Social Expectations for ELL’s

My class consists of 19 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes. Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French. I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect. All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees. My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.) Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. So, from now on, I will now be doing a Teaching Tip Tuesday geared especially towards teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

ELL Teaching Tip #15: Teach Social Norms

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since moving to Morocco, it’s how much culture plays into language.  I am  in the unique position to see it on both sides.  In my classroom, I see my kids look at the picture of the carrot stick and have no idea what they are seeing, thereby having no word for it in their own language, let alone English.  Then, I do homework with my personal son, who is going to school in French and Arabic, I see how culture affects language in other languages than just English.  For example, he read a story about the “horseman” that has 2 different words in Arabic to describe it and he looks at me for the correct word in English, but there really isn’t one.

Where this comes in to play the most for my students is in those “social norms” that we don’t think to teach.  For example, in English, when you burp you say “Excuse me.”  In Arabic, when you burp, you say  “Thank God.”(Hemdulilah)  imageTrying to explain to an English Language Learner why we don’t thank God for our health after we burp – that is an interesting conversation to have, let me tell you!  Although this is a simple example, it highlights the fact that there are going to be differences in social norms due to a change in language.  If possible, we need to teach our English Language Learners about these differences ahead of time, to help their learning process, and prevent some embarrassment on their part.  We won’t always be able to teach these things ahead of time, as sometimes we are learning about the differences as they happen, but either way we need to address it in our classroom. 

I am a big fan of the phrasing “In English we say” or “When we’re speaking English we do/don’t”, because it does not make one culture right or the other culture wrong.  One of my biggest pet peeves is teachers trying to teach students the “right” cultural expectations.  I don’t believe one culture/language to be right or wrong, simply different.  However, if we are teaching students to speak English, we are doing so to prepare them to survive in an English speaking culture.  To not prepare these English Language Learners for that culture is like teaching a dancer to only dance in the practice room, but never on stage.

Do you enjoy the weekly TESOL Teaching Tips? Do you want to know more about teaching English Language Learners? I will be speaking on this topic at the Everything’s Intermediate Expo, and I’d love to have you “join” us. It is a virtual expo, which will help us connect no matter where we are! Click HERE for more information.

Find more TESOL Teaching Tips here, and come back every Tuesday for a new tip!




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About rakisradresources

teacher mother of 3 wife

3 responses to “Social Expectations for ELL’s”

  1. kerri says :

    Thanks for the tip. I taught ELL for 3 years and had to teach the cultural norms as well. I had a student from Somalia who had been living in a refugee camp before coming to the united states. She was so sweet and eager to learn everything. But she struggled with things we take for granted. The hand dryers in the bathrooms freaked her out at first and then delighted her. I made pudding with gummy worms in it one time (I call it dirt pudding). She was so freaked out by the worms in it she wouldn’t eat. But when I showed her the candy and she could touch those she was ok with it. Now I don’t teach ELL but have 6 ELL students in my class of 16 so keep the tips coming.

  2. rakisradresources says :


    Thanks for those stories! It’s amazing what we take for granted that can be new and amazing to our students. I’m glad the tips are helpful to you. I hope they are as helpful for classes with just a few ELL students to a class full of ELL’s!

    Heidi Raki

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