Monday, November 22, 2021

How to Encourage English Language Learners to Speak in Class

How can you get your English language Learners to talk more in your classes?  While that may seem counterproductive since it’s more common for teachers to want their students to talk less, with ELLs it’s often the opposite. ELLs frequently sit silently in mainstream classes, rarely raising their hands to answer questions or volunteering comments during discussions.  In this blog post, I’ll share 4 reasons why that may be happening, 4 things you can do if you’re a regular education teacher to encourage your ELLs to more actively participate orally in your classes, and 4 strategies for English Language Learners that you can incorporate into your lessons to help your ELL students talk more.

Reasons English Language Learners don't speak in class and teaching strategies that encourage them to talk
Source: The ESL Nexus

Why English Language Learners Don’t Talk in Mainstream Classes

When my regular ed colleagues visited my classroom, they were always amazed at how noisy my room was.  That’s because my ELLs were talking all the time – even when they weren’t supposed to be!  That was in stark contrast to their classes, where the same students just sat there without saying anything the whole period.  Here are some reasons why there was such a difference between my class and theirs.

* Some ELLs might be in a stage of language learning called the Silent Period.  My blog post explains this in more detail but essentially it means that students who are just beginning to learn English do not yet feel ready to communicate in the language.  If you have ELLs at beginning levels of proficiency in your classroom, this could be why they are not participating.

* Many ELLs may be more proficient but have a challenge understanding the concepts being taught in English.  They are trying to understand the material being taught in a language they are still learning.  This is frequently the case with ELLs at intermediate levels of language proficiency.

* Many ELLs are self-conscious about making errors when speaking.  This is especially true if other people have made fun of them – or if they just think they were laughed at – in the past when they were talking.  They may be unsure of the correct grammar or vocabulary to use, or struggle to keep up with native English speakers’ conversations, and feel it’s better to not say anything than to say something incorrectly or say something that other people don’t understand.

* Some ELLs are introverts.  These students may well understand what is going on in the class but they just don’t feel comfortable participating in an active way.  They aren’t extroverted even when communicating in their first language.

Why English Language Learners don't talk in mainstream classes
Source: The ESL Nexus

What Teachers Can Do to Overcome Barriers to English Language Learners Speaking in Class

* The most important thing is to create a welcoming and nurturing classroom environment.  When students – not just ELLs but all students – feel comfortable in your class, they will feel more encouraged to take the risk of speaking. Displaying multicultural posters of people from diverse backgrounds, displaying multilingual posters (such as these from my TpT store) on a bulletin board, having books in languages other than English in your class library, and recognizing holidays celebrated in other cultures are a few ways to create a positive atmosphere in your classroom.

* It’s also very helpful to share your own language learning experiences. For example, I told my students about my attempts to learn Mandarin Chinese when I went to China the first time to teach.  I explained how I was scared to go out shopping by myself because I was afraid a) I’d get lost and b) I wouldn’t be able to buy what I needed because my Chinese wasn’t good enough yet and no one would understand me.  But, I told my students, I realized that if I never tried to speak, there was no way I would ever improve my Chinese.  I related that back to how they also had to take the risk of speaking and being wrong in order to learn and develop their skills.  And if you’ve created a socially and emotionally supportive classroom environment, your students will be more likely to take those risks.

* Emphasizing that it’s okay to make mistakes goes in tandem with taking risks.  I always told my students that it’s by making mistakes that we learn.  Because when we say something grammatically incorrect, or use the wrong word, or have difficulty making ourselves understood, that’s how we’ll know the correct thing to say in the future.  

* I also always stressed that it was important for my students to ask questions.  Because asking questions shows an interest in what’s being said and that they want to learn.  It doesn’t matter if students ask questions using incorrect grammar, or if it takes them a few tries before they manage to ask their questions.  The point is that they want to know something and overcame their fear of speaking to ask.  So when that happens, ELLs should be praised and you should take the time to respond thoughtfully because that will encourage them to ask more questions in the future.

4 teaching strategies for getting ELLs to talk more in class
Source: The ESL Nexus

Teaching Strategies for English Language Learners that Encourage Oral Participation

* Working in small groups works great for ELLs!  With fewer people listening to what they say, ELLs will feel less nervous about talking.  But just putting students in small groups isn’t enough since some students can dominate the group and leave others out of participating.  Assigning a job to each student in the group will ensure that every student has to contribute something.  ELLs at a beginning level of language proficiency can be asked to draw something but make sure to include an oral component to the task, such as describing the picture in a few words.  ELLs at higher levels of language proficiency can be asked to do more challenging tasks.

