How to Help Second-Language Learners Thrive in American Schools

If you’re a teacher helping ELL students succeed in regular education classrooms, there are a few things you must consider.

First, you need to educate yourself about the language acquisition process. You should also contextualize learning so that content is relevant to students’ experiences with their families. And most importantly, don’t allow the language barrier to interfere with a belief that ELL students can learn. You can’t underestimate the power of high expectations when it comes to success with language development (and learning in general). As a teacher, you should be willing to learn about ELL students, their families, and their communities, to structure meaningful learning experiences.

Use technology, including recordings, videos, and presentations, to emphasize language concepts. Students should be allowed to demonstrate their language acquisition through dramatization or video, with subtitles in their native language.

Some programs endorse the use of translation devices or electronic dictionaries in the classroom. However, there is some debate as to whether or not these forms of assistive technology actually defeat the purpose of English language learning.

Another less-considered idea is to include ELL students’ families and communities in the learning process. For example, you can host presentations or entertainment nights so students can show parents what they’ve learned. The community can be included as a means for support by inviting bilingual guests to share their language-learning experiences with students. ELL students will learn that language is a challenge for everyone and that learning a second language becomes a valuable, admirable skill. Cooperative and collaborative learning can also be effective. Many ELL students learn best in small-group discussions where there is less pressure to speak perfectly. Introducing the entire class to a third language might be beneficial, to help instill empathy for the new language learners.

Visual aids also support learning among ELL students. These include nonverbal behavior such as pointing, body language, signals, and gestures, as well as photos, videos, and dramatizations. ELL students should be encouraged to use graphic organizers and to keep picture journals of the words they have learned. Writing journals and learning logs also support learning among ELL students. Also helpful are alternative versions of texts or novels and teacher-provided notes for lectures or presentations.

I hope these tips are useful for taking part in ELL students’ success. Do you have any other tips that will help ELL students learn best in a school setting? Please leave your thoughts below.

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