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C.M. Corner: Working in ESL/ELL Positions

Since the 1780’s, America has been known for its diverse mix of cultural ideas and nationalities.

We also find that cultural diversity in our classrooms. This week in our Classroom Management Corner, we are diving into some tips and strategies involving working with students from various backgrounds, including students in the English as a Second Language or English Language Learner programs.


One of the biggest issues faced is cultural miscommunication.  As educators, we need to understand that some actions, phrases or gestures may mean something different in other cultures. For example, making eye contact throughout most of the U.S. indicates respect, engagement in the conversation and understanding.  However, in some cultures, avoiding eye contact is seen as a sign of respect, while prolonged eye contact may be seen as disrespectful, impolite or even confrontational.  It’s wise to go into the classroom with the understanding that some of these cultural norms may be violated or misunderstood due to their cultural backgrounds. Be patient with the students as they are not only learning what is appropriate in the context of their cultural heritage, but also what is culturally acceptable and appropriate in the U.S.


Another recommendation is to speak slowly, simply, and clearly in the classroom. This does not mean speaking at the same speed as molasses, instead make sure that each word that you say is enunciated properly and that you are speaking at a reasonable speed. It is very important that the students hear each word that you are speaking so they not only understand what you are saying, but also hear how the words themselves sound.  Further, avoid using complex words and common idioms or slang, such as “piece of cake”, “for real” or hang out” as the words do not correlate to their actual meaning.  Try to use simple and easy to understand words and phrases.  English is structured very differently than most languages in the world and can be difficult to understand in the learning process.  Again, exercise patience as your students learn to master this skill.  If you speak too quickly, or use words that students don’t understand, students may disengage from the lesson or activity or begin chatting with their neighbors.


When working in ESL or ELL positions try to allow the students to work in small groups.  Some students may not be comfortable contributing to class discussions or asking for help because they may be too shy or embarrassed. Working in partners or small groups will provide another context for them to engage with the material.  It will also allow the students to utilize each other’s knowledge and understanding.


Working in ESL or ELL positions can be fun and very rewarding as these students not only learn the material, but also build very practical skills to interact with their fellow students. If you would like any additional resources or have any tips of your own that you would like to share, please email training@teachersoncall.com.  We would love to hear from you!