In Early Years programs there is this tendency to assume that because an English as a Second Language (ESL) student is so young and their own language skills in their native tongue are still developing, the student will simply “assimilate” language-wise, and so often extra support isn’t provided for the classroom teacher. While it is true that younger learners do tend to pick up additional languages more easily than older students – meaning they probably won’t need pull-out sessions – this doesn’t mean that the classroom teacher couldn’t use a few extra strategies to help ESL students in developing their English language skills. Below are some helpful tips and ideas:
a) Visual Aids: Having a set of visual aids for concepts being taught is always helpful; this way ESL students can follow the main ideas of the lesson even if they can’t understand English yet. So, if you are talking about animals, being able to show a picture of each animal as you are talking about them can help the ESL student improve their understanding. Below are some websites offering printable flashcards for classroom use:
ESL Games +
ESL Kid Stuff
b) Flashcards on a Keyring: Providing ESL students with flashcards from the above-mentioned websites (on a keyring) depicting essential survival-English images with accompanying words can be very helpful in building independence. Providing words like “bathroom,” “drink” and “snack” can help ESL students communicate their needs and build confidence.
c) Hand Gestures: In addition to visual aids, hand gestures are also a great way to demonstrate meaning for ESL students: for example, waving to an ESL student when greeting them and putting your index finger on your lips to show that you would like them to be quiet.
d) Speaking Slowly: It is easy to forget that not all students understand the lesson and consequently speak at a faster pace, especially when caught up in an exciting learning moment. However, this makes it difficult for a non-native English speaker to follow along. By making a conscious effort to slow down speech, you will be greatly helping those ESL students hear and understand what you are saying.
e) Repetition: Repeating key vocabulary words and phrases for ESL students is essential. The more they hear the vocabulary, the better chance they have of retaining it and using it in the proper context.
f) Listening Station: Setting up a listening station for ESL students is a great way to have them hear songs, nursery rhymes, etc. in English, all of which will serve to build on and improve their English skills in a fun way.
g) Games: Partner ESL students with native English-speakers in the class and have them play simple games together.
h) Communication: Being flexible in how an ESL student chooses to demonstrate their knowledge is also essential. Perhaps a student understands what is being asked, but is too shy to speak. It is okay for students to demonstrate their knowledge by illustrating what they know or by using manipulatives.
Having ESL students in your Early Years program can be a very rewarding experience, and with the right strategies in place a classroom teacher can help their ESL students’ language skills blossom!
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