It seems like our classrooms get more diverse every day as English as Second Language learners grow in number as well. Diversity is exciting, and teaching English Learners is easier than you might think! Here are our top tips for engaging ESL students in the classroom.
Communicate Creatively & Differently
Imagine you are playing a game of gestures or Pictionary. Brand new English learners benefit greatly from communication that relies predominantly on the visual mode. Using gestures, pictures and other visual aids helps ESL students immensely in the classroom. Even a classroom schedule with pictures to show what their day will look like and pointing to things in the classroom will help them get accustomed to your classroom and the flow of class. You might partner them up with a helpful student and have them walk to different areas in the room and label them. Be conscious of your teacher-to-student talk time ratio. If at all possible, speak in shorter bursts or “chunk” your instruction. This practice also benefits more than just ESL students! Aim for half and half if you are new to engaging ESL students in your class. It can help to partner students up, ask them to retell key ideas or summarize their ideas in a small group.
Check In Often
Remember to check in often with English learners to make sure they understand. Do this both individually and with your class. When working 1-1 with the ESL student, start by asking low-level questions and work your way up to higher-order questions. For example, it is much easier for a beginning ESL student to answer a yes or no question than an open-ended question. You might consider asking something like this in a math class, “Is this a variable?” when pointing to part of the equation. The next question might be, “Is this a variable or a coefficient?” Again, gradually move up in level of difficulty to check where their comprehension is. Your check-ins might also be a simple thumbs up or down. Teachers who use hand signals to demonstrate levels of learning help more than just ESL students. Consider teaching your students a 5-4-3-2-1 signal system in which they communicate their level of understanding with the content.
Use a Variety of Learning Tools or Aids
There are many excellence aids or learning tools out there to help ESL students learn in the classroom. From cloze passage note-taking sheets to graphic organizers, any way you can pare down your instruction into bite-sized bits will go a long way to connecting with your ESL students. Another way teachers can engage these students is by incorporating more hands-on and project-based learning opportunities. If a learning segment is heavy in the modes of writing and/or reading, consider allowing the student to use assistive technology, like a text-to-speech application. Teachers can even encourage students to use speech to text and speak into the microphone of a tablet which can transform their speech to text. No more typing is needed! It’s important to remember that even though some ESL students can speak fluently, they often need extra support to read and write academically. Another way to gauge their comprehension is to have them tell you what they understand rather than taking a multiple-choice test. Variety is key when teaching these students!
Engaging ESL students in the classroom is simple when you remember these keys:
- Rely on visual tools and gestures in your teaching.
- Stop early and often during instruction to see where your ESL students are at with the content.
- Give more preference to student talk than teacher talk.
- Include a variety of learning aids and supplemental tools to get them the essential learnings in your content area.
Your students will thank you for your hard work and dedication in their learning journey!