* Turn and talk is a tried and true strategy.  But after telling your students the topic to discuss, give them some time to put their ideas on paper first before they share their ideas.  That way, ELLs can just read their thoughts out loud instead of trying to speak extemporaneously, which puts them on the spot.

* When asking students questions and during whole-class discussions, make sure to allow for sufficient wait time.  ELLs need even longer than the 3-5 seconds commonly recommended because they are not only processing the question or comment in English, they are also trying to figure out how to formulate their response in English.  If you don’t wait long enough and call on another student before your ELL has time to respond, then your ELL is not going to feel encouraged to try and speak the next time they’re called on.  So although you may think you’re waiting long enough, and although the silence may feel uncomfortable, wait even longer and you’ll probably be surprised that your ELLs will begin to speak more often in your class.

* But don’t cold call ELLs to answer questions or offer comments.  That puts them on the spot and they might be having a hard time keeping up with the pace of the lesson.  Instead, tell the class that you’re going to call on someone (use the student’s name) and after that, you’re going to call on the ELL (use the student’s name).  Doing this signals your ELLs that they’ll be called on soon and gives them time to prepare and figure out what they want to say.


These are just some ways to get your English Language Learners to talk more in your classes.  You may even find that after encouraging your ELLs to speak more in your classes, you have a hard time getting them to stop talking, but that’s a good problem to have!


Monday, October 4, 2021

How to Help Your English Language Learners Make Friends in School

"Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends,
never lose a chance to make them."
-- Francesco Guicciardini

Making friends isn’t easy.  I know – I attended a different high school every year for 10th, 11th, and 12 grade.  Making friends is even harder when you’re trying to communicate in a foreign language.  I know – I was an exchange student to Sweden my senior year and went to a Swedish-language high school, and had to learn the language from scratch.

So I totally understand how hard it can be for English Language Learners who are new to a school and/or do not know a lot of English.  What can teachers and other school staff do to make the adjustment easier and help the ELLs make friends?  Let’s look at some challenges that make it difficult for ELLs to make friends and then at some solutions to them.  But please note that the ideas I'm going to present are focused on when you're teaching in-person classes at school, not when you're teaching remotely.

A group of students in a classroom looking at a desktop computer monitor with a map on the wall behind them
Source: The ESL Nexus

a) Perhaps the biggest challenge is when ELLs are in pull-out ESL classes during the school day.  That reduces the chances ELLs have to mix with their peers because an ESL class will, by definition, be comprised only of students for whom English is not their first language.  That can make it harder to get to know native English-speaking students, especially if ELLs are nervous about speaking English, which many are.

b) Another challenge is that it’s hard to talk when you don’t have the vocabulary to communicate easily.  A lot of native English-speaking kids don’t know what’s involved in learning another language and may not have the patience needed to get to know English Language Learners.  But recess and other non-academic times at school are excellent ways to get students to mix together.

c) The last challenge I want to mention is that of time.  ELLs typically need more time when interacting with people because they are often processing what they hear in English and translating it into their native language.  Or they are searching for the English words to convey their thoughts.  However, during the school day, time is at a premium.

A group of young students playing soccer in a field at recess
Source: The ESL Nexus

a) Usually when ELLs are in pull-out classes, they do not spend their entire day in ESL classes.  At the very least, they have gym, music, art, and other “specials” with native English-speaking students.  There are a few things regular ed teachers can do to foster friendships among the ELLs and the other students in a class:
* Seat an ELL and a native English speaker next to each other so when there is pair work to do, they can work together.  (Of course, during the pandemic, they can’t be too close.)
* When doing group work, assign the members of the groups to ensure there’s an ELL in every group.  If students are allowed to pick who their group will be, they might not select an ELL, but working in a small group is a great way to get students talking to each other.
* When assigning homework assignments, have students in pairs or small groups comprised of a mix of ELLs and other students explain the work to each other to ensure they understand the task.  That not only will get kids talking to each other, it’ll also help you see if everyone knows what they are supposed to do.
* If you are given advance notice that an ELL will be arriving in your class, let your students know and ask them to be extra friendly.  They can do that by, for example: Making sure to say hello to the new student and introducing themselves, walking next to the ELL in the hallway when going to and from classes, offering to show the ELL where the bathroom is, how to use a locker (if that is a new thing), explaining what intercom announcements mean, and so on.
* When you learn that you’ll be getting an ELL in your class, inform your students and let them know what country the student is from (if they’re an immigrant or refugee) or what their native language is (if they were born in the US but speak another language at home).  Generate a list of questions about the country that your students can ask the new ELL, but emphasize that they shouldn’t bombard the ELL all at once.  Also let your students know that the ELL’s level of English proficiency may make it hard for them to understand what’s going on all the time, so they should be patient and know that they may need to repeat themselves sometimes.  Make sure your students know that the ELL is just as smart as they are but just needs some extra help in learning how to show that in English.

