Working with ESL/ELL Students


How Can We Support Our Multilingual Students? (Allison Green)

Here are some tips and ideas you may want to try when working with multilingual students:

  • Try to learn a little bit about the countries our students come from. Don’t just rely on the information you see on TV.
  • Don’t make assumptions that you won’t be able to understand an accent.
  • Don’t assume that a lack of vocabulary equals a lack of understanding of concepts.
  • Be aware of your use of idioms, jargon, discipline-specific or Highline-specific terminology – explain as much as possible.
  • Be aware of cultural, historical, pop culture, or sports references. For example, don’t assume that students have seen the same movies that you have.
  • Familiarize yourself with “hard to pronounce” languages and names. Don’t try to change a student’s name so it’s easier for you to pronounce.
  • Learn students’ names and help them learn each other’s names.
  • If you ask “Do you understand,” the answer will almost always be “Yes,” regardless of actual understanding. Try alternatives like:
  • o   What questions do you have?
    o   Should I explain it again?
    o   What are you going to do next?
  • If a student is having trouble understanding, don’t just speak louder. Articulate your words and speak naturally, but not too fast. Or try rephrasing using different words.
  • Provide opportunities for quiet students to speak. You could try:
    o   Putting discussions online
    o   Pair and share before a whole class discussion
    o   Allow more wait time after you ask a question
  • Realize that speaking out in class is cultural and may be influenced by cultural attitudes toward authority.
  • Try to limit lecture time to 30 minute sections and alternate with more interactive activities, such as:
    o   Group work: brainstorm, problem solve, discussion, think pair share, debate, survey
    o   Application problems / practice
    o   Games
    o   Projects
    o   Small movie clip
    o   Look at a picture, graph, or chart
    o   Students write on the board
    o   Graphic organizers
    o   Peer editing
    o   Reading aloud in pairs / choral reading
    o   Presentations
    o   Giving out just one handout per group is a great way to encourage students to work together.
  • Try to give clear directions visually and model step by step what you’d like students to do.
    o   Give students time to process directions and ask questions.
    o   Write or project instructions for group work on the board or pass out in a handout.

    Remember to have patience, patience, patience.