Not all classrooms are created equal.
Every teacher has challenges and advantages particular to their situation. One such challenge is integrating nonnative English speakers into a standard classroom. In other words, having EAL students in a regular class. This presents a challenge because not only do you have to assist students in their language development, you have to instruct the rest of your class in the content required for their grade. How does a teacher do this? There is no magic button you can push to make sure every student gets exactly what they need from your class. But there are some things you can do to assist your EAL students that won’t be complicated or difficult. Here are some tips on how to help the EAL students in your class today.
7 Simple Tips for Helping Your EAL Students
EAL stands for English as an additional language. Traditionally it refers to students who are learning English in standard classes at school when they are not already fluent in English. They are ESL students, but they are in regular classrooms. These students may or may not receive additional instruction outside of your classroom. Either way, there are some things you can do in your traditional classroom to help your EAL students succeed without seeming like you’re doing anything out of the ordinary.
One struggle your EAL students will have is lack of vocabulary. While you probably don’t want to take time to teach native speakers the different items in your classroom (clock, desk, door, etc.) you can teach them to your EAL students without much effort. Simply take some notecards, sticky notes, or paper and label all the items in your room. Not only will this help your EAL students learn the vocabulary, it will also assist with spelling. It’s not unusual to see items in a classroom labeled, especially when you are teaching younger students who are also learning to write and spell. Though labels throughout your room might not seem like much, they will be a huge asset to your EAL students without drawing attention to themselves.
Bring Pictures into the Picture. Frequently
Your EAL students are learning language, but that doesn’t mean they lack understanding when it comes to concepts and content you might be teaching in class. You can help them in content acquisition by integrating pictures in your lessons, often in place of verbal instruction. You might put posters around your room, include diagrams or photos on worksheets, or have students cut pictures from magazines or print them from the internet. All of these will help communicate concepts to your EAL students without burdening them to first understand the language used to express the ideas. As a bonus, the visual learners in your class will also benefit from frequent use of pictures in class even if they are already fluent. Try using pictures when teaching vocabulary, when giving writing prompts, or for assessments rather than depending on words for each of these activities every time.
Put Ideas into Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers are great for English language students as well as for visual learners and young students. Graphic organizers put intangible concepts and ideas into a tangible visual. A picture if you will. Graphic organizers include Venn diagrams, cause and effect flow charts, idea cluster maps, and hundreds of others. (A simple Google search will pull up more graphic organizers than any one teacher could ever hope to use.) When you fill in your graphic organizers, use key vocabulary you want your EAL students to learn. Keep it simple, and your students will learn both the vocabulary and the concepts behind it.
Keep EAL Students Integrated
You might be tempted, if you have more than one EAL student in your class, to put them into their own group for classroom activities. After all, their language skills are comparable, and you don’t want to confuse them by throwing them in the deep end of native speaker conversations. Resist that temptation. Grouping your EAL students with the native speakers in your class will actually help improve their English, provided they have some understanding of what their classmates are saying. The best environment for English students is to expose them to language that is a little more complex or advanced than what they currently understand. That little extra will challenge them to learn more and achieve greater heights in their language studies. And believe it or not, the process is subconscious. So keep your EAL students grouped with the other students in your class, and everyone will benefit from the integration.
I’ll admit. I’ve been known to write something I have already done on my checklist just so I can cross it off. But you don’t have to be that extreme to know checklists are great for EAL students in your class. If you keep them simple, they can reinforce vocabulary, but their real strength is keeping EAL students on track. With simple items on the list, your EAL students won’t get lost in a slew of unfamiliar vocabulary and grammar that can often confuse instructions. And since the list is in writing, they will be able to refer back to it as needed. Besides, who doesn’t love marking things off a checklist?
Have Students Set Individual Goals and Reward Their Achievement
A bit of healthy competition is good to get students motivated, but when you pit an EAL student against a native speaker, the odds are definitely in favor of the native speaker. Instead of setting students competing against each other, try having students set individual goals. Then the only person they are competing against is themselves. Plus it invests students in their own education. What is it they want to learn or achieve? Review goals with your students to make sure they are appropriate. Then work with your students to make a plan for achieving that goal (a perfect time to use a checklist).
Use Body Language
You are probably in the habit of using body language when you teach, but feel free to take it up a level to assist your EAL students. Your native speakers won’t even notice the change. Exaggerate facial expressions and use a particular gesture when giving directions - the same gestures each time you give the same instructions. That will aid your EAL students by letting them interpret what they see rather than what they hear.
Having EAL students in a traditional class can be challenging, but you can help them succeed with some simple little changes like these.
Give them a try and watch as your EAL students slide along the path to English fluency.