English Language Learners (ELLs) are integral to schools and enrich not only the classroom but also culture and society as a whole.
As the ELL population continues to grow nationwide, whether you teach in the virtual classroom or brick-and-mortar classroom, it’s important for educators to keep themselves up-to-date with the latest resources, activities, and supports available not only for new teachers but also for veteran teachers.
Proximity Learning’s own ESL/ESOL specialists and teachers provided me with a wealth of knowledge regarding ELLs and their unique skill sets and abilities. I was also guided to include some of the wonderful websites, apps, and channels they use, which will undoubtedly benefit any teacher’s “toolkit”.
According to Proximity teacher and ESOL specialist, Mr. James Riley, “ELLs are a valuable part of our school community. They bring unique cultural, linguistic, and educational experiences that we can all benefit from. Culture and language are inextricably linked. The best advice I can give is for teachers to design units and activities centered around a culture that allows ELLs to serve as ‘experts’ which can provide unique learning opportunities for teachers and students alike.”
It’s important to embrace these skill sets and create flourishing and culturally inclusive learning environments for all students. Nevertheless, the experts agreed - it’s also important to have specific knowledge of how language acquisition students differ and how teachers can continue to support and motivate their learning.
Language Acquisition and Special Education are NOT the same
Ms. Justice Stone-Kearney, ESOL Teacher for Proximity and passionate advocate for her language learners had this to say, “Teachers need to first remember that ESL or ESOL is not special education. ELL's are learning a new language and culture. Moreover, the pace at which they are being asked to learn is sometimes faster than their minds can comprehend.”
Both teachers and language students must start simple.
“Teachers can provide a welcoming classroom environment; engage the students through their cultures, allow them to use language resources, and make the learning fun and engaging.”
Additional Responsibilities ELL Children Take On
Ms. Stone-Kearney also said it truly takes an open mind and deep understanding of the unique situation and mature responsibilities this group of students is usually asked to take on.
“Since many ELLs live in homes where one primary language is spoken, some struggles the student might encounter are lack of support in the language acquisition at home. Many parents depend on their ELLs to help them with English, so the student has a large burden of educating their own families. This struggle or burden does impact the students in the classroom. Some classroom struggles might be keeping up with the teacher as she is reading or giving instructions out loud.”
For this issue, Mr. Riley suggests pre-recording lectures and making them available online.
“This allows students to view these videos on their own time (as homework). They have the luxury of pausing and replaying sections that they might find a bit challenging. This goes a long way toward ensuring they’re getting the meaning-focused input they need to succeed.”
Ms. Stone-Kearney also points out that another struggle is teachers might assume that ELL students learn and understand in the same manner as their native English counterparts. However, this is not the case.
She explains, “For example, when considering the word "familiar," a student who speaks Spanish might think the word is like familia (which is related to family or family members). Teachers need to realize that when they use language, there are cognates in other languages that are unrelated but might cause misunderstandings. It’s important to understand that ELL students don't have the same vocabulary as their peers. Patience is the key to helping them learn new words with vocabulary strategies.”
ELL/ESL Learning Distinctions: BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) & CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency)
Since ELL learning is divided into two areas (BICS/CALP), deciding which area the teacher wants to focus on is the best course of action.
BICS is where the student is learning common language applications (days of the week, social chatter, etc.), whereas CALP focuses more on the linguistic aspects (verbs, nouns, and all things academic).
First thing’s First: Level Determinations are Crucial
Teachers should first determine the levels of their ELL students.
For each level, following the go-to strategies matrix given to all teachers from the ELL teacher (for those who have ELL co-teachers) will help teachers provide strategies that will strengthen and support ELL learners. Ms. Stone-Kearney pointed out that Proximity teachers should definitely be familiar with this chart and can always reach out if they have questions.
Most schools have some sort of ELL chart or database that indicates language levels for reading, speaking, listening, and writing. It’s crucial to know where the student is at in order to provide the best support system.
Activities and Strategies to keep ELLs thriving and motivated both online and in-person
Teachers can always try buddy pairing, using their primary language to support their secondary language; use as many visuals as possible; use graphic organizers and pre-teach vocabulary.
Scaffolded activities that gradually reduce responsibility to the student are best. More supported activities include things like dialogues and gap fills.
Less-supported activities may include a targeted description of a picture (with a model answer) or partner interviews with model answers. Teachers can also facilitate activities like role plays, unsupported interviews, or mingles. In an online setting, breakout rooms can be a substitute for a mingle activity.
Activities should aim to get students to use the target language in a more authentic situation. There are a ton of great resources and articles regarding these types of activities.
Now that you have an idea of where to start and what to look for, don’t be afraid to use resources provided by the experts. There are so many excellent tools available and teachers do not have to try to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to supporting their ELL students.
The possibilities are endless!
Websites and App Resources Ms. Stone-Kearney Recommends:
Cram – This site provides quality resources to help students understand concepts, learn important information, and turn in well-researched assignments and essays. The flashcards tool and section on language learning are great for ELLs. Sets are created by subject and common core standards as well as grade levels.
Memrise – Memrise uses immersive techniques and “real-life” language acquisition scenarios to make language learning fun but also effective. Their philosophy: Using a language is how you learn the language. It's how you learn to understand and speak another language in real life – with real people – in real situations. The site includes thousands of video examples, practical phrases taught in courses designed by native speakers, gamified tests, and immersive techniques that hasten recall and practical language application. https://www.memrise.com/
Toy Theater – Toy Theater is a collection of interactive educational games for elementary students. All resources are free and designed to work on desktop computers, tablets, and mobile devices. This site includes games, activities, and worksheets. Recommended for CALP language learning. https://toytheater.com/
Arcademics – This site combines academics with arcade-style games to boost student engagement and learning fun. Many of the games are free and cover a range of topics and even leaderboards that can help facilitate some healthy competition between groups or classes. https://www.arcademics.com/
Education.com – Education.com has multiple resources organized for any learning tool you might need as a teacher, parent, and student. It also can sort by grade, subject, enrichment, or type! This is an excellent resource for both CALP & BICS language learning and application. https://www.education.com/
TurtleDiary – This site offers over 1000+ learning activities that are both interactive and educational for grade levels K-5 that provide opportunities to enhance material retention and increase success in the classroom. Excellent site to reinforce academic content for ELLs. https://www.turtlediary.com/
YouTube Channels to check out according to Mr. Riley:
Enjoy English with Ms. A – This channel has a lot of bilingual resources. This is largely focused on developing BICS (basic interpersonal communication skills). This is more TEFL than ESOL targeted.
Teachings in Education - This is a great channel! They don’t deal specifically with ESOL but have some great materials on supporting our English language learners in US classrooms.
The Language Arts Gallery - This is Mr. Riley’s channel and is just getting up and running. However, this channel focuses on academic writing instruction.