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4 Strategies for Helping ELL Newstarters Flourish

Newcomer English language learners (ELLs), students who are new to the country and don’t speak English, face a variety of challenges both inside and outside of school. Through thoughtful preparation and purposeful action, you can give each newcomer ELL student a shot at success in your classroom.

Use these strategies to build an environment in which newcomer ELL students will thrive.

Create an environment of inclusion

Creating a classroom environment that promotes diversity and inclusion is one way that you can support newcomer ELLs before one ever sets foot in your classroom. Do this by celebrating students’ differences, cultural or otherwise; addressing and squashing bullying behaviors; and teaching students that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Learn about your newcomer ELL student’s culture, and find opportunities to bring it to class

When you learn that a newcomer ELL student will be joining your classroom, learn as much as you can about the student’s culture. It will be helpful to familiarize yourself with what school is like in the student’s home country, including how students and teachers interact. For instance, students who come from a culture in which students generally spend their time working quietly at their desks with little personal interaction from their teachers may find it difficult to adapt to spending one-on-one time with the teacher or being in a classroom in which students are out of their seats, talking, and collaborating. If you have a few days’ notice, prepare your students for the arrival of their new classmate by introducing them to the ELL student’s home country and culture and giving them strategies for interacting with a new student who doesn’t speak English.

Here are a few additional ways that you can be mindful of your newcomer ELL student’s culture:

  • Incorporate texts that reflect your newcomer ELL student’s culture. This will help your students better understand their new classmate, and it will help your newcomer ELL student feel welcome.
  • Assign projects or activities in which students have the opportunity to share about their backgrounds and families. This will not only give the newcomer ELL student an opportunity to share his or her culture with the class, but it will also highlight the diversity among the rest of the students.

Celebrate the student’s native language

Although your newcomer ELL needs to develop English-language skills, their native language is still an important part of who they are and, if supported, can be an asset to the student in the future. Sometimes educators make the mistake of treating English-language acquisition as transitioning away from the native language to English when, instead, it should be seen as adding a new skill to the student’s toolbox.

Here are a few ways to show respect for a student’s native language and promote native-language development alongside English-language development:

  • Learn to pronounce and spell your newcomer ELL student’s name correctly and teach the other students to do so as well.
  • Learn a few common phrases in the student’s native language. Words and phrases like: good morning, goodbye, hello, pencil, paper, lunchtime, and the names of school subjects are a good start. Knowing that you took the time to learn a few phrases in the student’s native tongue will go a long way to helping your newcomer ELL student acclimate to school and feel valued.
  • If possible, provide the newcomer ELL student with books in their native language so that the student can participate in silent reading time and/or be able to successfully complete projects and activities. Being able to successfully do what the other students in the class are doing will help to boost your newcomer ELL student’s confidence. Reading transfers across languages—if your student is a strong reader in his or her native language, that skill will transfer as they learn English.

Help your newcomer ELL student connect with extracurricular or outside-of-school activities

While a newcomer ELL student is still grasping the language and acclimating to the new culture, there are many activities that cross cultural boundaries, like sports or art. As you learn about your student’s culture and interests, encourage him or her to participate in school-sponsored clubs or sports teams, or send home information about community activities that the student could participate in. Helping your student make connections and participate in non-school activities will strengthen their sense of belonging, help them make new friends, and also likely facilitate faster English-language acquisition through increased social interactions with native English speakers.

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