How to Support ESL Students in the Classroom

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English has become the most commonly used language globally, with only Mandarin and Hindi following closely. As a result, it is an important skill to possess in a globalized and diverse society where people from various backgrounds strive to work together. However, teaching English as a second language (ESL) students requires a slightly different approach than those used with native speakers. This group may require some accommodation to enhance their strengths and overcome limitations that could hinder the learning process.

But Why Are ESL Classes Important?

1. English as an essential pillar for diversity

ESL classes form the basis for integrating English speakers and other communities by establishing a common ground for communication. Teachers focus on preserving the learner’s personal identity and enabling them to acquire a new skill that will form the basis for cultural connection with others. Immigrants from non-English speaking countries such as Mexico may need ESL classes to enhance their English language skills during their transition. 

2. Personal Identity Preservation

An ESL class aims to preserve non-native English speakers’ fluency in their language while enabling them to communicate with native speakers. Language is an essential component of a community’s culture and heritage. ESL classes help other language speakers to share their cultures with English speakers by establishing a communication link. Adults and children who learn English connect their non-English speaking natives to English speakers.

3. Bilingualism enhances academic performance

Speaking two or more languages requires strong cognitive abilities, engaging essential parts of the brain and increasing learning capabilities. Bilingual students have stronger multitasking abilities and become more creative. They are also faster at picking up reading skills and developing their working memory. Bilingual students also develop mental flexibility, problem-solving skills, and a better understanding of global issues.

4. ESL classes also enhance students’ employability

Since English is an international and the most commonly used language in the world, it is also highly used in various professions. As a result, ESL students have higher chances of jobs outside their native communities. Bilingualism also demonstrates the capacity to accommodate other languages and cultures, showing a person’s adaptability to diversity. Hence, bilingual people may be more employable than their monolingual counterparts.

How Should Teachers Accommodate ESL Students in the Classroom?

ESL students may require specific accommodations to enhance their language acquisition skills and ease their transition into bilingualism. Teaching these students also needs cultural competence and the ability to multitask. teachers must demonstrate the willingness to support ESL students in the classroom by adopting the following strategies:

1. Cultural attunement: Know your students and their backgrounds

Cultural attunement is used in psychology to imply practices that acknowledge and are responsive to the intersectionality of societal context, culture, and power differences. It entails the use of culturally competent strategies. Culturally competent teachers can understand and interact with people from diverse backgrounds, using sensitive ways to encourage integration. In this case, cultural attunement will help teachers provide a non-judgmental learning environment. It involves knowing your students, their culture, strengths, and weaknesses. These factors will determine the approaches you use in your teaching.

2. Create an accommodative environment

A welcoming classroom environment entails establishing a sense of community with predictable structures, procedures, and routines. Accommodation involves understanding the group’s specific needs and availing the necessary assistance at the opportune time to prevent anxiety and discomfort. A favorable ESL classroom environment must be culturally sensitive to invoke the learners’ effective thinking strategies and enable them to control their attitudes, emotions, and motivation toward learning. 

3. Select optimal teaching strategies

You must also select teaching approaches that accommodate the identified differences in your students, especially when the classroom has a mix of ESLs and ENLs. Using integrated teaching strategies entails interdisciplinary methods for engaging cognitive abilities and learning processes. To enhance your communication, you must select the most appropriate techniques in your lesson plans, especially visual and verbal teaching methods.

Tips for accommodative teaching strategies for ESL classes:

  • Modify your speech: speak slower, stressing preferred pronunciations
  • Use gestures where necessary
  • Provide visual assistance if possible
  • Model processes
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4. Provide opportunities and access

You should provide opportunities for interaction and participation in class. ESL students may initially feel shy to participate in discussions and classroom activities. Providing opportunities and encouraging them will enhance their compensation learning strategies, helping them overcome knowledge gaps. You should also engage them in conversations more often and give them access to learning materials and tools as necessary.

5. Employ scaffolding: Allow use of first language and translation

Scaffolding in education is the use of various techniques to promote student progression. Teachers offer specific support to learners based on their needs to develop new concepts and skills. In this case, learning a second language may require input from the first language. Refugee students may have no prior exposure to the English language creating a language barrier in the classroom. Allowing students to use some words from their first language may benefit their development. You can also use translation whenever necessary. This will create a connection and acknowledge the role of personal identity in the learning process.

6. Employ continuous formative assessments

You should continuously and consistently assess the ESL learners’ progress in the classroom with tests that will not affect their final output. Using formative assessments will help the teacher identify specific proficiencies and areas for improvement. You must assess all four language components separately: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Adaptive assessment techniques can also help the student’s learning. For instance, the teacher can allow an ESL student with better speaking skills to give oral responses instead of writing.

7. Embrace diversity: Promote social learning

Most importantly, you should enjoy engaging with ESL students and understand the benefits of diversity. Acknowledge cultural differences and allow students from various backgrounds to share their cultural richness and experiences. Promote integration through groups and friendships. You can also pair students from different backgrounds to maximize their strengths and overcome weaknesses. This strategy promotes social learning strategies derived from interactions. Learners get to ask questions from peers and cooperate in task completion. They develop real-life experiences with English speakers and learn to employ vocabulary in conversations. Social interactions allow students to observe, listen, and imitate their peers while retaining essential language skills in the process.

8. Use technology

Information and communication technology is an essential tool in teaching. For instance, using presentations and imaging can enhance students’ grasping of new concepts. Learners can also practice pronunciation and develop their vocabularies through technology. Besides, social media use between ESL and ENL students can enhance imitation and observations required in social learning. Encourage any form of communication as practice makes perfect.

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