7 Tips to Integrate English Language Learners into Mainstream Classrooms

Posted by Peter Graves November 17, 2017

We have all been there. You’re teaching your lesson, moving right along, and then you look over to see your English Language Learner (ELL) staring at you with pleading, questioning eyes.  You know the student doesn’t understand, but you can’t slow down or lower your lexical level for fear of the other students losing interest in the class. This conundrum has been at the root of many pedagogical discussions over the years. However, there is no perfect solution.

We at UTP High Schools are aware of this challenge. We know that most teachers of mainstream classrooms have had minimal training when it comes to the inclusion of ELLs. Having inclusive classrooms can be stressful and challenging, but there are a few simple techniques that can enhance the comprehension of ELLs without detracting from the classroom experience of other students.

Here are seven tips to help you connect your ELL students to the target content. These ideas are easy to incorporate and will be a welcomed relief to your ELLs.

1. Let them use their eyes

When students are unable to understand the language spoken in the classroom, they use visual clues to determine what is expected of them. They watch the teacher and other students and guess what they should be doing. This is natural and the sign of a good student. To help them with this, try modeling the activity or using pictures whenever possible to explain vocabulary, themes, or content information instead of verbally explaining instructions.

2. Give them a head start

ELLs often need more time to decipher text than students who speak the dominant tongue. If there is any reading to be done, try giving it to the ELL before it is going to be used in class. For example, if you are going to be reading about George Washington in class on Friday, give the text to the ELL on Monday so that he or she can read through it at their own comfortable pace.

3. Allow ELLs to work with peers

ELLs learn a great deal of language from other students. Use small groups or pairs in class to allow the ELL to produce the language in a less threatening environment. Language production is key to acquisition and ELLs are often afraid to speak out in front of the whole class. Allowing them to work in pairs or groups can ease their fears and help them apply what they have learned.

4. Correct improper language use

We don’t want to embarrass the student in front of the class. Therefore, the use of delayed error correction techniques is recommended. It may mean a bit of extra work for the teacher, but the benefits will be noticeable. To implement this, try listening closely to the ELL in pair work, group work, or class discussion and make notes of linguistic errors. Then, make a brief worksheet with the errors listed and ask the student to correct them and hand it in for the next class.

5. Use concept checking questions

ELLs are like all other students in the school except that they have a different first language. If a student has difficulty understanding instructions in English, it does not mean the student is incapable of understanding instructions at all. You can try presenting the directions in a different way, such as modeling. When determining whether the ELL understands what is expected, be sure to use concept checking questions rather than the classic, “Do you understand?” An ELL will almost always respond yes even if he or she does not understand at all.

6. Take advantage of your resources

Not all schools have an ESL teacher as part of their faculty, but if you have one in your school, communication with that teacher will benefit you and your students. ESL teachers will be able to tell you the specific strengths and weaknesses of a student and give you ideas on how to approach any particular needs of a student.

7. Remember to breathe

Over the years, I have worked with many frustrated teachers and their feelings are completely understandable. For many teachers, ELLs appear in their class one day without warning. Teachers are not always prepared for this occurrence and can find the experience quite stressful. However, if you are stressed, your ELLs will be stressed. Just remember, keep it fun and you and your students can learn together.

About Peter Graves

Peter is the Director of Academic Development at UTP High Schools. He has been in international education for over 10 years, teaching in India and Thailand before receiving his MATESOL from NYU in 2009. Beyond UTP High Schools, Peter’s academic research has been published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing and he currently sits as the Curriculum Specialist on the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training.

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