Acclimating English-Language Learners to a New School – Part 2

By Scott Sterling

This is the second of a two-part series on helping English-language learners feel more comfortable at a new school. Read Part I here.

English language learning students already have an uphill battle in acclimating to a new, unfamiliar, and complicated language, but they also tend to change education settings more frequently than their native-speaking cohorts. This lack of consistency makes their journey to proficiency that much more difficult. We’ve assembled some strategies to help teachers help ELL students make the transition.

Don’t wait for the student to ask for help

Language challenges can force anyone to be shy, and that’s particularly true among students trying to build a rapport with their teacher(s). Add to that the fact that in some Spanish-speaking cultures, teachers are treated with a sort of reverence with which American teachers are unaccustomed and you have the recipe for a student sitting quietly – even if they are struggling.

That means it’s the teacher who needs to reach out to the student. Don’t wait for him or her to ask for help. Check in regularly. Or, even better, make sure the student spends the first few weeks sitting near enough to you where you can see their progress without disturbing them.

Visuals aren’t just for lessons

Visuals are a central tool in ELL curricula, with good reason. The problem is that teachers forget those tricks when covering the other aspects of their classroom, such as procedures for lunch, dismissal, sharpening pencils, etc. These parts of classroom culture are even harder for ELL students to master if they come into school in the middle of the year, after you’ve spent the first week or so modeling them for the other students.

Instead, start the year with visual posters that walk students through acceptable classroom procedures and norms. That way, if an ELL student does come into class mid-year, they will be able to fall right in with their other classmates.

Label objects around the room bilingually

Along the same line, labelling classroom objects can save an ELL student a lot of stress or embarrassment. Instead of having to search for “pencil sharpener”, they can just refer to the object. This not only aids in learning classroom procedures, but it also can help move the student’s conversation skills along.

Give them time to educate everyone else (but don’t push them)

ELL students are a tremendous cultural resource for everyone who comes into contact with them. But that can also be a lot of pressure as they are bombarded with questions. Instead, make it known to the student that they are welcome to make a presentation to the class about their language, culture, and customs, but only when they’re ready. It can save a lot of those awkward question-and-answer sessions.

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