Yesterday I shared how you, the teacher, have a big role in helping English Learners experience success in the post Helping New English Learners Start the Year Right. Today I want to share ideas about the type of classroom environment English Language Learners need to feel successful.

The classroom environment English Language Learners encounter speaks volumes

When English cannot be used to communicate with students who do not yet speak the language, it becomes important to reach students in different ways. To make this point, let’s imagine that we have just started school in another country. As we walk in the classroom door, what becomes clear to us? Maybe we first notice where the teacher sits and how the rows or tables are arranged. Next we see that there is a water fountain, a clock, etc. We are trying to make meaning of our environment.

The brain is a pattern-seeking device – a meaning-maker, if you will. It is always trying to make sense of things. Therefore, in order to create a classroom environment English Language Learners will thrive in, start with the basics:

  • Make sure your room is neat and organized. For some this comes naturally, while for others it is more of a struggle. Classroom organization is very important as a nonverbal model for all students and the expectation that they are to be organized, as well.
  • Label everything in the classroom with a picture.The word ‘clock’ should be placed by the clock and have a picture of a clock that matches the type of clock (digital, analog) that it is. No, they won’t be able to read it just yet, but shortly, that should change. Email me and I can send you a file that contains several classroom labels to get you started. I laminated mine before posting so that I could use them year after year.
  • It is not necessary to translate the labels into the student’s first language unless you teach in a bilingual or dual language setting. In fact, I’ve noticed that my ELLs will refer to their language more often than not. So to hasten the acquisition of English (if that is your goal), make sure all labels are in English.
  • In the elementary classroom, make sure that each subject has its own area and label it, again with a picture.
  • Word walls should have words and pictures. Imagine that classroom in your new country again. The words are up with no pictures. Suddenly they are just symbols that make no sense. Pictures open up your classroom to include ELLs – and other students who may struggle with reading.

The patterns in your classroom are critical for helping students make sense of their environment. By following the above suggestions, you will help ELLs’ brains to relax and learn better and more quickly.

Tomorrow we’ll continue the series on starting the year right for English Language Learners by talking about ways to make your teaching come alive with meaning.

If you’d like to fast track your way to success, take our ELL Strategies Online Class. We’ve had feedback that it is invaluable – for new and veteran teachers – and among the best classes teachers have ever taken.

Contact us if you have questions or a topic suggestion!