Saturday, January 9, 2016

Helpful Tips Teaching Non English Speakng ELLs

We just finished our first week back after Christmas break, and as expected, we received our fair share of new students.  In fact we set a record number of new students entering after the holidays.  One of those entered my classroom this week.  Several of these new students were ELL students, but they all understand and speak English fairly well.  However I have taught 4 students in my teaching career that spoke NO English at all.

The first time I received a non-English speaking student was back in 2008.  She was our school's first non-English speaking student and it was all new territory for us.  At that time we used the term ESOL and although our school system had over 20 elementary schools, just 5 years prior (2003), our system only had one ESOL teacher because there were so few students that needed those services.  By 2008, we were adding an ESOL teacher at our own school, but there were still so few resources and local knowledge to support the classroom teacher.  To this day, I still use many of the same techniques for communication and instruction, that I discovered by trial and error back then.  I'm going to share some of these with you today.

  1. Provide a Quick Quotes Translation sheet. - Although these students come to us speaking no English, many of their parents do.  We are in a military town, so many non-English speaking students have parents who are woking with a connection to our Air Force Base.  For these students, their parents are their greatest resource.  I have listed what I have found to be the most used phrases used by ELLs, that need translation.  I have their parent write the same phrase in their language right next to the English phrase.  This paper stays on their desk in a sheet protector.  This only works if the student is old enough to read in their home language. Click on this title, Quick Reference Quotes, to get a FREE copy,
  2. Use a Translator App. - With my third and fourth non-English speaking students, I had an iPhone, and I found a great free translator app.  If you have not seen this translator app before, it is awesome!!!  The list of languages it can translate seems endless.  With someone of another language that uses our same letters, you can reverse the languages and the student can type in their language to communicate with you.  I had a Japanese students, and the keyboard only English letters and not their Japanese characters so they could not type messages to me.  Now we have iPads in the classroom and the increased size makes it so much better!   
  3. Add Parent Contact to Your Phone. -           I can't tell you how many times I just handed the phone to the child, who simply called their parents, spoke, and then handed me the phone.  The parent could tell me exactly what their child needed.   This saved me so much time in the long run.  I used it when the child was upset, was sick or we just couldn't figure our what he/she needed.  There was this one time when I walked into the lunchroom to pick up my class, and my student was sitting by herself crying.  When she saw me, she ran to me and clinched her arms around my waist, sobbing hysterically.  She was so inconsolable that I could not find out what the problem was.  I immediately pulled out my phone and called her mom.  Once they spoke, the child calmed down and the mom filled me in.  Here is what had happened... My class had all been seated at the lunchroom table and because she could not communicate with words, she used hand and arm gestures in a very animated way, trying to intact with her new classmates.  The lunchroom monitor was not aware of her situation and asked her to sit down several times, unaware that the child could not understand her.  Because the behavior persisted, the monitor sent her to sit in a Time-Out area.  The poor child simply didn't understand what she had done wrong and was worried that she'd never get back to her familiar class.  She felt so afraid, since she couldn't understand any of the explanations from the monitor.  That simple phone defused the situation with the child and parent, convincing both of them that I had their child's interest foremost in my mind.  Needless to say, my principal sent out notices to everyone of the situation.  
  4. Use Google Images. - "A picture is worth a thousand words." So true!  Whether you are introducing content vocabulary or simply trying to explain what a BBQ sandwich is for lunch, Google Images makes the task much easier.  I keep this site bookmarked on the home screen of my iPads and I often show it on my smart board.  
  5. Try to Get Rosetta Stone. - If your school system will pay for this or if you can get a sponsor, this is well-worth the money.  Rosetta Stone teaches with pictures and words.  What I find so wonderful is that it teaches things that cannot be taught as well with flashcards and such.  Nouns and verbs can be easily taught with flashcards, but how about the word "the", "when" or  "those".  It seems that teaching the use of pronouns and subject/verb agreement skills are a defining strength of this program.  (See the examples below.)  
    It also gives your ELL student quality instruction, while you are presenting a focused lesson such as "Using Voice in Your Writing".  That lesson would be completely over the head of your non-English speaking student.  Differentiation doesn't get any plainer than this.  So plan on assigning a Rosetta Stone lesson to your ELL when you are going to teach a writing, usage, or grammar lesson that would have no benefit to your ELL, but is key information for the rest of your class.    

