While English is the dominant language across America, for more than 4 million students that is not the case. The English Language Learning students, or ELL for short, are a diverse group that often struggle in classrooms. States are finding it difficult to help their ELL students meet academic targets in both math and English, and teachers often feel underqualified to help. These are a few ways you can help ELL students in your school learn and achieve.
Explicitly teach vocabulary and English grammar
Students who speak English fluently often struggle at the beginning of a unit, when confronted with new and strange vocabulary. They, and your students who speak different languages at home, will all benefit from some direct instructions. If you’d like students to know how to use semi colons correctly, explicitly teach them how. This can help all your students become better readers and writers. At Daydream Education, our variety of English posters cover topics such as punctuation, paragraphs, and verb tenses to help improve students’ understanding of English.
Increase opportunities to practice language use
English Language Learners consistently improve in their English comprehension and fluency levels much faster if they practice more frequently. As a teacher or school employee, you can provide your students opportunities to practice. Give them speaking assignments, interviews, speeches, dialogues, and partner work to let them practice their verbal skills. Providing writing opportunities like an essay contest, or literary magazine publishing student work gives students a chance to share a bit about themselves, while also using their grammar skills. The more they practice the better they will be, so if you can offer incentives, or specifically recommend chances like this to students you know speak Spanish, Vietnamese, French or other languages at home it would help them out tremendously.
Consistent comprehension checks
While English speaking students usually have the verbal skills to be able to question things that may confuse them, especially if you provide a forum to do so in class, ELL students may hesitate. It is good practice to know who your ELL students are, and to check in with them individually after whole group instruction. They may be shy to inform you that they are confused, especially in front of their peers. So while circulating in the room, check with them slightly more frequently than you would with your students who have more advanced language skills.
Increase parental involvement
The connection between student success and parental involvement is no secret, but often teachers feel intimidated to reach out to parents when there is a language barrier. Many school districts employ translators for such a reason, so you can send written information home in the family’s mother tongue or call home with some aid. The more you are able to connect the family to their students' learning, the better. This can help the student stay on track, and receive encouragement both at home and school. If your school district has no translators, you can often rely on the student themselves, to translate conferences, or another family member. It never hurts to try to learn at least a greeting and goodbye though, and could help create connections!
All told there are hundreds of ways to help your ELL students learn, but the biggest thing is to think. Teachers often forget to plan their lessons in a way that considers their English Language Learners, and that ends up being the biggest problem. Having an ELL student in your classroom can be a challenge, but it can also be a joy. Students who come from diverse backgrounds bring a level of depth to learning that is difficult to create otherwise. Make sure you enjoy your time with them, and consider their needs in your lessons.