The number of immigrant children in American schools is quite literally growing by the day. It’s estimated that children of immigrants represent 25% of the K-12 population in the United States and that number has jumped dramatically in recent years.
Between 1970 and 2000, the number of K-12 children who speak Spanish at home doubled from 3.5 to 7 million, while the number of children speaking Asian languages tripled from 0.5 to 1.5 million. These students will, almost certainly, struggle in English speaking classrooms.
Here are some important steps to take with ESL and ELL students in your classroom. If you have Spanish speaking students, be sure to go online to TheHomeworkGuru.com and CogentCatalyst.com to check out our Spanish edition of Please Help Me With My Homework!
1. First and foremost, your ELL/ESL students must speak English as much of the time as possible. Get them talking through activities and games that require every student to speak. ESL students may find it easy to simply stay quiet and out of the way; don’t let them fall through the cracks.
2. Small things make a difference. Find out how to pronounce your immigrant students’ names correctly. If you can find another adult – another teacher, a parent volunteer, or a friend – who speaks your student’s first language, have them draft a short message of welcome for you to learn.
3. If you teach in a city that has a high concentration of students with the same first language, consider taking a basic class in that language or at least spending some time with tapes or a computer program to pick up some phrases in that language. It’s your job to help teach these students English, but it’s also important to make them feel welcome and accepted.
4. Involve other students. Talk to your students about the challenges that face English learners and the emotions that accompany a dramatic change of country and school. Especially if your ELL students are new to the school, assign classmates as buddies for different parts of the day. Have students help with issues like lunch money and finding the right bus.
5. Place emphasis on skills that don’t require English – art, music, physical education, some kinds of math. Finding something that ELL students can excel at without the language barrier is important to helping them feel welcome. In a room where almost everyone has an edge because they are native speakers of English, excelling at something will be a huge self-esteem booster and motivator.
6. Promote the value of bilingualism. Clearly, it’s essential that your ESL students become proficient in English, but don’t make students feel that they should stop speaking their native language or that it’s something to feel ashamed of. Many parents may want their children to speak only English at home and school, but encourage parents to speak both languages with their children. Being bilingual is an advantage.
7. If you have students with very little English language experience in your classroom, doing some research on TESL/TEFL techniques will be essential. When you speak to ESL students, slow down your rate of speech and repeat directions several times, checking periodically for understanding. Whenever possible, use simple, subject-verb-noun sentences, visual references (words written on the board, pictures, photos, maps, diagrams, charts, and so on), and physical gestures or pantomime as you speak.
8. Read aloud. Reading aloud to English language learners is one of the most effective ways to build expand vocabulary, improve comprehension, and cement curriculum concepts. Choose books that truly interest your student with strong visual cues. This is also a great job to give to a student buddy, who could spend time reading with an ELL student during a small group work period.
9. Check out this excellent article about English language learners in the classroom, Teaching English Language Learners: What the Research Does – and Does Not – Say, by Claude Goldberg.
10. Some of these tips were adapted from Scholastic’s Success for ESL Students. Take a look at their tips for more ideas on how to help English language learners in your classroom.
11. Check out other sites like The Urban Institute for more information. The more informed you are, the more prepared you will be to assist these students.
12. Go online to www.CogentCatalyst.com to get a Spanish edition of Please Help Me With My Homework! This book is a great resource for parents and teachers with many essential skills for helping children to effectively complete homework and improve study skills.
For more information about study strategies for your student, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Ummm, Studying? What’s That?. Available in both print and electronic versions!