Additional Classroom Tips for Content Area Teachers of Newcomers

Classroom Tips for Content Area Teachers of Newcomers

1. Provide both oral and written directions.

Newcomers will need to translate directions in order to understand what the classroom teacher is asking him/her to do. If the teacher only provides oral directions, the newcomers may not be able to translate the directions fast enough in their heads.  Use visuals and images to accompany written directions (when possible).  Also, use gestures and motions to help explain verbal directions.

2. Provide summaries of chapters or texts and/or reduce the length of reading assignments.

Newcomers will have to translate almost everything they read in class. This requires much more work than their native speaking peers. It is not feasible to expect that a student with very limited English proficiency is able to read the same amount of text as other students.  When possible and as needed, pair text with native language texts or accompany text with audio so the student can listen while following the text.  Use apps like "Seesaw" and "Classkick" to help make text more interactive.

3. Provide copies of teacher notes.

If teachers provide newcomers a copy of their completed notes, the students will be able to concentrate on taking in and understanding the new information while it is being presented in class instead of copying notes. . It will also allow students additional time to translate the new material during instruction.  To still hold the student accountable, use guided notes or clozed notes so that the student is responsible for writing in one-two words per idea.  I've even had students highlight the text that other students are writing so they are still being held accountable.

4. Indicate the page number and/or heading to where answers can be found in the text.

Since reading in English will be a much slower and more difficult process for newcomers, pages numbers and heading references will allow students to focus in on a specific section of a text and support the students in locating information so that they can successfully respond to questions.  When trying to elicit a response from a newcomer or even more advanced Language Learner, allow wait time.  Giving students a page number and a question ahead of time and then returning to them for the answer lessens the feeling of being "on the spot."

5. Reduce the amount of problems and/or questions on classwork and homework.

It will take newcomers much longer to complete classwork and homework assignments than their native speaking peers. With this in mind, consider eliminating questions/problems that are assessing the same skill AND or questions/problems that are not absolutely essential to the student meeting the standard you are teaching.  Ask yourself, "What questions will demonstrate that he/she understands the concept?"

6. Reduce the number of answer choices on assessments.

Since reading will also be a struggle for newcomers on assessments, consider reducing the amount the newcomer needs to read by eliminating answer choices for multiple choice and matching questions on tests and quizzes.  Consider "chunking" questions or matching items into smaller sections.

7. Provide a word bank.

Productive language (writing & speaking) develops much later when learning a new language than receptive language (reading & listening).  Newcomers often struggle to recall new vocabulary words offhand but are able to use them correctly when provided a list of vocabulary words to refer to. With this in mind, consider providing students a list of key vocabulary words to use for short answer and fill-in-the-blank questions.  Again, you can consider "chunking" here as well - 5 words with 5 questions versus 20 words for all 20 questions.

8. Provide extended time for assignments.

Both reading and writing take longer for students who are learning a new language. In order to reduce anxiety and allow students to put forth their best effort, more time will be needed for lengthier assignments that require students to seek the support of an EL teacher to complete.  Consider if the student could demonstrate mastery on a shortened assignment (which may still require additional time).

9. Use visuals.

Visuals help newcomers comprehend new information even if they are not able to understand every word their classroom teachers are saying. Whenever possible regularly incorporate visuals into classroom instruction, handouts, and assignments.  Use "realia" when possible (real-life items or images that pertain to the text).

10. Provide examples of classroom assignments.

Examples that newcomers can go back and review after class has ended will support them in both understanding the directions of the assignment and understanding the quality of work their teachers are requiring. They are also helpful to the EL teachers who are not able to be in class with the students but are often helping them complete the assignments after class has ended.

11. Provide sentence or paragraph starters.

Beginning a sentence or structuring their thoughts in sentence format can be very difficult for language learners. Providing the first couple of words of a sentence can be a very useful support for students.  Additionally, students may need a paragraph skeleton in order to complete a writing assignment.

12. Slow your speech, increase pauses, and speak in phrases.

Students who are new to learning a language will need more time to process oral information. Make sure to use the least amount of words possible to communicate ideas and pause between thoughts to allow students time to translate and digest what you have said before continuing.  Try not to use idioms, slang, or other nuances when speaking with newcomers.

13. Rephrase questions, directions, and explanations in a simpler form with more general vocabulary.

Pay attention to the vocabulary and the grammatical complexity you are using to communicate with students.  With the exception of key vocabulary the students need to master to meet the content standards, make sure to use more general vocabulary to replace less familiar words. Don’t forget that idiomatic or slang expressions can be especially confusing to language learners because they are not easily translated, these should be taught explicitly.

14.Allow students to demonstrate their comprehension in nonverbal ways.

Be creative about allowing newcomers to express their comprehension of a topic without having to speak or write a sentence. Students who are new to learning a language will often go through a silent period where they aren’t speaking yet but are still able to comprehend the classroom instruction. By allowing students to respond to questions in a nonverbal way, they too are able to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic.  Consider the use of gestures, labeling, matching, graphic organizers, drawing or accepting verbal responses when other students are expected to write.

15. Match assessments to instruction.

Remember to be consistent in the wording and phrasing you are using and make sure that you are writing questions and answers choices in the same way you have presented the material in class.  If you taught a concept using visuals, diagrams, etc. include some of those on your assessment.

16. Modify assignments to reflect the student’s language proficiency.

Language learning is a continuum and develops over time. It takes English Learners 7-10 years to acquire the academic language of their peers.  Assignments that are appropriate for native speakers may not be appropriate to newcomers who are just beginning to acquire English; refer to the student's "Can Do" descriptors if you are part of a WIDA state. Be especially mindful of the reading and writing tasks you are assigning to students who are just learning to read and write in English. You will need to modify assignments and possibly come up with alternative assignments for newcomers. 

17. Make connections to the student's home language or culture when possible

Newcomer students could definitely benefit from links made between American culture and that of their home culture as often as possible!

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