?

Please speak more slowly.

Will you repeat that, please?

Use Comprehensible Instruction

  • Create word charts to help students distinguish between verb tenses.
  • Use different colors to add a new concept to something students already know, for example, to add contractions after students have learned a pronoun-verb structure.
  • Use gestures in a listening exercise to help students distinguish between sounds in two columns of a word chart.
  • Introduce new words or concepts before doing dictation.

Encourage Active Participation

  • Have students dramatize feeling words.
  • Have students learn the meaning of prepositions by using objects to act out each word.
  • Have students practice asking and answering questions: Place a variety of items in a small bag or backpack. Have students take turns selecting an item and hiding it from view. Classmates will ask questions to guess the hidden item. Vary the types of questions and answers required based on students’ English proficiency level (yes/no questions for beginners, questions that provide a word choice for intermediate students, etc.).
  • Invite students to teach words in their language – they will have to practice their English to teach others.

These classes were offered during the summer. One characteristic that stands out in my mind is that it didn’t feel like school, even though we were in classrooms from 9 to 3 every day (with a lunch break). We engaged the students in conversation, maintained the pace with games, activities, and movement, and spent most of the time working with students in small groups, a good summary to remember the next time I work with ELL students!

Tracie Heskett has taught multiple grades in public and private elementary schools in southwest Washington. She currently writes teacher resource materials and curriculum. She has authored many books for Teacher Created Resources including Blogging in the Classroom, Going Green, and Traits of Good Writing. Her most recent series Strategies to use with Your English Language Learners and Math Strategies to use with Your English Language Learners were released in May 2012.

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!