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Engaging ESL Students in the Classroom

As a student, struggling in any subject can be stressful enough, but what happens when you’re struggling in a subject, and you don’t speak the native language? If English is not a student's first language, he or she can feel excluded in the classroom. Not only is it difficult for the ESL student, but it can also be challenging for the teacher to find ways to accommodate them. Here are a few ways teachers can provide ESL students with support in the classroom:

Visuals. Visuals can be beneficial for a variety of students and reasons, however it is exceptionally important for ESL students. Visuals aid them in understanding what is being taught in the class, and can even help with knowing the names of objects are the classroom. For students who are just learning English, have pictures and labels of everyday objects to help them with their everyday conversation!

As the Cult of Pedagogy puts it, Honor the Silent Period. ESL students may go through a very silent period as they begin their new school. Don’t feel the need to rush them out of this period, but simply encourage them and help them when they feel ready. There’s no need to rush them into sharing all of their information right away!

Model behaviour. Show your ESL students exactly what you are asking of them. They will most likely not understand everything you’re saying, however by showing them the worksheets in advance, or to the whole class; by doing step by step art activities, they will be able to follow more easily.

Become informed about their culture. Learn about where they’re from, and show a genuine interest to learn about their background. They are coming into a new country, new area - whatever it may be - try to make them feel at home in the best way you can. Ask the student to teach you new words as well! Learning is a two-way street after all.

Group work. Try and incorporate more group work and group projects. The more they are working with other students and listening to the language, the more likely they will be to begin to speak it. Encourage other students to use visuals and model behaviour just like the teacher.

Repetitive sentences. Have key sentences as visuals around the class, and make sure to repeat them often, for example:

[if !supportLists]- [endif]May I go to the washroom?

[if !supportLists]- [endif]Can I drink some water?

[if !supportLists]- [endif]I do not understand, can you repeat the instructions?

By repeating and having these phrases available to the student, they will be able to communicate necessities to the teacher.

The most important point to keep in mind with ESL students is to make them as comfortable as possible. This is not only done through the teacher's instruction, but through the student's and the school's community as well.


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