b) Even when ELLs do not have a large English vocabulary, there are still ways they can communicate.  Lunch and recess are great opportunities for kids to practice social language.  Mix It Up Day, sponsored by Learning for Justice, is a great way to help not just ELLs but all students get to know new people.  Here are a few things adults on lunch and recess duty can do to create opportunities for ELLs and other students to interact with each other:
* At lunchtime, arrange for a few students to sit and eat with the ELL.  They may even need to show the ELL how to go through the lunchline, if there is one.  If the native English speakers don’t know what to talk about it, here are a few suggestions: Ask the ELL what their favorite subject is, ask the ELL what they like to do for fun after school, ask the ELL if they have a favorite singer or movie.  It’s probably not a good idea to ask the ELL about their family in case they are coming from a traumatic situation.  If the ELL brings lunch from home, the other students could possibly ask about the food but only if done in a positive way that celebrates the food rather than denigrates it.
* Organize structured activities for the students instead of letting them just do whatever they want and hang out with whomever they want.  There could be a different activity each day or on just a few days, or an activity could last for just part of recess time, depending on the length of recess.  You could have either all students participate or just some take part, depending on the activity.  But including the ELLs in these activities, and creating times when the other students have to explain the activity or talk to the ELL in order to do it, can help the ELLs feel more comfortable with their fellow students.
* You could also ask a small group of students to invite the ELL to join them.  If you do this, it’s best to talk to the native English speakers first about it.  They should know that they will probably need to speak a little more slowly than usual and wait a little longer for a response when talking with the ELL since it may take them longer to understand what they’re saying.
* If you’re on recess duty and you see an ELL by themself, ask them if everything is okay.  They may be fine but they may also be shy and not feel comfortable approaching the other kids.  You can probably sense if that’s the case.   If it is, find a student that you know is friendly and kind and ask them to help you out by playing with the ELL; you can give them ideas for simple activities to do together.  Introduce the students to each other and tell the ELL that this other student has a game (or whatever) they’d like the ELL to do with them.

c) Take advantage of any interludes you may find in the day’s schedule.  Before and after school, as well as homeroom, are good examples.
* If feasible, set up a before-school program that helps kids with their homework.  Focus on the ELLs but also allow other students to participate.  Such a program helps the ELLs with their schoolwork and, with the inclusion of native English-speakers, helps foster interaction between students.  My blog post about the program I set up will give you some ideas about how to implement this.
* During homeroom in the morning, you can design quick and easy speaking activities for your class.  For example, put a question on a whiteboard or send it to students’ devices, and tell them to discuss it with a classmate.  You can structure it more by specifying that students have to talk to someone they don’t know very well or haven’t talked to yet that day, to increase the chance of different students talking to the ELL each day.
* If it is practical, you can also try to implement an after-school program that is open to all students.  It could be a homework help program or some sort of social activity.  Encourage the ELLs to participate by sending home information to their families.  However, an after-school program only makes sense if transportation home is provided for the students.

It can take a long time to make friends if no one makes an effort to help ELLs do that.  Eventually I made some friends in each of the schools I attended but if my teachers had done any of the suggestions recommended above, I probably would’ve made friends more quickly.  I hope these suggestions help your ELLs make friends in their schools!


Monday, September 20, 2021

6 Free Back to School Resources for Teachers of English Language Learners

"Names are the sweetest and most important sounds in any language."

-- Dale Carnegie

Now that school has been in session for at least a few weeks in the US, you or your colleagues may have some questions about working with the English Language Learners in your classrooms.  It can certainly be daunting to face students who are not yet proficient in English and may struggle to understand everything you are teaching, even if have had training in how to teach ELLs effectively and have had ELLs in your classes in the past.

But don’t worry!  There are many things you can do to make your ELLs feel a part of your class and that help them comprehend your lessons.  A blog post I wrote a few years ago has lots of information about what to do if your ELLs aren’t doing as well as you think they should.

