• Welcoming the New ESL Student

    By Rhonda Stewart
    GRADES3–5, 6–8 

    While writing my last post, "Making New Students Feel Welcome in Your Classroom," an idea for a companion post was born. As I was going through my notes and making sure that I had workable tips for teachers to welcome a new student, I realized I should not assume that new students are always English speaking. Even though I have not had a non-English speaking student in a couple of years, it does not mean that I do not have to be prepared to receive one. So as I was crafting that broader post, I was thinking about addressing this concern. How do I prepare for a non-English speaking student? Would the techniques be the same as getting any new student?

    Reviewing my notes, I realized that some of the techniques that I would use for welcoming a new student are the same as if the new student were non-English speaking. To be sure that I was on the correct path, I decided to confer with the ESL (English as a Second Language) and bilingual teachers in my building. (Thanks Diana Cornwell and Jazmin Espinal!) They confirmed that my intentions were on track, but the process needed a little tweaking.



    Even though I teach literacy, and therefore do not have my students for the entire day, I still wanted to address this concern. It is not only common to my school/district/state, but throughout the entire country. So as I share my “tweaks,” I am also looking forward to you sharing your ideas as to how to help these students successfully adjust to their new schools. My approach may seem simple; it's based on plain common sense. To me it just seems the right thing to do.

    So are here are my tweaks to welcoming English as a Second Language learners. Please note that I am assuming that when you get an ESL student that you are getting a heads-up. And by heads-up, I do not mean that morning, minutes before the bell rings. I mean at least a day’s notice. More would be great but we’ll take the one-day notice.


    Tips for Welcoming English as a Second Language Learners


    1. Prepare the Class

    Let your class know that they will be getting a new classmate who does not speak the language. Let them know your expectations are for them to look out for and assist the new student while in school. Remind them that this is a part of the process of strengthening the bonds of the classroom community.

    2. Create a Welcome Packet

    This is when having the heads-up really pays off so that you can prepare ahead of time. Cornwell and Espinal turned me on to Google Translate. Google Translate takes a document and translates it into the desired language. This is also great way to communicate with the parents of the ESL student. Now I can take my welcome information packet and have it translated into the student’s native language. How cool is that? I also have a welcome bag filled with pencils, a box of crayons, a notebook, and eraser. Plus, I can add a book from the library in the student’s native language. It's just a little something to make them feel welcome!

    3. Student Ambassador

    This is very important. It would be extremely helpful to have a student in class who speaks the same language as the new student to assist them in getting adjusted to the routines and procedures of the class. This will help the new child feel at ease as they navigate the school building. If no one in your class shares the new student's language, find your most friendly and empathetic student for the job. Certain qualities transcend language barriers.

    4. Conversation Cards

    I thought this was too cool! Cornwell and Espinal mentioned that teaching the students catchphrases or conversational phrases is one way to help ease them into school. They had a really simple chart that they created with their students to help reinforce the language. The phrases were also placed on index cards to help the new student practice in order to function on their own. It made me think of the time that I was in Mexico, and used a dictionary to help me get around. Same principle: commonly used phrases to help the newcomer survive in their new surroundings.


    Conversation Chart and Cards 


    For other ideas on how to welcome the ESL student, check out these practical tips to help second-language learners from Instructor.


    Pearls of Wisdom — To help the student adjust, keep directions/instructions simple. Speak slowly and clearly. Also, be sure to have an adult on hand who is able to translate at parent-teacher conferences. Students have been known to take "creative license" when it comes to translating. You want to make sure that you are able to communicate your concerns to the parent, and that they receive the message as you intend.

    Do you have any ideas to share that help the ESL student adjust? Please share — I love that we get to share ideas that make all of our lives easier!

    Until next time!

Last Modified on July 29, 2019