Entering a brand-new classroom is nerve-wracking for most of our English speaking students. For our newcomer ELLs, it can be a very intense and scary experience. Providing them with a welcoming, thoughtful environment from the moment they enter your classroom is the key to breaking down their walls and making them feel comfortable exploring their new language.
1. PROVIDE SUPPORTS & A TASK
It is important that when your ELL arrives, you have supports and a task prepared for them that they can begin working on right away. At this point, you may not know how much English your student has, so it is good to play it safe and keep it as simple as possible. I like to provide my ELLs with a desk name plate filled with supports, lower leveled books (with pictures) I have pre-selected, a picture dictionary of thematic vocabulary (body parts, school supplies, weather, etc.), and any materials that were given to students at the very beginning of the year that could be helpful (school map, routines poster, etc.). I will either explain the task to them or have a buddy explain it to them. It could be as simple as cutting out vocabulary cards, like the school supplies cards (free) on the ring in the picture below, or simple thematic vocabulary activities.
2. BUDDY THEM UP!
Choose students that you think would be patient and helpful to your new ELLs. I like to choose 2-3 students so that my new ELL will get a chance to meet a few new faces, but many teachers like to just use one. I always have a short meeting with these students, letting them know what their job will be. I explain to them that this new student may not be able to talk to them or understand, so they will need to use a lot of gestures and visuals in order to communicate. I always have one or two students give the new ELL a tour of the classroom, showing them where to put their things, where they can find supplies, how to sign out for the bathroom, etc. You could also have them give the ELL a tour of the area outside of the classroom (bathroom, lockers, etc), depending on their age. With younger students, I like to give the tour to ensure the new student knows exactly where the bathroom is, office, and any other essential school rooms. Other jobs for buddies can be to:
- check in with the new student when starting a new task that requires classroom materials, make sure they have what they need
- walk with the new student from one class to the next
- help get the new student get lunch and sit with him or her in the cafeteria
- show the new student around the playground and stay with him or her at recess
- read with/to him or her
- help with classroom routines throughout the day
- help with morning and dismissal routines
- walk the student to his or her bus
You can switch these buddies out after the first week if it seems like the non-ELLs have lost their original steam or are getting frustrated. I keep them buddied up with less and less tasks as the weeks go on. Usually by about 3 weeks in they have developed at least one friendship that seems to be their go-to helper for anything they could be confused with.
3. MAKE YOUR CLASS VISUAL
Your new ELLs, as well as the other students in your classroom, will benefit from having useful visuals available to them at all times on throughout the classroom. It will help them become more independent in your classroom faster, in both following routines and in doing class work.
- Post a visual daily schedule.
- Label important parts of the classroom, in both English and their language if possible.
- Have visuals next to each rule/expectation in your classroom.
- Include simple visuals next to each step in your morning routine or dismissal routine poster.
- Use anchor charts or graphic organizers when introducing and studying content areas. Leave these up for students to reference when needed. You can also have them keep mini-versions of the anchor charts in their notebooks when possible.
- Post a word wall, with visuals if possible. My ELLs especially benefit from content area word walls that include visuals and simple definitions of content area vocabulary.
All resources included on the desk photo above, plus a bunch more resources for your newcomers can be found in my ELL Newcomers Bundle: