10 Strategies to Support English-Language Learners in the Classroom

I tell my teacher friends all the time they are often the givers of language. Of course, most children go to school with language skills. However, the school setting can provide excellent opportunities to engage children with new ways to learn language. Classrooms are full of students with different cultural backgrounds and experiences that open the door to language growth.

Recently, I’ve gotten questions from monolingual teachers worried about how to best support bilingual students or English language learners (ELL). I gently remind them they are the giver of language, not just EnglishThe strategies we use to promote language development in monolingual students are largely the same as those we use for bilingual learners!

Here’s my top 10 strategies for supporting ELL students in the classroom:

  1. Make it Visual

Spoken language is abstract. Therefore, using actions, gestures, pictures, visual supports, diagrams, video, etc. will connect the concept to the new vocabulary. Start by giving them a way to express their wants/needs in the classroom (e.g., toilet, snack, water, hurt).

  1. Be Engaging & Empathetic

Model language in all routines using meaningful and consistent scripts. Encourage and provide language experiences in variety of contexts and routines. Provide supports in a fun and inviting way.

  1. Make a Plan

Consider making a list of target words or concepts for the student to “teach” their parents. Include pictures and encourage families to carryover language skills from home to school.

  1. Honor the “Silent Period”

Remember second-language learners often go through a “silent period” of very little talking while organizing new language skills. Don’t force them to talk, but include them by encouraging participation in other ways.

  1. Find a Peer Model

When a student is new to a language, pair them with a supportive peer. Give the child opportunities to connect with others who are inclusive and welcoming. A friend can help introduce the student to new routines and vocabulary.

  1. Be Aware of Cultural-Specific Vocabulary

Understand the child may not have the same experiences and exposure as his peers yet. Therefore, it may be necessary to directly teach specific vocabulary words. For example, show them videos/pictures of what it looks like to make pizza or go bowling.

  1. Use Language Primers

Help students know what is expected in their response by using a fill in the blank starter or carrier phrase to prime their response. “There was an old lady who lived….”

  1. Celebrate Diversity and Bilingualism

Take time to learn about other cultures and languages. Teach the whole class a new word or greeting in the student’s language to help the child feel more accepted and confident.

  1. Invite Families to Continue Speaking their Primary Language at Home

Research has shown development of a students’ first language can facilitate development in the second language (Genessee, Geva, Dressler, & Kamil, 2007). Encourage families to read aloud together in their primary language at home.

  1. Observe & Remember!

A child who has ability to express themselves in one language, but are unable to in a second language shows a language DOMINANCE. A language delay or disorder will present itself in BOTH languages. If caregivers have a concern, refer to a speech-language pathologist.

For more information about English Language Learners and strategies for the classroom, visit http://www.colorincolorado.org/ell-strategies-best-practices. 

Here’s to a new school year full of language growth! Heart & Soul Speech offers bilingual Spanish-English evaluation and treatment. Contact us today to discuss your needs!

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