Useful Initial Teaching Strategies

These initial steps will help immensely in preparing the right kind of instructional environment for English-language learners with learning difficulties.
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Updated on: March 13, 2002

Useful Initial Teaching Strategies

Excerpted from Teaching English-Language Learners with Learning Difficulties

As teachers begin to develop instructional strategies that increasestudents' access to curriculum concepts, a few initial steps canhelp 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 thelearning needs of English-language learners with learning difficulties. The following practices are recommended:

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

  • Useful introductory activities have been implemented inmany schools. For example, in one middle school, English-language learners with learning difficulties are paired with bilingualstudents, and together they study critical vocabulary and preparean 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 amap of the school that is labeled with words. Thefinal product is displayed in the office for visitors to see.

    In one secondary school, English-language learners withlearning difficulties are paired with a "host" student for the firstday of school. The host student introduces the English-languagelearner to school procedures, shows the location of importantareas, and helps the English-language learner understand whatlife is like in the new school.

  • Teachers can help English-language learners withlearning difficulties feel comfortable in a new schoolsetting by incorporating the students' native language in the materials and instructional strategies selected. For example, havingsome 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 fewwords in the student's native language are making a wise investment. These frequently humbling encounters with learning asecond language, even if at a very basic level, demonstrateteacher 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 learnerswith learning difficulties, it can be extremely beneficial toobserve others who are successful with these students or whohave been trained to work with them. Guides and videos featuringexperienced teachers can also be useful, provided that new teachers have a chance to discuss the content.

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