Learning English isn’t just about the words.
Do I have your attention? I hope I do. It’s not every day you read an ESL blog that downplays the importance of words. But really, when you think about it, students don’t learn English for the sake of knowing words. They learn English so they can communicate with others. And there is no greater reason to communicate than to form a bond between two people – a relationship. A man whispers sweet nothings into his beloved’s ear. They have a relationship. A vendor makes a proposal to a distributer. They have a relationship. Fans cheer for their favorite team from the stands. They have a relationship. Language exists to build relationships between people. And whether that relationship is one of love, of mutual profit, of admiration, of friendship, or of something else, words help bring it about. But if you have someone in class who doesn’t share common words with their classmates, that is they speak a different language, is it possible for them to forge relationships? Here’s the simple answer. It is. But it’s not always easy. Here are some things you can to do help the EAL students in your class form relationships with their classmates. With more than words.
5 Tips for Helping EAL Students Connect
Encourage Connections through Mutual Interests
Have you heard of Pokémon Go? I’m willing to bet a double decker ice-cream cone that you have. The game was released at the beginning of July 2016. In just one week, they had over fifteen million downloads from all over the globe. Odds are, more than one person in your class plays the game. In fact, Pokémon Go may be the one thing your EAL students have in common with the native speakers in your class. And while I confess I don’t know much about the game, I do know it, as well as other shared interests, can be a great way to make connections between members of your class. What do your EAL students love? Who else in your classroom is passionate about that topic? If you can answer these questions you can make connections between your EAL student and a native English speaker classmate. When people have a shared interest, they not only have something to talk about. They have something to do together. So encourage your students to connect where there interests lie whether it’s Pokémon or Picasso.
Music is another topic that can forge relationships between people. You might consider a certain type of music a shared interest, but I think it’s valuable to list it separately because music is so personal to each individual. The EAL students in your class probably like music your native speakers have never heard, but odds are they also like music your American students already listen to. If you aren’t exactly sure how to forge connections via music, invite your students to share a little bit of the music that they love in class. Have each person play the role of expert about their favorite band. Invite each person to play a selection of that group’s music and share some interesting facts they think your class members should know about that group. Give everyone a chance to speak, and note the expressions and reactions among your students during the presentations. You will probably be able to spot when two members of your class share a fondness for the same type of music. Then you can encourage them to connect with each other over that common love for music.
Assign Group Projects Based on Things Other Than Language
I don’t know if you use nonlinguistic measures for assessment in your classroom. (If you don’t you should give it a try.) I do know that projects that don’t involve words are great ways for EAL students and native speakers to connect with each other during class. Instead of having students work together to create a brochure or newspaper or skit, all things that depend on the use of words, have them build a model, make a collage, draw a diagram, or do some other project that doesn’t take words to complete. This is especially useful for content area classes such as social studies and science. Think along the lines of STEM projects your students can do together. Realistically, your students will talk while they complete the assignment, and that is a good thing, but when the grade comes from a build rather than a book your EAL student will have just as much to offer as your native speaker does. That will not only give them confidence and a feeling of accomplishment but also a social connection with the student(s) they work with.
Include Physical Education in Your Day
Whether or not you have an official gym class for your students, you can encourage connections through sports and team activities. It’s not hard to explain the rules of kickball, and since it isn’t language based your EAL students just might turn out to be the star of the team. And that will help them make relationships with the other members of your class, even if they can’t say a whole lot about how the game went. You aren’t wasting time when you get kids playing physical games, either. Taking a mental break for just a few minutes can be a huge refresher for all of your students, especially those that have trouble sitting still at their desks.
Simply Get Kids in the Same Room
Believe it or not, it doesn’t take a lot for kids to make connections with each other, and if you teach young learners and have EAL students in your class, you’ve already got what you need for them to forge relationships. They are in the same room. Sometimes the best thinks we can do to help our students make connections is to simply leave them alone. Take the pressure off. Let them figure out on their own how to connect, and they will. So make time for time together. Don’t schedule every minute of your day. Let kids be kids and see that they will make some valuable connections on their own.