For elementary school ESL students, learning English isn’t the only mountain they have to climb.
These students are getting used to a new culture at an age when it is so important to know the culture in order to fit in with their peers. At a time when acceptance is paramount to them, they struggle to learn the daily routines of the school day. Here are some tips for helping the new elementary ESL student adjust to their school environment.
Help Your New Elementary ESL Students Survive and Thrive with These 7 Tips
Elementary students love to be helpful. If possible, start a peer buddy program at your school for your ESL students. Begin by asking for interested fluent English speakers and provide them with some training in communicating with someone who may speak little English. These students should have the same lunch period as your ESL students, and can help them to socialize with their English speaking peers during lunch and recess. They can help them feel more comfortable in their surroundings. You may even want to have specific socials for the entire group every once in a while, providing an environment where your English learners feel safe taking risks with the language. Having peer buddies can be an invaluable resource for your new ESL students.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Provide your new ESL students with a picture schedule of their day. Show them the arrival and dismissal procedures, lunch in the cafeteria, the art room and so on. These pictures will provide your students with knowledge they need to go through their day without having to know the terms for everything. Of course, it is important for them to learn the vocabulary, but knowing where they are going whether they have it or not will help them navigate their day.
Day to Day Operations
School may be structured very differently for these students now. They need to know what is acceptable and not acceptable for their teachers and, by the same token, for their peers. Take a day to explain the day to day operations in a classroom to them. If it is a pull-out program, and the students are based with a homeroom teacher, you’ll want to talk about that teacher’s routines for the student. If you do not know that teacher’s routines, you will need to interview them to find out. Go over when it is ok to sharpen their pencils, what the procedure for using the restroom is, how lunch count is taken and so on. These activities happen so quickly in the homeroom, and your students may not be able to take it all in. Reviewing them slowly with your students will help them to participate more fully when in their homerooms on their own.
Let’s Take a Trip
Take your students on a tour of the school, showing them all of the places they may need to visit. Be sure to stop by the nurse’s office, the main office, the cafeteria and the counselor, for example. It would be great if you could talk with the adults involved ahead of time and have them speak to your students to alleviate some of their anxiety. This is particularly true in the cafeteria, where it would be good the workers could show your students where to line up for lunch, where to get their lunch cards and so on. By doing this at a quiet time, your students will have the confidence they need to do it when they are with their peers. Also, it will alert those staff members that these are students with limited English.
Pop into Pop Culture
Your students will want to know about the bands, clothes and fads their peers are into. Whether it’s making those bracelets or rocking out to the latest hits, your students see their peers doing it, but their limited English skills may slow them from participating the way they would like. It is important to include pop culture in your lessons to keep their interest as well as help them fit in with their peers. You can include them in your reading or conversation practice. Another fun way to get pop culture in is to have students who speak English fluently come in and explain it to your students. Your students will learn about the topic, and can also practice their conversational skills with the fluent English peer.
The Magic Words
As part of their daily routines, your students will need to know key phrases to use throughout the day with staff members and peers. Make sure they know these phrases, such as “Good morning,” “Where is the bathroom, please?” or “Can you please help me find ___________ (insert location)?” Your students will need to know these greetings and common questions in order to move smoothly through the day. Let them practice with each other, with you and with peers, if possible. This will increase their comfort level, and therefore encourage them to take risks when speaking English.
What a Character!
There are some literary characters that are very popular at the elementary level. Introduce some of these to your students so they will be familiar with them as they are discussed in their homerooms or other classes. Cover both some classic characters and whatever is popular right now for students at your grade level. In this way, they will be able to relate if these characters are brought up in social situations or in their other classes. It may even be that they know these characters in their native language and just need to learn their names in English. Either way, talking up these characters will help your students be in the know.
Being an elementary school student can be challenging in its own right.
Being one with limited English skills and/or a lack of knowledge of how the school culture works is even more difficult. Use the tips in this article to assist your students in surviving and thriving during their transition.