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Helping an ESL Student Helps Yourself

The ISLI ESL Student team was invited again this past year to present at the Our Kids Summer Institute hosted by the Iowa Department of Education and AEA ESL departments. The team participated in three panel sessions sharing their stories of how they immigrated to America, are treated in school by their peers and teachers, and how teachers can better help them by simply getting to know them better. Below is the outlined points of their discussions. Learn more about the ESL student group and how to join here.

  • Make sure ALL teachers are pronouncing every student’s name correctly.

  • It is very annoying and demeaning when teachers don’t take time to get something as basic as my name down correctly.

  • Email all school staff the phonetic spelling of a student’s name if needed

  • Make sure teachers are not scared to ask for clarification later in the year if they forget how to pronounce it.

  • Teach ESL students to explain to other staff/students how to say their name

  • Have students introduce each other so they have to learn each others names

  • Push the self-esteem of ESL students

  • “You can’t be in an area where you are isolated and all by yourself and given things to work out and do.”

  • “It’s really hard to ask questions during class, but it’s even hard after class with just the teacher. I still feel self-conscious. I feel like the teacher is judging me.”

  • Introduce them to their teachers and all of their classes during their first day

  • Promote ESL students by telling their peers that ESL students can speak two languages and a unique cool cultural perspective.

  • Never interrupt to correct an ESL student. Let them finish talking first.

  • Make sure ESL students have practice talking in front of the class in their ESL classes so they have experience doing it once they get into regular classes.

  • Connect with your students on a cultural level

  • Do research about a country, preferably before a student gets to class

  • Soccer works for just about any culture. :)

  • Let them find their favorite singer on YouTube, find their hometown on Google Maps, etc.

  • Make sure someone explains the basics of the American school system to a new ESL student- “In France, we have no multiple-choice tests. I was like, what is this thing?”

  • Partnering

  • Choose your partner activities, especially in non-ESL classes like math and science, can be really hard on ESL students

  • In ESL class, pair students across cultures (ie, don’t just let all of the hispanic students work together)

  • At the same time, some flexibility is good too: Let students choose whether to work alone or in small groups, then teacher can come to each group and see what they need help with.

  • In a non-ESL class, purposefully pair ESL students with non-ESL students

  • Don’t be too sensitive to ESL students

  • Encourage students to speak English as much as possible, even in ESL class. This is important, because if an ESL student is the only one at a school who speaks his native language, he will feel alienated even in ESL class if everyone else is speaking Spanish for instance.

  • Give students a reward as a class for speaking english

  • Have a class meeting to set up general guidelines or rules, especially about language use. This gives students ownership in their ESL class.

  • Challenge ESL students to get involved in school activities

  • Identify their strengths and weaknesses

  • give them a list of all of the activities that they can participate in at their school

  • If there is one they are interested in, come with and introduce them to the adult in charge of the club, sport, etc

  • Encourage them to join a club or go out for a sport in pairs if they don’t feel comfortable by themselves

  • Make sure ESL students make friendships with non-ESL students

  • “I try not to hang out too much with my ESL classmates. I learned English the best by talking to Americans.”

  • Pair ESL students with a volunteer student mentor (conversation buddies?) to show them around the school for first few days, and also be a friend in long term

  • Between writing and reading, writing is the hardest

  • “I have no idea what my first notebook says!”

  • “One of my teachers started talking and told us to take notes, but he didn’t write it down on the board. Then he gave us an open-note test, but I had nothing.”

  • In math, give ESL students print-outs of written notes and have them fill in actual math so they can focus on learning content and not have to worry about constantly looking back up at the board trying to get a word down.

  • Cursive is HARD to read!

  • Slow down when you talk- “Americans talk so fast sometimes!”

  • Vocab

  • "It helped me when my teacher gave us one word for the day to remember at the end of class."

  • was a really helpful vocabulary app/website

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