Guest article by: Summer Freeman
Whether you have English as a Second Language students in your classroom and you want to know how to reach them more effectively, or you lead an entire room full of ESL student, rethinking your approach to the classroom can make a noticeable difference. ESL students are as varied as native speakers in their strengths and weaknesses, but they all share similar needs native speakers do not — and vice versa.
Consider an Advanced Degree
It’s time to go back to school — not just for your students, but for you, too. Rethink your approach to teaching and earn an advanced degree through an instructional design and technology master’s program. You’ll view classroom instruction differently as you learn how to incorporate technology into instruction or how to re-organize your course planning. ESL students especially benefit from more interactive, engaging instruction. Your professors and classmates can help foster ideas for an interactive classroom.
Adjust to the Class
As you get to know your students, adjust the way you approach your class. Just because you had a plan in mind heavy on the visual teaching aids, for example, doesn’t mean you should stick to it if you find your class largely populated with students who respond better to auditory instruction, like songs. Similarly, some of your classes may prove more advanced and some classes may be in need of more discipline than others. Individual students may do better with different stimuli, so you may need to divide the class into groups and take turns with each group one on one.
Yes, you want a plan before you start the new school year or semester, but it can’t be so rigid that you don’t know how to adjust it to the class you find yourself teaching. Earning a master’s will help you prepare for differences in class temperament and skill, and adjust accordingly.
Have the Students Speak
Whatever type of class you find yourself with, make sure the students speak more than you do. Speaking and practicing English is more essential for ESL learners than native speakers. ESL students may withdraw and stay silent, too shy or embarrassed to let you know when they don’t understand. If you let yourself drone on, they may never stop you. Come test time, it’ll be clear the students didn’t follow, but until then, you’ll have wasted your time and your students’.
To encourage students to speak naturally and more confidently, you can:
- Break them into pairs to practice a dialogue
- Ask them to sing their favorite songs
- Assign presentations on topics that interest them; the topics don’t have to be academic, as the students’ passion for even something like a TV show will help them practice English
- Have everyone sit in a circle so the class feels less formal
Do whatever it takes to draw your ESL students out of their shells. Just avoid putting them in the individual spotlight as that may embarrass them.
Discuss Cultural Differences
ESL isn’t just about getting students to speak English; it’s about educating students to function and thrive in a predominantly English-speaking nation. Part of thriving in the U.S. is to understand not just the language but also the cultural practices many teachers forget to discuss with their students. For example, you may cover:
- Hand gestures (what means “okay” for Americans can be offensive in other cultures)
- Other body gestures (such as nodding or making eye contact)
- American holidays
- What’s expected of a person in social situations
Plus, whatever inspires your students to speak more in English will help. Have them discuss the cultural differences of their countries and how they differ from what they’ve encountered in the U.S. while practicing English conversation.
Education Week reports ESL learners in U.S. public schools alone increased from 3.5 million to 5.3 million in just a decade. Schools will continue to value your skills as an ESL instructor, whether it’s your sole focus or you simply encounter ESL learners in your classroom. Earn an advanced degree and become an even more effective educator — while increasing your potential for a raise and advancement.
About the Author: Summer Freeman is an ESL instructor and middle school teacher with 15 years’ experience.