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Make Your Class More Immigrant Friendly

What Teachers Can Do in the Classroom

From: Susan Lafond, 2008

  • Explain concept in several ways with concrete examples
  • Check for understanding (Y/N)
  • Avoid cursive writing
  • Allow extra wait time to respond
  • Use subtitles when showing movies
  • Break information into manageable chunks
  • Hand out course outlines, core vocabulary, notes
  • Use organizers
  • Enable and encourage discussions to promote comprehension
  • Provide model, guided practice

From: Shirley Krogmeier, Elementary ESL Resource Teacher, 1992

An important challenge to mainstream teachers who teach classes with one or more ELLs is how to integrate them into mainstream activities so they learn the same basic concepts that the rest of class is learning. They are very much like the rest of your students except that they don’t know how to communicate in English as well as they do in their first language. They may be able to understand and speak English at a social level but unable to communicate at an academic level. Their life experiences have been many and varied and certainly different from mainstream students.  

1.  Get to Know the Student

  • Try to say the student’s name the way he/she says it.
  • Learn about the student’s first language, ethnic group and countries lived in.
  • Find out about the family or home situation and the language spoken there.
  • Find out what languages can be used to communicate with parents.
  • Find out about previous educational experiences and English instruction.

2. Integrate Students into Class Activities

The goal is to involve the student in the activity in such a way that he/she learns the same concepts that other students learn. Don’t be afraid to challenge students to learn and use higher level thinking skills. It’s their English language skills that are different, not their intellectual development.

It is best to have a classroom assistant who speaks the language of the student. Sometimes another student or a community volunteer who knows the student’s language can help. However, here are some important guidelines to keep in mind when working with a helper:

  • Make sure the assistant understands what you are trying to teach.
  • See that the way the assistant interprets or tutors supports your goals.
  • Have the assistant teach process as well as information. Avoid worksheets or games if they don’t teach concepts of the activity.
  • Have the assistant teach key vocabulary.
  • Make sure the assistant doesn’t just give the answers to the students.
  • Have the assistant emphasize thinking skills.

If you do not have someone who speaks the language of the student, there are things you can do to help the student participate actively:

  • Have another student pair up with the ELL to help him/her understand. You may want to assign different students for different subjects. Provide dictionaries, maps, science and social studies picture books, and other visual materials or concrete objects appropriate for each subject area.
  • Have students sit so they can easily see your face, close enough so you can unobtrusively check to see if students are doing what they need to do.
  • Use visual materials to support your presentation.Keep the materials visible and available for examination during the activity. Label objects. Use pictures, line drawings, graphs, hand gestures, role plays and any other techniques to get points across.
  • Paraphrase technical vocabulary. List necessary words with short definitions. Write key concepts on board or overhead. Give assignments in written form. Summarize and review important points frequently.
  • Use cooperative groups making sure second language students have a meaningful task to do and can participate in the group activity. Sometimes it may be more appropriate to have students of the same language background work together in their first language.
  • You may need to design assignments or independent activities for ELLs that do not require a lot of reading, but teach the same basic concepts, e.g. draw or construct something, mime or role play. Challenge students to use their own creativity to communicate to you and to the others in the class what they are learning. Encourage ELLs to draw on experiences from their own backgrounds.
  • ELLs may tend to avoid speaking out in front of peers. Design comprehension checks that are based on behavior rather than on a lot of language. If you ask ELLs if they understand, many will say “YES” even if they don’t because saying “NO” would imply that the teacher had not taught well and that would be considered an insult. Check comprehension of general information.
  • Encourage and expect ELLs to read and write at least up to their verbal abilities. Use materials and techniques varied in such a way that they fit different levels of English proficiency and different learning styles. Support oral communication with visual aids.
  • Reinforce desired behaviors, but not in a way that embarrasses the student such as overt praise, especially false praise. An approving look or a nod is often enough. Be sure that your verbal communication matches your body language. ELLs may be especially adept at reading body language.
  • ELLs generally will not ask for help, especially in front of other class members. You will need to arrange opportunities to speak with ELLs about their work and about any questions or problems they may have about assignments. They will be especially reluctant to discuss personal problems or problems with other member of the class. Be especially observant of interaction between ELLs and non-ELL peers.

3.  Enhance English Language Instruction 


  • ELLs need comprehensible input in order to develop higher listening skills.
  • Verify that the LEP student’s hearing was checked after arrival in the U.S.
  • Use normal speed and intonation, but lengthen the normal phrasing pauses a bit.
  • Use clear, concise language, Avoid run-on or excessively complex sentences.
  • Repeat questions and important statements at least once. If you need to rephrase, avoid colloquialisms and slang.
  • Give directions using consistent vocabulary.
  • Expect ELLs to pay attention to anyone who is talking to the class. If they don’t, investigate the reasons for the lack of attention and change the environment when necessary. Have non-LEP speakers face the class and speak up, for example, so that ELLs can see lip movements and body language.

