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Communicating with ELL Students

February 05, 2003

If you’re working with an ELL student and are having difficulty communicating with the child, here’s what I suggest: Label everything in your room that he'll need to use. From here on in, find pictures to fit as many concepts as you can, and label those, too. Use them often during lessons. Pictures/objects with labels shown together are the most powerful tool you'll have for awhile. Put together a picture or word dictionary of some type for him to add to as you go along. Find a volunteer/peer/parent, anyone friendly who can spend some ongoing time with him when he's not in ESOL -- or you, if you have few minutes. The most basic technique is to consciously slow down your speech and consistently control the vocabulary you use, along with acting things out as much as you can. It's work, but SO rewarding! At first you should just point and ask him to repeat single words. Go on short walks to important places around the room, building, and playground, getting acclimated. Pretty soon, two words will come...then broken sentences. Be patient, and repeat previous learning often. He'll listen first, repeat phrases next, and then actually show he understands simple instructions. Offering language is a long way off. He'll get tired by the end of the day, too, so don't teach tough stuff then. You're right...math will be a strength, so will hands-on science experiments pretty soon. Body language and tone of voice go a long way in the first stages.


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