Immersion without Drowning: Tips for Helping Students Thrive in English Only Classrooms

Immersion without Drowning
Tips for Helping Students Thrive in English Only Classrooms

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 6,388 views |

Immersion English classes are common for ESL students studying overseas.

However, not every immersion English class is in an English speaking country. Some teachers choose to have a classroom in which only English is spoken regardless of the country in which they teach or their students’ first language. Whether the immersion classroom is in an English speaking country or not, the key characteristic of an immersion classroom is that only English is spoken. This means the teacher does not use the students’ L1 to help them understand English. Immersion classes are great in many ways, but students may feel intimated or overwhelmed in these situations, especially if they are near the beginning of their English learning journeys. You as teacher can do some things to make their immersion classroom experience easier, to help them learn and decrease their anxiety. If you run an immersion classroom or if you are thinking about running one, here are some tips for helping students succeed.

8 Tips for Helping Students Thrive in English Only Classrooms

  1. 1

    Get Physical

    TPR also called Total Physical Response is a great teaching method to use in an English only classroom. The goal is that students physically respond to what you are teaching in English, in other words that they associate physical movements with language. Because their whole bodies are involved in language learning, they learn better and remember more. And any kinesthetic learners you have in class will thrive when you use TPR to teach.

  2. 2

    Teach Content

    Sometimes as language teachers, we think the only thing we can teach is grammar, vocabulary, and other facets of the English language. In an immersion classroom, however, students benefit when you teach content as well. Content can be anything from the science of photosynthesis to cooking techniques. Because students may have knowledge about the topic, they are primed for success with for the language portion of the lessons. They can connect with the language because they already know the topical content and they are able to make connections between their existing knowledge (content) and the language concepts you are teaching. This will solidify what they are learning and help them retain it better. Plus when students know and understand the content you teach, they feel success and get a boost in confidence.

  3. 3

    Look to the Numbers

    While you are incorporating content into your lessons, try getting numbers into the classroom, too. Numbers are as concrete as language gets, and when your activities involve numbers your students will understand them. You can bring numbers into your classroom with math, games, surveys and statistical analysis, etc. Keep dice and playing cards in your classroom for unexpected free moments and be patient with your students as they try to remember the English words for the numbers they already know.

  4. 4

    Use Music

    Music is another great item to incorporate into your immersion classroom. Music has lots of benefits for students. For one, it activates different areas of the brain, so your students will be more engaged in what they are learning. Play some classical or other word-free music in the background as your students complete in class assignments. Use songs to teach concepts and you’ll tap into music’s ability to reach a different style learner. The more learning styles you can connect with in class, the better off your students will be. Let your musical learners thrive with grammar and vocabulary songs that tie in to whatever you are teaching. Check YouTube for ideas or make up your own lyrics set to well-known tunes. They don’t have to be good, and you don’t have to be a singer. Being able to carry a tune will be plenty for inviting music into your classroom.

  5. 5

    Exaggerate Your Body Language

    I often think that ESL teachers are ten percent actors, but in an immersion classroom bumping your acting skills up to fifty percent isn’t a bad idea. The more gestures you use and the more exaggerated your body language is, the easier time your students will have understanding you. You don’t just have to act out content like vocabulary. Develop a set of gestures that go along with common classroom phrases such as listen to me, look up here, open your books, etc. That way when you give instructions, language won’t be a barrier to comprehension for your students.

  6. 6

    Include Down Time in Class

    Not every minute of every class has to be overscheduled. Including some down time in class is actually good for your students. It helps them relax and decompress a bit and gets them ready to tackle the next learning hurdle. You don’t have to waste this time, either. Set up learning stations in your classroom and let students set their own pace. Do activities that aren’t graded. Play games. Or just have time to read as a class either individually or while your students listen. Downtime helps decrease anxiety and the pressure that comes with every minute of every day being evaluated and graded in a language your students don’t necessarily feel they can speak.

  7. 7

    Say It and Say it Again

    The more ways you can say the same thing, the better chance your students will have of understanding you. When you give instructions or explanations, try to say the same thing in at least two different ways. For example, you might say put your books away and clear your desks. If students do not understand one command, they may understand the other. When this is the case, not only will they have an easier time following directions. They will also associate the unfamiliar words with the familiar ones and thereby learn new vocabulary through natural associations.

  8. 8

    Don’t Strive for Perfection

    Finally when you teach in an immersion classroom, it’s important that perfection is not your goal for your students, and it shouldn’t be their goal for themselves, either. Stress that language is meant for communication, and encourage your students to use the language that they know in creative ways to get their points across. Just about every English student wants good pronunciation and correct grammar, but the real world isn’t so hard to please. As long as your students are able to get their message across, even if it’s not in standard English, they will be successful.

    Stress communication in your class and creativity in expression and your students will succeed (even if their grammar isn’t’ perfect).

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