As a curriculum and learning specialist at an elementary school in Verona, Wisconsin, l have the opportunity to work with amazing educators and students of all cultures; as a prior bilingual resource and two-way immersion Spanish teacher, I like to honor the language learners in our classrooms.
I work with all teachers and all students. I help teachers find resources to help support their curriculum and often that entails helping them find new ways to include their English Language Learners in their lessons. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an average of 9 percent of students in U.S. public schools are English Language Learners (ELLs); that number is closer to 14 percent in cities.
Here are five ways you can integrate ELL instruction into teaching and learning. These are simple strategies and some resources that are not very time-consuming, and best of all, they will help all the students in your class feel included and able to access the curriculum.
Visuals, visuals, visuals.
ELL learners can sometimes have a hard time processing spoken language. Instructions, even basic directions for your classroom procedures, should be written on the board whenever possible–with pictures. Modeling the steps of a process or showing students what a finished product looks like can go a long way toward helping your language learners understand what you are trying to convey. Sometimes it’s as easy as showing our students what we want them to do. This type of nonlinguistic representation improves comprehension and lowers the stress for ELL students. It will help all your students grasp concepts better.
Build-in more time for students to work together.
Students need to be engaged. Most of the time that means less teacher-led, whole group instruction, and more small groups, where students can practice with their peers in a lower risk and personal setting.
Google Docs is a widely used resource in all classrooms that can support this strategy. It allows easy sharing of documents between students and teachers. When teachers have shifted their writing instruction to be more focused on a small group, I have seen them make writing groups through Google Docs using folders. Each student shared a folder with their specific group. This way, they were able to conduct peer reviews without having to worry about a physical document or emailing files to one another. In today’s virtual learning environment, this has come in handy. Students can also change the language of the document to help them better understand it in their first language although the translations aren’t always perfect. It also helps them know that good writers revise their writing. Google Docs also has a commenting feature. That feature can be used during peer review, and it can be used by the teacher for conferencing with students or for students to work with peers.
Another great tool for this collaborative work is Discovery Education Studio. The DE Studio Feature is a fantastic way to merge creativity and content. This safe collaboration space lets educators easily create and assign activities and lets teachers and students design and share content in a way that works best for them while building confidence with digital learning resources. Students can demonstrate their understanding no matter where they’re working and receive feedback directly through the built-in chat feature. Hattie’s research also shows that feedback is one of the best teaching moves for growth.
Collaborate with your ESL teacher.
When the classroom teacher is constantly communicating and planning with the ESL teacher, all students benefit from the collaboration. When the ESL teacher is aware of what is being taught in the classroom, they can incorporate that into their time with the students and work on vocabulary and structure to help the student have a better understanding. This doesn’t need to be a complicated system–just talk to each other and try and plan together routinely. Google Docs is a great tool to use when collaborating and planning but your schedules don’t line up. This makes it easier to work together but not necessarily be in the same place. There are a variety of Google Suite applications that can help you collaborate with your ESL teacher remotely.
Use Discovery Education Resources to scaffold with the learner’s native language.
The Discovery Education Experience (DEE) K-12 platform includes high-quality resources and instructional supports for educators that enrich student learning and extend it to the real world. The platform has a variety of video, audio, and text resources that can engage any learner but can definitely help language learners better engage with the topic they are studying. Watching an engaging video feels less like doing schoolwork for most students, and they are more likely to pay attention to the content. Short videos–inserted strategically into language arts lessons work best as a hook to engage students and provide multiple means of access, and you would be surprised at how many language arts videos there are out there. The platform offers videos in multiple languages, so you can help your learners gain a better understanding of the topic in their native language. Teachers can use the many resources found in DEE in many languages to help with this scaffolding of language.
When a student is very new to the English language, pairing them with other students who speak the same native language helps greatly too. Some students are afraid to say something for fear of saying it incorrectly or just not knowing the words in English. Allowing them to ask questions or explain in their native language helps them relax and feel a part of the class with little risk.
The “Silent Period” is ok and normal.
Many language learners go through a silent period at first during which they will speak very little, if at all. Don’t take it personally or force them to talk. A lot of students who come from different cultures outside of America want to speak perfectly when they do, so they tend to not share until they are sure they can do so perfectly.
I have used Flipgrid as an option for them to communicate. Flipgrid allows for the virtually seamless sharing of short videos via computer, phone, or tablet. A teacher can create a free account and then invite students by sharing a join code. Topics can be posted in text, picture, or video format, and then students respond. The students can also respond to each other’s posts too. For added security, a password can be set up. I’ve been pleasantly surprised in the past to find that some of my quietest students have produced some of the best Flipgrid videos. Without the distractions of the group, many of them will open up with great enthusiasm even though they know that their classmates and I can watch the videos later.
Including your language learners in your class and making them feel like they belong is critical. If you have ways you are including your language learners in your classroom, I would love to hear about them.