Teaching English language learners in preschool
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
My first classroom was a class of 2- and 3-year-olds, with more than 80 percent being speakers of a language other than English. It was interesting at first since I had never worked with this many children who weren't English speakers.
Here are some tips that I learned fairly quickly:
Sing everything (and it really doesn't matter if you have a good voice or not).
Time to wash hands? Sing! Wash, wash, wash your hands, wash your hands with soap and water. Wash, wash, wash, wash, wash, your hands, wash your hands with soap and water (sung to the tune of "Clap, Clap, Clap Hello").
Time to line up? Sing! Line up, line up, everybody everywhere, line up, line up, everybody everywhere (sung to the tune of "Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Everywhere"). If you know any catchy tunes, just sing any words to those tunes, and it works like magic.
Side note: Use as many action songs as you can. Our morning routine usually is full of action songs that use the whole body. I find this really helps keep them engaged, especially when the songs are in English and they aren't exactly sure what the words mean yet. Use the same songs until they are confident in them, then you can always switch up the words or learn a whole new song.
2. Become a master of charades and acting things out
Using your hands and your body really comes in handy when teaching ELL students, especially in the beginning when they have no prior experience with English. Games and songs that teach body parts, like "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," are great.
There are also many other versions of these kinds of songs, check out Tony Chestnut, or even better, change the words of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" to include other body parts, but keep the tune.
Use pictures and draw
I had tutored an ELL student for a year, twice a week last year. She came to me with no English and left me as a confident English speaker. Of course, she wasn't perfect, but she tried to use English whenever and wherever she could.
What worked for us was acting things out, and even better, drawing them. Every session we had, I made sure we had whiteboards and dry-erase markers. We always started the sessions talking about our day, what we did and the parts we liked and didn't like.
Whenever we came to a language barrier, we each drew it out. For example, if I told her that I went swimming today, and she didn't know the word swimming, I would draw myself swimming in water, and we would talk about the word swimming. Most of the time, we drew things that she wanted to know or that she was interested in, and words that she would use in day-to-day life.
Talk, talk, talk
Encourage speaking; never tell ELLs to stop talking or to share their thoughts at a better time. The most important thing is to build their confidence, and they won't be able to do this if they are constantly being told to talk later, or to be quiet.
In my classroom last year, we always talked — and I mean always. Most of the day was spent talking to each other, in small groups, in large groups or individually. There wasn't a quiet moment in that class (unless they were sleeping).
Be an actor or actress
If you aren't excited or enthusiastic, don't expect the kids to be either. Teaching is much like acting, especially when you are teaching ELL students — and even more so if they are young. You need to want to be there, you need to want to engage with them and learn with them. They will see right through you if you aren't into it, and they won't be either.
Some days are harder than others, especially days where you are tired or don't feel 100 percent. Include their names into songs, include your name into songs (they think it's hilarious). Be silly and be fun.
I cannot stress this enough, this job is not for everyone. It takes a special kind of person to be "on" for children Monday through Friday for eight hours a day. It's exhausting, but so worth it when you see how quickly they can learn and grow. I really love what I do, and if you're reading this, I hope you love what you do, too.
These are just a few tips to get you started. What advice do you have?
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