Back to School with English Language Learners

So, you have ESL students in your class this year? If you've never had English Language Learners (ELL's, ESL students, ESOL students, EFL students) the job can be pretty daunting.  Even if you've had ELL's for years, your incoming students may not have the same background as your former students.  Teaching ESL students is not something to fear- I've put together a few tips to guide you through your first week.

Buddy Up
 A peer buddy is a great way to take some pressure off you the first few days.  The peer buddy can be an older student, a student who speaks the same language, or a student who is looking for a friend.  Buddy-ing up your ELL student with a native English speaker will not only open up a whole realm of social language (playground talk) where you mostly speak in academic language (school talk).  It's a great way to build confidence and self-esteem for both students!

Sentence ______ Frames
Your students want so much to be included in activities along with the rest of the class, but you may notice a hesitation to participate.  This may come from the fear of not knowing what to say or how to say it.  Lessen the speaking anxiety by providing sentence frames.  For example, if you ask, "Do you want pizza or hot dogs for lunch," prompt (if needed!) by leading with, "I would like ______ for lunch."  Sometimes it helps to put your most frequently used frames on sentence strips.  

Label, Pictures, Repeat
Scoot, Read the Room, 4 Corners...all great games.  However, if there are only words on your task cards your ELL student may not understand the meaning or context.  Provide a print-rich vocabulary by labeling the room with pictures AND words, and try to make sure your task cards are appropriate for students' proficiency level. 

Knowledge is Power! 
Ask your administrator or ESL teacher for as much information about your student as possible.  I always send my teachers the students' individual proficiency levels, a copy of their WIDA Can-Do descriptors and a little personal background (family, prior education, issues with certain topics, etc).  At my school we often have charitable organizations registering students, and we've implemented a basic information form to help us with the process.  Hopefully your admin can provide you with some information!

Think of yourself as the welcome wagon.  You may be the first contact your student has to speaking English , perhaps even the only contact.  Learning English can be a daunting task, so try to make your student as comfortable as possible for the first few weeks. 

Good luck this year! Do you have any tips to share? Post them in the comments!


  1. Great tips! I laughed so hard about practicing the name. It is SO true. The classroom teacher told me one student's name, and we didn't know we were mispronouncing it until parent teacher conferences! The little kindergartener was too scared to correct us. We were accenting the wrong vowel! I felt so bad!

    Eclectic Educating

  2. Awesome tips. You def need to give lots of wait time and be patient. I have noticed with time. =) Thanks for this girly!

  3. This is great - I will be sharing this with my teachers this year!


Thanks for the comment! I really appreciate it.

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