Nothing is easier than to be able to communicate in a way that others could understand. When we so desperately want to communicate with another person, but we do not speak the language, getting from point A to point B is not easy, but it can be easier. There are some simple ways to bring ease into the daily life of a classroom where languages vary.
There are many strategies we can use to help us be the best teachers we can be for all of our students, but keeping good strategies in the forefront can be especially helpful for EAL students. By adding some simple strategies into our daily practice, we can also help EALs enjoy rich and meaningful learning experiences in the classroom.
10 Strategies to Help Keep All Students Learning and Growing:
- Use Clear and Easy to Read Anchor Charts
Try not to overload anchor charts with text. Anchor charts can have a similar effect as a presentation slide that is overloaded with text. Work to keep charts neat and simple. Include images as much as possible. Also notice your oral instruction. It is important to make sure we offer what we say or instruct in writing. Students need reference.
- Model Everything You Do
Modeling what we want students to do is a critical strategy and offering visual references, like anchor charts, are essential to learning. Students need to observe and experience mentors and models.
- Teach Self-Advocacy
Creating a classroom of risk-taking and encourage students to ask questions when they don’t understand makes a significant impact on learning and acquiring language. I offer all students colored cards to teach self-advocacy, one green and one yellow. Students keep the cards on their desk. When they need some help, they place the yellow card on top of the green card. It is easy and discrete for me to spot when they need help. Students will leave out the green colored card to let me know they are good and do not need help.
Make it clear at the start of the year that you expect all students to:
- Contribute ideas
- Ask someone for help, if they don’t understand something
- Be willing to help others when you can
- Arrange a Buddy
Partner students with a “buddy” to help with clarification, questions, etc. Keep an eye on selected buddies to make sure there is evidence of actual support and guidance. If support is awkward or not visible, buddies need to be changed.
- Use Illustrations or Images
Visuals are universal and using them as much as possible is a simple way to help students understand better.
- Slow Down When Speaking
Our talk does not need to come to a grinding halt or go up in volume. Noticing the speed in which we speak can help us to slow our speech enough for intentional speaking that is clear and audible.
- Use Sentence Stems
Offer sentence stems to all students for different kinds of talk. Students with little to no experience in the English language may also benefit from sentence stems for social conversations.
- Preplan Participation
Allow students to prepare for participation. EALs, as well as some monolingual students, need time to think and respond appropriately to discussions in the classroom. By giving them notice the day before or with enough time to prepare, they can adequately practice to respond with careful thought.
- Be Aware of Body Language and Facial Expressions.
What we say and how we say it can communicate completely different messages. EALs naturally depend on our gestures and tone of voice to understand us. Our gestures and tone can cause a student to feel fear or shame, and even exacerbate trauma. On the other hand, we can use gestures and the tone of our voice to nurture confidence, leading EALs to truck through trial and error, as they practice acquiring language.
Helping to reduce levels of anxiety or nervousness, before learning takes place, is the simple practice of reaching the heart before the mind. We can do this by:
- smiling (authentically)
- maintaining a calm and relaxed body posture
- incorporating play and a playful tone of voice
- dramatically acting out classroom read alouds―modeling appropriate intonation, emphasis, and pitch
- explicitly modeling interpersonal communicative language and formal academic language
- actively modeling being present when speaking or listening to EALs
- Provide Feedback that Recognizes Approximation of Language
This is one of my favorite charts to reference on approximation of language:
Take a moment to notice each strategy mentioned above. You may notice that each strategy can easily benefit all students in the classroom, regardless of language. This is true because good strategies are good strategies, under any light.