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 #17: Teacher Grammar Explicitly
“Does that sentence sound right to you?” is how I was taught grammar. Make sure the sentences “sounds right”. This makes sense if all you have ever heard is proper English. However, when you are teaching English Language Learners, grammatically incorrect sentences sound just as “right” as grammatically correct sentences. In fact, depending on who their language models are, the incorrect sentences may sound better to their ears. I teach in a school where almost all of my students are language learners. The teachers are the ONLY language models they have that speak proper English, so often my students hear more improper English in a day than proper English.
When I started teaching English Language Learners, I found that not only did I have to learn how to teach English grammar, but I had to re-learn grammar rules myself, so that I was explicitly aware of WHY you say We run, but you say She runs. Now, I work very hard to teach grammar explicitly to my students – even in first grade. Here are some tips to teaching grammar explicitly:
1. Take time each and every day for grammar. It’s easy to engulf grammar in other subjects, reading, writing, etc., but English Language Learners need grammar on it’s own for at least 10 minutes every day. Daily Language programs are a great way to get that grammar in, but it’s just as easy to simply have a 10 minute grammar mini-lesson each day.
3. Explain WHY – When teaching a new grammar rule, try your best to explain the rule, including WHY, as it will help your students generalize and internalize grammar. Don’t stress if it’s not Webster Dictionary’s explanation, just stress the understanding your students will be able to generalize. Here’s an explanation I give my students for why we say We run, but She runs. ie. If you have a “plural” subject, you must have a “plural” verb. Plural subjects often end in an S – thought not always, plural verbs do not end in an s. Singular subjects do not usually end in an s, while singular verbs generally do end in an S. Thereby, we is plural, so run should NOT have an S. She is not plural, so it SHOULD have an S.
4. Correct Oral Language – In Tip #4, I talked about correcting student’s speech patterns. This is especially important for grammar, as students will only know if they “sound right” if you tell them. Also, if you can get your English Language Learners to speak properly, they become better language models to those other language learners around them. One big grammatical error in my class has been “the birthday of” as in “Mrs. Raki today is the birthday of my sister.” or even better “Today is the Happy Birthday of my sister.” (This is a direct translation from French, as this would be grammatically correct in French.) We have talked about this many, many times, and finally some of my students have started correcting each other. It made my heart jump for joy the other day when one of my girls turned to another and said, “No, not the dad of Omar – Omar’s dad!”
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!