ELL Teaching Tip #19: Appreciate each child’s differences
As teachers, we know that all children are different, but often we forget how much these differences affect what children learn. These differences can especially affect what words our English Language Learners learn. Students will learn and remember the English words that they need or the words that mean something to them the most quickly. Words that don’t have any meaning to them will slip through their memory and never really settle into their long term memory, or at least take longer to settle there.
This is the reason that the girls in my class know words like dress, skirt, makeup and tiara and the boys don’t. It’s also the reason that the boys know the words ninja, soldier and magic trick that the girls often don’t. In addition, my student often know words that help them out at school, where they use English, but not words that would help them out at home, where they don’t. So, it’s not unusual for my students to know words like connection, punctuation mark, and cylinder, but don’t know words like knee, spoon and shovel.
Help your students increase their vocabulary by using those preferences and background knowledge. Here are some ways to do that:
– Activate prior knowledge on EVERY lesson. Giving kids some context to connect their new learning to will help them remember the words and concepts you are teaching.
– Scout out those “home” words that can be taught and reinforced through reading and every day activities. Play games that include body part and object names – like Simon Says.
– Find out what your students are interested in and find books with good vocabulary on those subjects. Use these books for read alouds and guided reading, as students will be more likely to remember the vocabulary that is connected with topics that they are interested in.
Find more TESOL Teaching Tips here, and come back every Tuesday for a new tip!
ELL Teaching Tip #13: Use Their Background Knowledge
One of the things I love most about teaching English Language Learners is that moment when one of my students puts their background knowledge together with all that English I throw at them every day and comes out with a gem of a sentence that throws me through a loop.
It’s easy to forget how much your English Language Learners know, especially those with extremely limited English or those still in the “silent period”. (See Tip #18 for more information on the silent period.) When a student doesn’t contribute to the conversation, we as teachers are somewhat trained to assume that means they don’t have anything to contribute. Often, with English Language Learners, this is not the case at all. Rather, they either don’t have the language to express what they know or by the time they have comprehended what you have said and formulated a response, you have moved on to the next topic. As teachers, we know that connecting what is going on in class with any student’s background knowledge is vitally important, but with English Language Learners, it is even more important because that connection may be the factor that helps them remember that word or phrase. (Simple example: I work on Rue de Pappillion. I knew that Rue meant street in French but never thought to wonder what Pappillion meant, just figured it was someone’s name. One day, I was doing random vocabulary with my husband and sons and asked my husband how to say butterfly in French. His answer: Pappillion – connection made. We went over at least 20 other vocabulary words that day, but the only one I remember is papillion.)
So, if connecting to background knowledge is important for English Language Learners, but difficult for English Language Learners – how do we make it happen for our students? Here are some tips:
1. Slow down! Talk slowly and give students a chance to process what you are saying, increasing the chance that they will understand and make a connection. (See Tip# 2 for more details.)
2. Call on English Language Learners, but warn them first! It’s easy when you are conducting a classroom discussion to simply call on the students who have enough English to answer. However, English Language Learners need a chance to answer. They need to practice that spoken English (See Tip# 3 to find out why.) and they are more likely to make a connection if they are engaged. If they know they aren’t going to be called on, they are much likely to tune out and not get anything from the discussion. What you don’t want to do, however, is put them on the spot. Give them some warning that you’re going to call on them “Jose, I’m coming to you next.” or use a random generating system to choose who you’re going to call on (like pulling popsicle sticks) so that they know they always have a chance to be called on. (Even with a random system, I still will often say something like “Remember, Jose, your stick could be the next one I pull.”) This gives them a reason to pay full attention and extra time to start putting the words together before you call on them.
3. Activate prior knowledge at the beginning of a lesson. Use a graphic organizer, word cloud, or other way to get that knowledge out of every student before you begin, so that you know where you can help students make connections during the lesson.
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 on March 22nd 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.