Saturday, January 19, 2008

Teaching English as a second language

English language learners are becoming more and more populous in today's classrooms. I work in a school district where only five years ago there were only two ESL students. Today there are over forty. In the past five years, many of the mainstream teachers were faced with new challenges that they had never had to deal with before. The following is a short, handy guide I've written for the teachers in my school for whom non-English speaking students presented a whole new set of challenges in their teaching. I hope this will be handy for any teacher who's new at dealing with the ESL population in their classroom.

Working with ESL Students

What do you do when you get an English Language Learner in your classroom? Quite often, they don't understand anything that's being said around them, which can result in frustration on both your part and the students'. Unfortunately, in our real world, there is simply no magic ESL school where they can spend their entire days learning both English and content area domains under the teaching of a trained specialist. Under our educational system, they must be in your classrooms.

People ask me all the time, "What other language do you speak?" My reply is always, "I speak a little Spanish, but that's not important."

In my career as an ESL teacher, I've had students from many language backgrounds. Turkish, Vietnamese, Haitian Creole, and yes, Spanish! It's just not possible, though, for someone to be able to speak all of these languages. The following is some of what I do in my classroom and hopefully you can take into account when you have any of my students sitting in yours.



-Make use of graphic organizers, charts, diagrams, TPR (Total Physical Response the use of commands with physical modeling- think of "Simon Says".)

Write it down

-If you're giving an assignment out, without the use of a ditto, its sometimes critical for ESL students to have that little extra.

Keep it Simple

-If an ESL Student doesn't seem to understand what you're saying, try and find another way to say it. Here are some examples:

Contractions use "you are", as opposed to "you're" -Simplify the language, not the concept -Ask Yes/No or other simple questions, not open ended ones.

The Students

-Don't confuse English language proficiency with intelligence -In many cases, ESL students (including some in this district!) come from countries where school is not compulsory and they've missed out on chunks of school time.

The greatest bit of advice to any teacher with ESL students in their classroom is to keep these tidbits in mind, and STAY IN TOUCH with the ESL teacher. Remember, ESL teachers are trained in teaching these students with effective and proven methodologies. Not only are they responsible for teaching these students how to read, write, speak and understand English, but to support them in what they do in your classroom. So do yourself a favor if you haven't done so already, say hello to the ESL teacher in your school!

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