Teaching Newcomers: Communicator Cards

This school year has brought 5 brand-new Burmese refugee students to my school, as well as several other ESL students; we are expecting one or two more in the coming weeks.  I've been testing my newcomers using W-APT, IPT, or some combination of both, based on ability, and what I've come to realize is how different the experiences in refugee camps can really be.  For example, I have a second and third grade brother and sister who have never seen the alphabet and cannot count to 10, but repeat everything I say, yet I have a 4th grader who can write his name and write in Burmese, who I haven't heard speak a word.  This is very difficult for mainstream teachers whose classes these children sit in all day, as they are trying to keep up with demands for SGO's and SGP's and Danielson!, and don't have either the time, know-how, or resources to differentiate for a student who is four grade levels behind in every content area and can't tell you his name.

I tried to alleviate some of that beginning of year stress by making these:
I went around the school on the first full day, taking pictures of necessary items, like the bathroom, the water fountain, me!, my teaching partner, the nurse, and a few other things.  Then I labeled them and laminated them.  My second grader keeps hers in a little ziplock- she carries it around everywhere! It's the cutest thing.  She knows now that all she has to do is bring her card to the teacher, and the teacher will understand.  Eventually we will work on repeating the word on the card, and then the sentence on the card, but right now I just want to associate the procedure of "asking" when she has to go somewhere with a positive experience.  For someone who's never been to school before, that's a big step!

 I knew some teachers were having a really hard time with lunch count, so I added some general pictures of food.  My teaching partner then went and found all of September's actual lunch menu (Asian stir fry, mac and trees) and printed those up too, but that's not pictured.

For my kindergarten newcomer, I laminated the cards the same way, but instead of putting them on a binder ring, the Kinder teacher and I decided to velcro a sentence strip to her desk and tape the laminated cards on there- sorry no picture!

If you have students who are in their silent period, or students who are still learning crucial school vocabulary, consider making your own communicator cards! They took about an hour to photograph, upload, edit, and print.  It's worth it to know that some of the stress of navigating the school day is taken away for both my students and the teachers I work with!


  1. This is an excellent idea! I don't have any kiddos that need this but I do love this.

    Hunter's Teaching Tales
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  2. Those cards seem like such a great idea! I am sure your students really appreciate them. I can only imagine how stressful coming to school must be for them. Sounds like we both have been very busy testing!

    Eclectic Educating

  3. Bless these students' hearts! How confusing and stressful school must be for them. They are so lucky to have such a caring teacher in you to do whatever it takes to help them!
    Conversations in Literacy

  4. I just started following your blog and I love it! I am a ELD teacher and have a monolingual student this year, I think these cards would really help her. Do you have a downloadable file of these?

    1. Hi Emmy! I do have a file, but it's on my school computer- send me an email (everyonedeservestolearn@gmail.com) and I'll send you the file tomorrow.

  5. Hi, I just found your blog and I think these cards are great! I would love a copy if you don't mind sharing :) My email is: shannarcallahan@gmail.com Thanks so much!


Thanks for the comment! I really appreciate it.

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