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Strategies for Teaching Elementary ESL Students

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) students can be extremely challenging, but also incredibly rewarding. This lesson outlines strategies teachers can apply to elementary ESL learners.

An Elementary Approach

One of the greatest advantages of teaching elementary ESL students is the curiosity of these young learners. They are typically open to new ideas and tend not to question the widely accepted English grammar rules the way older students justifiably do. Another advantage of teaching young ESL students is that their youth makes it easier for them to learn a second language than mature learners. One of the quirks of second language acquisition is that young minds seem better able to absorb and retain linguistic information.

Remember that your elementary ESL learners are at the beginning of their language journey and need plenty of support. If possible, set aside time each week or month to meet with students individually. Individual attention enables students to ask questions or raise concerns they may be too hesitant or embarrassed to raise in front of peers. During these personal meetings, you can update students on their progress, offer encouraging feedback and make suggestions for improvement. Additionally, individual attention from a teacher can inspire confidence in students that they matter and are viewed as individuals rather than simply members of a larger group.

Classroom Work

When preparing a lesson plan for ESL student, be sure to select level-appropriate content for classroom use. Material that is either too easy or too difficult can cause your students to become bored or discouraged. Once you've identified level-appropriate content, consider these guidelines for learning strategies.

Review Prior Content

You'll also want to make time to review material you covered in class the day, week and month before. Make review sessions brief, though, or your students may feel that they're not making enough progress. For instance, if you have a 45-minute class period, use the first five minutes to review key points that were covered in the previous class. The key to a successful review session is to eliminate the details and focus on the big picture elements.

Use Small Groups for Speaking Lessons

Another effective strategy is to encourage group work and collaboration in your classroom. Many ESL students are reticent to speak in front of others for fear of making mistakes. The best way to get over this fear is to give students as much speaking practice as possible in small group settings.

Allow for Rework and Extra Time for Reading and Writing Lessons

When you cover reading and writing, you should take a slightly different approach than you used for speaking because these skills tend to be individual tasks. Giving students an opportunity to rewrite flawed assignments based on your feedback can do wonders for their confidence and development.

It can also be helpful to give ESL learners more time to complete assignments than you would give to native English speaking students. While turning in assignments when due is important, putting strict time constraints on homework may cause some students to feel meeting the deadline is more important than putting in their best effort.

Making Assessments Matter

Just as your choice of content and learning strategies matter, the level and type of assessments you use can have a big impact on students. English language learners of all ages have a tendency to place good scores over retaining knowledge, so you should stress that while scores do matter, the practical application of knowledge is more important than a good grade.

Following are some tips for effective assessment of your ESL students.

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