One thing not mentioned in my blog post is the importance of names.  Years ago, some teachers often gave their students nicknames, or shortened students’ names to make them easier to pronounce, or used Anglicized versions instead of trying to pronounce students’ real names correctly.  This is no longer accepted practice because it’s seen as devaluing students, instead of trying to make them feel welcome, by using names that are convenient for the teacher but may not accurately represent the students’ identities.  The social-emotional well-being of students is much more in the forefront nowadays, especially considering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Quotation by Dale Carnegie about the importance of names
Source: The ESL Nexus

It’s really not that hard to learn how to pronounce names properly.  One method I saw recommended somewhere (I forget where so unfortunately I can’t give credit) is to use Flipgrid.  Ask every student to make a quick video of themselves pronouncing their name.  You can then watch them anytime to learn how to say their names correctly.  Even if it’s already been a few weeks since the start of your school year, you can do this as a way of introducing Flipgrid to your students, since it’s a great tool to use in your classroom.

Here are 6 more helpful resources for the beginning of the new school year and even beyond.  All are free!

Back to School Resources for Teachers of ELLs
Source: The ESL Nexus

* ColorĂ­n Colorado article about welcoming ELLs to the classroom
This short article includes lots of links to resources plus videos.

* U.S. Department of Education’s Newcomer Tool Kit
Includes info about who newcomers are and how to design programs for them; it’s 161 pages long but the table of contents has live links so you can go directly to the sections that interest you and skip the others.

* Aperture Education’s Social & Emotional Back to School Guide
These 43 pages are filled with useful ideas, activities, and lesson plans on how to nurture your students, their families, fellow educators, and yourself throughout the school year.

* First Book Accelerator’s Printable 2021 – 2022 Printable School Year Calendar
This diversity calendar shows holidays, historical and cultural events, religious holidays, and more.

* U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education’s Ensuring English Learner Students Can Participate Meaningfully and Equally in Educational Programs
This 4-page document provides an overview of schools’ responsibilities for educating ELLs; it’s a helpful resource for your administrators or colleagues who many not be familiar with what schools need to do to provide an equitable education to their ELL students.

* ELL EBook with Resources for Teaching English Language Learners
Last but not least, here's a 26-page TpT product with tips about teaching ELLs plus links to free and paid TpT resources for Pre-K to Adult learners; I compiled this ebook to help teachers help their ELLs.

I have many other resources for the beginning of the new school year in my TpT store.  Head on over there and take a look around!  And best wishes for a great school year!


Monday, September 6, 2021

It's the Boom Learning Back to School Sale!

Happy Rosh Hashanah to all who celebrate!  As the new year 5782 begins tonight, according to the Jewish calendar, I wish everyone peace, health, and economic well-being.  L’Shanah Tovah!

Apples and honey with pomegranates and the phrase L'Shanah Tovah happy Rosh Hashanah!
Source: The ESL Nexus
I’ve created a new Boom Cards resource that explains what Rosh Hashanah is all about. It has 2 parts.  The first is a reading passage with questions; there are 7 paragraphs, 1 per card, accompanied by a question about the text.  All the paragraphs, questions, and answers are read aloud to provide more support for students who need it.  The second part consists of photographs of 5 objects associated with the holiday and asks students  to identify them by answering a question.  All the pictures are used to illustrate the reading passage.  This section of the Boom deck is not read out loud.  

If you have students who aren’t familiar with the Jewish New Year, are English Language Learners with intermediate language proficiency and up, and/or have upper elementary native English-speaking students, this resource is appropriate for them.  Normally, it’s priced at 150 points but…

#BTSBoom21 Back to School Boom sale image for September 7 & 8, 2021
Use hashtag #BTSBoom21 to find the resources on sale in The ESL Nexus' Boom store
On September 7th and 8th, there’s a Boom hashtag sale and on these 2 days, you can find that resource and 2 more in my Boom store on sale for just 100 points!  My Columbus Day Reading Passage & Vocabulary resource and my Halloween Answer Questions resource are also on sale.  The Columbus Day resource is normally 300 points/$3.00and the Halloween resource is normally 450 points/$4.50.  In my Boom store during the sale, they are 100 points.  In my TpT store, they are $1.00 on September 7th and September 8th.  However, my Rosh Hashanah resource is only available in my Boom store.  To find the resources that are part of this sale, just type #BTSBoom21 in the search bars on the Boom Learning or TpT websites.

Covers for the Rosh hashanah, Columbus Day, and Halloween Boom Cards resources by The ESL Nexus
Find all 3 resources in The ESL Nexus Boom Learning store

Happy Shopping!