Supplemental Listening Activities

  • Provide listening centers with tapes of classroom reading, science, social studies texts. Also make tapes available for students to check out and take home.
  • Have other material read onto tape, especially stories that give background information that students are expected to have before they come to your class.
  • Have some taped materials on academic topics that students can repeat and/or write as they listen, especially factual information necessary to comprehend new concepts being taught.
  • Arrange some choral reading or choral responding to allow for anonymous speaking practice.
  • Avoid questions requiring only a 'yes' or 'no' answer. Students will try to guess what you want by reading your body language.
  • Don’t pressure unduly for an answer on any one question. Instead, tell the student you will get back to him/ her later.
  • Ask open-ended questions that the student can answer from experience or from visual clues.
  • Provide adequate "wait time" after asking a question.
  • Encourage student participation in one-on-one or small group situations to develop confidence.
  • Have students work on assignments in small groups.
  • Review and summarize frequently.
  • Listen for communication of information; don’t focus on errors in speech or grammar.
  • Correct speech errors by accepting the information in the student’s response and modeling, in a natural manner, the correct way to say it.

Supplemental Speaking Activities

  • Try choral reading with ELLs reading along with the rest of the class.
  • Try oral reading of plays with ELLs perhaps taking smaller roles.
  • Have class members take turns reading some academic texts out loud. ELLs may take shorter passages. You may want to assign the passage ahead of time so students can prepare.
  • Have ELLs use picture cards to practice oral language either separately in an LEP group, paired with non-LEP speakers, or small heterogeneous groups.
  • Have ELLs practice repeating after a tape, either in a listening center or at home. Material practiced should be directly related to what is being done during the day.
  • Have students read and retell paragraphs or short stories or tell stories from picture.


  • Materials and techniques consistent with whole language principles work best with ELLs. Avoid overemphasis on phonics or linguistics.
  • Choose materials from literature as well as from academic content areas.
  • Avoid requiring students to read materials with complicated sentences structures or selections that are too long.
  • Use materials that have adequate visual clues that support the meaning of the reading passages.
  • Avoid tracking ELLs into remedial reading classes.
  • Make sure student copies are clear and legible, with no missing words or letters, and make sure that the print is not too small.
  • ELLs may not have had much experience reading cursive handwriting.
  • Print key words grouped by content areas, and leave them on display in the room as long as you can and as long as the topic is being covered.
  • Provide taped copies of reading passages for students to use individually.

Supplemental Reading Activities

  • Assign open-ended questions that require the use of reference materials, catalogs, picture books, newspapers.
  • Review with the whole class techniques for skimming and scanning. Frequently review comprehension techniques best suited to the material being used. Provide practice exercises for ELLs to use at home. Make sure they understand what they are doing and why.
  • With the whole class for exercises designed to speed up reading: flash cards, overhead transparencies or other devices. Provide practice sets for ELLs to use at home.
  • Sentence patterns frequently used in the different content areas can be written on cards with blank spaces where different nouns, verbs or adjectives can be inserted.
  • For homework have the students read material and circle words they don’t know. After they have finished reading, have them try to guess what the circled words mean. They can check with the teacher or their “buddy” to see if they guessed correctly.


  • ELLs need to write every day. Have them keep a notebook and encourage them to copy and take notes any time you don a presentation. This will help them remember and give them something to sue for later reference. Have ELLs summarize what they learn from each activity using words, pictures, drawings, charts or graph.
  • Check with the ESL teacher to see what you can expect the ELL to be able to do. You may need to teach letter formation and both printing and cursive writing.
  • Some non-European languages do not use capitalization and punctuation. You may need to teach this specifically.
  • Teach the American way of organizing content.
  • Do not over correct. Select a few important areas for comment. Emphasize content over form, somewhat in the style of the dialogue journal.
  • When you give written assignments, be sure to provide models of what you want the student to do.

Supplemental Writing Activities

  • Reading or listening and summarizing meaningful paragraphs can be helpful.
  • Copying paragraphs can sometimes be helpful if the content is meaningful to the student.
  • For practice needed in writing in different tenses, have students rewrite stories in the desired tense.
  • Reading and retelling in writing can be used to develop writing ability.
  • Along with the rest of the class, ELLs can be expected to recopy corrected assignments occasionally.