How can you help your English Language Learners (ELL) / English as a Second Language (ESL) students participate more fully in the classroom? These students are faced with a difficult task—absorbing content instruction while their English skills are still being developed.
A recent article by Hallie Smith MA CCC-SLP (speech language pathologist and educator) offers 10 useful tips to help teachers who have ELL / ESL students in their classes.
Her tips for teachers include:
- Be self-aware
Know your audience and take time to reflect on the nature of the language you use. Do you use many terms that could be considered jargon? Do prepositional phrases pop up often in your speech? Do you speak fast? Do you emphasize important concepts?
- Balance content and language complexity
Keep your language simple to help students grasp complex content, and use more complex language when content is simple. This approach helps learners grasp difficult material more easily, reserving challenging language structures for times when English comprehension is a surer thing. Imagine how it might be to study calculus as a Mandarin language learner versus learning to count to ten.
- Check for understanding
After you give the class an assignment, provide opportunities for students to tell you or their peers how they plan to approach it. Including this step can help students stay on the right track by confirming that they understand what is expected.
- Have them practice speaking English
The more your ELL / ESL students get to practice their spoken English, the better. Provide opportunities for authentic practice (e.g., “tell a friend what you did at lunch time”) and practice through play or performance (e.g., “let’s pretend we’re the characters in this book”).
- Make language natural
Provide opportunities for children to express their thoughts and feelings aloud by using open-ended questions that challenge students’ reasoning.
To promote discussion, offer a natural, open-ended topic that’s relevant to your learners, such as, “Adam sure was sneaky in this book, always hiding toys from his sister. I wonder what all of you think about hiding toys from your brothers or sisters or friends…?”
To encourage debate, ask students to choose between one of two opinions. For example, if a book is about The Little Yellow Chicken, ask “do you think the chicken should have invited his friends even though they didn’t want to help? Why or why not?”
- Have students practice reading aloud
All children need to practice reading out loud repeatedly. Reading aloud is a great way for ELL / ESL students to exercise their speech mechanism and reinforce the sound of English without the added cognitive burden of formulating words and sentences.
One option for more read-aloud practice is to use Reading Assistant, an online reading tool that uses speech recognition to correct and support ELL / ESL students as they read aloud, helping to build fluency and confidence with the help of a supportive listener. This has double benefits —learners can get in more speech practice and build reading skills like phonemic awareness, decoding and fluency at the same time.
What’s great about her tips is that they support English learners to improve their language skills and subject knowledge in tandem. And they benefit non-ELL / ESL students as well—especially other struggling learners.