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Resources for Supporting ESL Students

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Students who do not speak English as a primary language have unique challenges in their education. In this lesson, we are going to look at resources and methods teachers can use to support these students.

Students without English

Imagine that you've done it. You've completed college, gotten your teaching license, landed a job, and you're now in charge of your own classroom. Congratulations. It's all smooth sailing from here, right? Not necessarily. At some point, many teachers will find they are teaching one or more students who do not speak English as a primary language. These students, whom we call English as a Second Language students (ESL) or English Language Learners (ELLs), are dealing with unique sets of educational parameters. Most notably: they may not understand everything you're saying. But, being the good teacher that you are, you want them to still have a positive educational experience. Now, we're not going to go into all the details of ELL instruction today, but here are some ways to help provide support for both an ELL, and yourself.

Individual Support

We're going to look at five levels of support today, starting with the most basic: you. Being a supportive teacher is often about more than just wanting to be helpful. In order to maximize your ability to support an ELL, you need to understand them. Try this: go to a local museum and sign up for a tour in a language you either don't speak, or don't speak very well. Take that tour and see what it feels like to be in an educational environment where your peers and the leader are all communicating in a way you can't.

How would you feel learning in another language?
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Individual support also means getting to know your ELLs on a personal level, and understanding what you can expect from them. ELLs are often quiet, and many come from cultures where saying something incorrect to an elder is rude. Trying to create one-on-one time with ELLs, however brief, can help build up the relationship and trust needed to promote better communication down the road. At the end of the day, you can be the best resource this student will have, but they need to know that.

Classroom Support

The next resource that can be of benefit to both you and the ELL is your classroom. Bilingual displays and signs indicate to everyone that bilingualism is normal and acceptable. Sometimes, ELLs will become more comfortable talking with other students before they are comfortable talking to a teacher. Encouraging the entire class to understand what it's like to learn another language and emphasizing this as a normal process helps build empathy between the ELL and other students. If you have students from the same cultural or linguistic background as the ELL, use them as well. Many students are happy to be interpreters if needed, or to explain aspects of a culture to their teachers.

Bilingual signs can help encourage a more empathetic classroom
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School Support

For a wider range of support, look beyond your classroom and to the rest of the school. Are there other students from this cultural background in other classes? Do more veteran teachers have experience with ELLs, and what did they do? Many schools also have additional staff, from specific ELL instructors to Building Resource Teachers, who may have additional information or resources that can help you and your student. Asking for help is never a bad thing.

External Professional Support

For even more resources that can benefit both you and your ELLs, look outside of the actual school. There are a number of professional communities, private activist organizations, and even educational blogs dedicated specifically to ELL instruction. Many resources are available for free online that include vocabulary and grammar exercises for ELLs, as well as tips and techniques for you. More exclusive professional organizations also tend to have a wide range of resources available to professional educators. In some cases, you can even find professionals who have built entire careers on coming into schools to provide extra ELL support or training for teachers.

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