  6. Seek access to helpful websites like Brain Pop, Jr., and Tumble Books. - These websites offer a limited amount of FREE material, but a subscription is not very expensive, and well worth it.  Our school system's ELL program pays for our Brain Pop, Jr. subscription and our Media Specialist uses Media funds to pay for out Tumble Books subscription.  Brain Pop is designed for upper elementary and middle schoolers, and Brain Pop, Jr. is meant for younger children.  Both sights offer informative videos in all subject areas, but I use them most for Science and Social Studies skills.  Tumble Books offers a read aloud element to a vast amount of popular and familiar books.  What is so great about this sight is that the words are highlighted as the computer reads them and the texts are leveled.  Go check these out!  
     Brain Pop, Jr dashboard
    Brain Pop, Jr. list of movies

    Brain Pop list of movies - upper elementary and middle schoolers

    Tumble Book Library dashboard

    Tumble Pad image that shows once a book is clicked.

    As sentences are read aloud, they are highlighted in blue.  

  7. Assign books in their own language for reading in-between assignments. - All children need to have something to keep them busy in-between activities.  Too much wait time leads to misbehavior, even for an ELL.  Constant reading of a foreign language can be exhausting.  If they know they have the "reward" of reading a fun book in their own language, they may work more diligently for you.  My first student was from Israel. I spoke with her parents about this, and they were happy to send her to school with one.  The day she brought in the Hebrew version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, was super exciting for the rest of my students.  For the first time, they saw her language as a real language, like their own.  They saw that she was smart and could read a "chapter book", even though it was not in English.  They also learned that the title of the book was located where we think the back of the book should be.  They turn pages from right to left... a surprising fact for me as well.   
  8. Assign a partner helper.  Each morning, the partner helper took the ELL by the hand for a walk around the room.  They walked with a pen and large sticky note pad. (3rd graders)  The ELL student would point to something and the partner student would say the name several times.  The ELL would try and say the name back.  The partner would write the name of the item (ex door, table, clock, chart) on the large sticky note and attach it.  If you walk in my room when I have a non-English speaking student,  you will see a sea of yellow sticky notes.  This helps the other students as well, basically expanding the Word Wall.  You can find many preprinted sticky notes with common items already listed.  I found mine at Walmart and they were an off-brand.  Here is a copy of some cool Post-It Notes called Flash Sticks on Amazon. Click on the picture to check them out.  I haven't used these, but they are similar.  However, these even have some other languages on them, and the words showing are more abstract like "happy".  I just use plain notes so I can write what I want.      

One last thing to keep in mind, is that you don't have to assign grades to ELLs in the same way that you do for the rest of your class - differentiation for sure!  Check with your school system's policy to find out more specifics, but in our state, they are exempt from a large portion of all standardized testing for a full year as well.  This knowledge may relieve some of your stress.  

As far as classroom grades and report cards, I remember worrying and thinking, "There's no way she can pass any of our test, yet it's just not right that she should have zeros.  What am I to do?" The assessments I give my non-English speaking students are less paper and pencil and more performance assessments.  I take anecdotal notes to serve as my records and I collect writing samples, comparing the beginning of the year to the end, to show growth.  I also give them our county's reading assessment (Founts and Pinnell).  Of course in September, they are "below A".  Usually by the time we return from Christmas break, however they are reading at least at level C, again showing growth.  

For you upper grade teachers... check with your Kinder or 1st grade teachers and get a basic sight word list.  They will have several resources for you.  You will most likely need to start with the learning the alphabet, specifically names, sounds and being able to recognize both upper and lower case letters.  This knowledge will be mastered much more quickly than with a student in kindergarten, because your non-English speaker will have the mind of the age child you normally teach. 

Just remember...

I would love to hear from you...  Have you ever had a student that spoke no English before?  Which of these activities do you feel would be the easiest to implement in your classroom?   Just click on the "comment" button below.

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