Useful Initial Teaching Strategies

Excerpted from Teaching English-Language Learners with Learning Difficulties

As teachers begin to develop instructional strategies that increase students' access to curriculum concepts, a few initial steps can help immensely in preparing the right kind of instructional environment. These initial steps are easily overlooked, yet if used correctly they provide an excellent starting point for meeting the learning needs of English-language learners with learning difficulties. The following practices are recommended:

  • When students first enroll in school, it is helpful to provide them with a list of common school vocabulary and concepts. This will help orient new students to the school setting and give them a concrete way of independently checking and learning the meaning of important concepts. This list would include names of important people and places in the school, common verbs, and how to ask for help.

  • Useful introductory activities have been implemented in many schools. For example, in one middle school, English-language learners with learning difficulties are paired with bilingual students, and together they study critical vocabulary and prepare an interview. This interview is conducted in English with a member of the school community. The two students then share this information with the other students.

    In an elementary school, students tour the school with a teacher when they first arrive. Throughout the tour, the teacher takes Polaroid photos of important areas of the school and of school personnel (e.g., office, cafeteria, school nurse, secretary). These photos are used to create a map of the school that is labeled with words. The final product is displayed in the office for visitors to see.

    In one secondary school, English-language learners with learning difficulties are paired with a "host" student for the first day of school. The host student introduces the English-language learner to school procedures, shows the location of important areas, and helps the English-language learner understand what life is like in the new school.

  • Teachers can help English-language learners with learning difficulties feel comfortable in a new school setting by incorporating the students' native language in the materials and instructional strategies selected. For example, having some native-language books available that students can read, allowing students to use their native language to respond to questions or to demonstrate and express what they know, and allowing students to work in small groups using their native language can significantly increase their opportunities for meaningful access to curriculum concepts.

  • Teachers who take the time to learn and use at least a few words in the student's native language are making a wise investment. These frequently humbling encounters with learning a second language, even if at a very basic level, demonstrate teacher interest and respect for the language and cultural background of the English-language learner.

  • Have mentor teachers model successful strategies. For teachers new to working with English-language learners with learning difficulties, it can be extremely beneficial to observe others who are successful with these students or who have been trained to work with them. Guides and videos featuring experienced teachers can also be useful, provided that new teachers have a chance to discuss the content.

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