Log in

Suggestions for Supporting Students with Minimal English

Hi Everyone

Having a new student who arrives in your class who speaks little or no English is a challenge for most teachers.  Sometimes these students also have limited schooling or literacy in their first language as well which makes teaching them even more challenging. Helping them to access age-appropriate concepts and material requires skillful scaffolding as well as teaching them foundation level English language and literacy. Today I want to provide some suggestions for supporting these students. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I hope that you discover something useful and that you will share your own ideas in return.

1.       If possible provide them with a first language buddy or teacher aide even if they are not in their own class. Also a kiwi buddy to assist them.  ELLs need to use their first language, or L1, in school. It is natural, expected and useful for a language learner to shift between their L1 and their L2 (second language) as they are learning. Group ELLs appropriately so that they can make use of their first language for understanding and bridge to the second language in learning.

2.       Being fully immersed in an English speaking classroom all day will often be over whelming and extremely tiring. Allow some down time as appropriate especially when they are very new.  

3.       Find out as much as you can about their first language and culture and their prior schooling experiences. The more you discover the more links and connections you can make. This will also help you to understand their behaviour and response to you and their classmates.  One resource that should be in your school that will help you is New to New Zealand (Fifth Edition) Ethnic Communities in Aotearoa: A Handbook.It provides information about some ethnic groups living in New Zealand including comments about the geography, history, religion, language and culture of each group.  Pages can be added to ethnic boxes or given to teachers to develop knowledge about new students. Try and learn and use  some simple greetings and phrases in their first language.

4.       Have an ethnic box or similar resources available. An ethnic box might contain resources and books in the student’s first language that they can read and continue to learn from. Bilingual dictionaries, cultural items, books about their country, maps, music, video clips, games etc., as well as some learning activities that they can continue with when the learning is just too difficult for them to participate in.  The box also enables them to share about themselves with other class members.

5.       Don’t assume that they understand the way we ‘do’ school in New Zealand. School looks very different in different countries even in countries who speak the same language. Cultures are all different and it will mean that sometimes, something that is perfectly acceptable in New Zealand might appear very rude from their perspective. You may need to explicitly teach the way we do things in New Zealand and set clear expectations E.g. I use to teach my Asian students that it was perfectly acceptable in NZ classrooms to ask questions and that in fact it was expected and welcome. I would then teach how we ask questions- who, what, where, when why and how. The orientation to learning section of the English Language Intensive programme years 1-6 and 7-13 will help you to know what might need teaching. Build upon what the students bring to the classroom. Make links with their prior experiences.

6.        Establish routines. Be sure all students understand the classroom rules, where equipment is, safety rules and daily routines. When students know where the things they need to use are in the classroom, and what to expect next, they will be more comfortable and participate more.

7.       Explicitly teach basic everyday language structures such as How to introduce yourself and say your name. How to ask for the name of something and how to ask for help. Everyday classroom and social language etc. Self- pacing boxes can be good for this and there are lots of websites with downloadable resources and flash cards.  I have shared a few at the end of this update. Buddies are quite often prepared to be trained to help teach these. Sometimes it is good to have more than one buddy so they don’t become overwhelmed and used too frequently. Get parent permission first. Ensure they also have access to bilingual dictionaries either paper based or online and that they know how to use it.

8.       Have lots books available at the students reading level, where possible with age appropriate content and with audio versions. In primary schools we are lucky to have access to many readers and most now come with audio texts and many with teacher support materials. E.g. Ready-to ReadSchool  JournalsSchool Journal Story Library,Junior JournalsElectronic Storybooks, Connected (which has articles, text, images, and media freely available to teachers and students on Google Drive.) , Tupu, and Choices etc . Audio recordings are very supportive as the student can listen as many times as needed in order to gain understanding. Exposure to as much oral language as possible will help new ELLs to learn the sounds and patterns of English. There are also many readers available online with audio recordings such as Unite for Literacy. The Rainbow Readers series which are used in many primary schools also have audio recordings. Also provide access to books to read at home.

9.       Provide visual support and use real objects as frequently as possible. Mime and gestures also support learning. Use group work to maximise participation and oral language interaction. Extend wait time so that the student has time to process the language before responding.

10.   Many new language learners go through a silent period, during which they will speak very little, if at all. “Don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to,”

11.   Encourage ELLs to have the courage to take risks. This is needed for learning a new language. Ensure that your class environment is safe and that when they get it wrong that they won’t be humiliated and ridiculed. Help them to have a sense of humour about making mistakes whilst learning a language.

12.   Find out what motivates them and tap into that motivation for language learning. Learning a language is a long, difficult process so the more motivated they are the quicker that process is likely to be.

13.   Set high expectations and don’t dumb down academic content. Instead scaffold them to success. E.g. provide sentence frames, pre-teach vocabulary, use graphic organisers etc. See ESOL Online pedagogy section for strategies and ideas.

14.   Teach some basic computer skills so they can access online resources.  There is so much available online including online first language dictionaries. This will be even more powerful if you provide links to activities that they can continue with at home or from the local library. Some useful sites are listed below. ESOL Courses has lessons for beginners on computer terminology etc.


Some useful resources and websites

·         The ESOL Online community both primary and secondary have contributed good online sites and digital tools to use with students in this google documenthttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1zBSc2OYsDMcXOunJt4QpOIvFLso0YyHNbw1v7kpCvk4/edit. Please feel free to add to it and share it with others.

·         Learn English Kids, is the British Council’s website for children who are learning English as a second or foreign language. Also Teaching Kids  this part of the site is for teachers working with children. It offers a range of activities and lesson ideas which are based around online materials from the British Council's LearnEnglish Kids website. Most of the materials can be used either online or can be downloaded and used in the classroom.

·         Teaching English, British Council, across the site you can find free classroom materials to download, from short activities to full lesson plans, for teaching kids and adults. There are also articles on aspects of teaching, and free teacher development and teacher training  In the Links section you will find links to loads of fantastic sites and useful digital apps.

·         Study Guide: The 50 Best ESL Resources for Kids

·         Dave’s ESL Café for Kids

·         English ladder

·         ESL Kids stuff

·         Lanternfish

·         ESL Storybooks

·         ESL Galaxy

·         Enchanted Learning

·         Read English Today for older students  

·         Games to Learn English

·         ESL Independent study lab  with links to lots of online sites.

·         Many Things .org

·         The Internet Picture Dictionary

·         ELL Teacher pros – educational games

·         English for Everybody – Game Zone

·         Spelling City

Similar articles and resources

·         Supporting English Language Learners A practical guide for Ontario educators Grades 1 to 8

·         Effective Teaching Strategies for English Language Learners

·         How to Support ELL Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFEs)By: Kristina Robertson and Susan Lafond (2008)

·         Effective programs for English Language Learners with Interrupted Formal Education by Olga Tuchman. This is a powerpoint aimed at secondary school teachers and it is American. However it does have some good ideas that you may be able to use when designing teacher PLD.

·         http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/manyroots/ell_lps.pdf  Supporting English Language Learners with Limited Prior Schooling A practical guide for Ontario educators Grades 3 to 12

·         Supporting ELLs in the Mainstream Classroom: Language Tips, By: Kristina Robertson (2009)Colorin Colorado

·         ESL Infusion, University of Toronto  including the videos on this pagehttp://eslinfusion.oise.utoronto.ca/Home/ESL_Video_Resources/ESL_Infusion_Series/Primary_School_Level.html. Ideas for staff development .

·         Educating Newcomer ELLs with Limited Schooling: An Overview  By: Debbie Zacarian and Judie Haynes (2012) Colorin Colorado

Kind regards