Supporting English Language Learners in the Classroom
By: Sanja Subasic, Discovery Child Development Center Pre-K Teacher
As a classroom pre-k teacher, I regularly teach students who speak a language other than English at home. Some of the students speak some English and others may little or no English. I have worked with many anxious parents who worry about their child transitioning to the classroom without knowing much English. Fortunately there are a number of teaching strategies that I have found to be successfully in supporting students who are learning English. The strategies I utilize not only help students who are learning the language, but benefit all students in the classroom.
It is important to recognize that there is no single approach that will work for all bilingual children, or children learning a second language.That is why as teachers, it is important that we support children by finding out more about our students, their families, and their culture. We believe that it is important that child’s first language is acknowledged and valued, and it should be encouraged to be continued to be spoken at home. Also, it is important for us to observe what children are interested in and what motivates them, so we can include fun activities in our lesson. The more we understand and know about what to expect when children learn a second language, we can have appropriate expectations. By knowing, for example, that some children learning a new language will go through a silent period, we can recognize this stage and not pressure children to speak.
While supporting bilingual children at our school, there are many methods and strategies we use when teaching English (or Spanish) as a second language to ensure that the child grows up confident, and fluent in more languages. These are some of the methods that help all students (bilingual or monolingual) to succeed in communication.
1) Read Aloud - Reading aloud to students introduces new vocabulary and eposes them to new words they may not otherwise hear.
2) Music - We play music and sing songs. This helps children with memorization and learn new phrases in a fun way.
3) Puppets - Puppets are a great motivational tool for students to practice the language and motivate them to start talking. We have found that some students who are reluctant to talk to teachers and adults, are happy to engage and interact with puppets.
4) Visuals - We post visuals all around our classroom. A student going through a "silent" period can always refer to picture to communicate.
5) Repetition - We repeat meaningful words and phrases, modify our speech, model, and use gestures.
6) Playing Games - Games are a great way for children who are reluctant to speak to participate in play. I use a lot of matching games in my classroom.
Language is a big part of identity, and it is important that teachers work collaboratively with parents to support English Language Learners. Together we can positively help shape their sense of self as their understanding of the world around them.
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