Accommodations for ELLs: How to Create a Welcoming Classroom
Welcoming an English Language Learner (ELL) can be a special and rewarding time in the classroom. But if you’re new to teaching ELLs, it can also be overwhelming. You may not know where to start or how to best help your new student succeed. What accommodations for ELLs are most helpful? How can you prepare your class for your new student? Let’s dive into how you can make your classroom a positive, welcoming space for ELLs.
Before the First Day
Preparation is everything when it comes to the success of a new student. Here are a few accommodations for ELLs to consider before their first day.
Prepare Your Class
One of the best ways to create a welcoming environment is to prepare your class for your new student. Take the time to talk about the country he is coming from and some of its traditions. Help your class learn a few basic words in the new student’s native language. Celebrate similarities and the way that different cultures come together to help build empathy in your classroom. While your students may struggle to communicate with your new ELL, in the beginning, they’ll begin to find common interests and activities.
Take the opportunity to rearrange your seating so that the new student can be close by to you. Having kind and helpful students seated nearby, especially those who speak the same native language, can also help considerably as he learns the daily tasks and routines of your classroom.
Plan out the resources you’ll need to help your ESL/ELL students be successful. Talk with other teachers who have taught ELLs, especially the ESL teachers in your school, to see what has worked for them. Also, be sure to block out extra time in your schedule for your student. Offering one-on-one support can go a long way in making him feel comfortable and care for.
If you have lunchroom or bus duty the first week of school, see if another teacher can fill in for you in case your student needs extra help or attention. Remember, you are your student’s advocate, and the support you provide can make a positive difference in school and at home.
The First Day
The first day with any new student can be overwhelming. The first day with an ELL can be even more of a whirlwind. Here are a few key steps to ensure a successful first day.
Plan a Simple Day
Plan a simple but fun day that doesn’t require long blocks of reading or listening in English. Try a fun icebreaker game, an art activity, or even a tour around the school to meet the nurse, librarian, and other teachers.
Ensure Basic Needs Are Met
The first few days of school are one of the scariest situations young ELLs face. Make sure they know how to express basic needs like:
- Needing to use the bathroom
- Not feeling well
- Being hungry or thirsty
We created this visual resource to help your new ELL communicate essential needs during the first few days.
Looking to create your own visual resource? Download our free template to create a version tailored to your classroom.
You may also want to create a welcome packet. Including a schedule for the day with times and pictures or icons will help your student understand what to expect throughout the day. If the child can read in his native language, you can even try to translate any other welcome papers using Google Translate. While it won’t be a perfect translation, it may be enough to set the child’s mind at ease.
Assign a Buddy
Having a student (or a handful of students) to look out for your new ELL can help create bonds, establish a sense of community, and help you focus on all students’ needs in the classroom. Mixing up the class for reading circles and other activities can also help your new student meet everyone in the classroom.
If you have other ELLs, especially those who speak the same native language as the new student, consider seating them close by. It can be difficult for new students to make friends in an unfamiliar country, so the language connection these students can offer is invaluable.
Ongoing Accommodations for ELLs
Soon your ELL will become acclimated to your classroom and start to communicate using some English. Keep up the good work! Consider some of these ongoing accommodations for ELLs to help them find long-term success in the classroom.
Allow Extra Time
Want to learn how to support ELLs in the classroom? Be patient. Students will likely need extra time for assignments, readings, and tests. They may also need extra time to process instructions for tasks like getting ready for lunch or getting out their materials for a subject. While it’s easy to think of these as “simple” tasks, many students may not understand the request and may instead wait to see what other students do as an example.
You may also need to modify homework with the knowledge that it may take ELLs longer to complete. While homework is a vital tool to reinforce classroom teaching, some experts agree that no more than one hour a night should be assigned for elementary and middle school students. Modifying or simplifying some of these assignments for your ELLs will prevent them from getting overwhelmed by hours of work each night.
Provide Graphic Organizers and Tools
Providing extra time isn’t always possible in the classroom. When you offer additional ELL tools to enrich learning, students can move through their work faster and their frustrations of finishing last can fade away. Graphic organizers, glossaries, picture dictionaries, and checklists can all help ELLs:
- Strengthen their understanding
- Reinforce new skills & concepts
- Organize their thoughts
- Solidify new knowledge faster
- Provide visual support
Through all these benefits, these learning tools can help ELLs learn more effectively and complete their work without requiring extra time.
Prioritize Parental Involvement
Parental involvement is key when it comes to ELL success. While it isn’t always easy, do what you can to meet and engage with the parents of your new student. Try to find out:
- Do the student’s parents speak English?
- Is English spoken at home at all?
- Does the student have older siblings who may be stronger English speakers?
- How is education valued in the student’s culture?
- What hobbies/activities does the student like?
In many cases, you may find that ELLs are not only responsible for learning English at school, but also for teaching their parents and family English at home. Having a better understanding of their home life and the things they are interested in can help you develop more effective lessons and assignments and appropriately address their social and emotional needs.
Modify Classroom Testing as Necessary
Much like with in-class assignments and homework, you may need to modify your classroom testing requirements to accommodate the needs of your ELL. Including word banks, visual clues, or bilingual dictionaries may be enough for some students.
If your student needs additional assistance, talk with your school administrators. They may be able to provide a paraeducator to read questions aloud and answer questions from your ELLs. Or, they may be able to trade other responsibilities like lunch duty with you to give you the time to walk your student through the test yourself.
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