5 Ways to Support Your ESL Students


Do you have students in your class who are learning English as a second language? Here are five ways you can make sure that your ESL students are getting as much out of your class as possible.

A Helping Hand

Integrating into a new country is difficult for anybody, but it can be especially challenging for children who have to learn a new language on top of attending a new school. And, let's face it, English isn't the most straightforward language to learn. If you have students in your class who are learning English as a second language (ESL), they're certain to appreciate any extra support and consideration from you. Here are five methods you can try.

1. Watch Your Language

No, we don't mean expletives - though you should be careful about those, too. Rather, we're suggesting that you be conscious of how you speak to your ESL students.

First, think about the speed of your speech. Are you speaking at a pace that somebody unfamiliar with English will understand? You should also pay attention to your pronunciation and enunciation. Is it always clear what you're trying to say?

Additionally, be careful about overusing slang expressions and idioms that may be confusing to ESL students, and be ready to repeat yourself if necessary. And finally, be careful not to make cultural assumptions about your students' experiences that might not apply to those who are learning English as a second language.

A teacher is careful about her language use

2. Check In Regularly

Not all students are comfortable approaching adults for help, and that can be especially true of children from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Rather than expecting your ESL students to seek out your assistance when they need it, make the effort to check in with them every so often. At the beginning of each semester or term, checking in once every few days might make sense, though over time, follow-ups can occur as infrequently as once every few weeks. Try asking the following questions:

  • How are you feeling about the class?
  • Are you able to keep up with the material?
  • Do you have any questions about the material?
  • Is there anything I can do to make the class content easier for you to follow?
  • Are there any grammatical terms or vocabulary words I've used that you'd like me to clarify or define for you?
  • How are you getting along with your classmates?

Reaching out to your ESL students proactively should make them feel much more comfortable opening up to you about their language struggles.

A teacher checks in with an ESL student

3. Be Observant

Another way to be proactive when supporting ESL students is to keep an eye on how they're doing in class. Do they seem to be picking up the material? Is there anything in particular they struggle with? Are they successfully integrating socially?

Consider glancing at your ESL students every so often during a lecture to see if they appear to be engaged. A sea of blank stares may be your cue to repeat your point in simpler language, or that your ESL students could use some extra attention on the topic at hand.

This approach also extends to outside of the classroom. ESL students might have difficulty adjusting to the customs of your school. So watch to see if they know how to pay for their lunch or what to do during a fire drill. These are moments of potential confusion that many teachers don't think of, but that can make a big difference in an ESL student's day-to-day experience.

4. Use Visual Aids

Including a visual component in your lessons will have two benefits:

1) It will help your ESL students understand the material if they're unable to grasp the language being used.

2) It will help engage the visual learners in your class, even if they're native English speakers.

For every lesson you plan, consider what type of visual component to include. Are you using photos in your lecture slides? Are you writing the instructions on the board instead of just giving them verbally? Are you using diagrams and models to explain concepts?

All of these visual aids can add a crucial dimension of understanding for non-native English speakers.

5. Use the Buddy System

While you can't always pause your class to make sure that your ESL students understand every single thing that you say, you can create a classroom culture in which your students help those who aren't as comfortable with English. For example, assigning group work will help your ESL students feel less alone when tackling an assignment; partner work can have the same effect. You can even assign each ESL student a seat next to a buddy who can answer any questions that the ESL student might not feel comfortable asking you. This way, supporting your ESL students becomes part of the classroom community, and not just something for you to stress about individually.

A class doing group work

Looking for teaching resources to use in the classroom with your ESL students? Check out these engaging options from Study.com

By Daisy Rogozinsky
December 2018
teachers teacher tips

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