• Where do I Start with a Student who Knows no English?

    If you have been in a public education setting, this is a question you probably have already pondered. Hopefully someone was there or you had some coursework to help you assist your newcomer (WIDA levels 1 and 2) student. The best place to start, is the beginning. 

    Begin your instruction teaching simple pronouns and verbs - this is probably what you remember from that Spanish class you took in high school.  Now you may be saying well isn't this what the ESL teacher does? Yes, that is what the ESL teacher does, however it takes an average repetition of 30 times before a new word is learned.  Therefore, ALL content teachers also wear the ESL hat (don't feel bad, the ESL teacher does a lot of other things too, including discovering and implementing content area topics into ESL instruction).  After you feel the student has a grasp of this basic communication goal, include classroom/school/social vocabulary. Sorry, academics may have to wait (maybe a week, a month, maybe longer, each student is different) until the student is comfortable asking where to sharpen a pencil or for permission to use the bathroom. 

    You probably should have the student paste this chart into their notebooks:



    Do not expect the student to begin producing writing or speaking right away.  Expect to give much more input than output in the beginning. Providing scaffolds is critical for your students' success.  Scaffolds are not the same thing as differentiating (using different materials). Scaffold first, differentiate as a last resort.


    Activity Word Jumble Activity:  An activity that the whole class can participate in involves writing words on slips of paper that the students have to match to another slip of paper with a different word (synonym/antonym), definition, picture or sentence frame. In my class, I include the first language translation of the word, but not of the connecting piece.  This activity can be used for preteaching vocabulary, self assessment, informal assessment, or review of current lessons.  

    1. Hand out the words and place all of the connecting pieces around the room.  This way you can decide which words students get.  

    2. After all of the words are matched, I survey the matches and redistribute any mismatched words. The process begins again. The second time, I tell the students to check all of the matches and then redistribute if necessary.

    3. Lastly, the students write the matched words in their notebooks.

     This link from the Center for Applied Linguistics has some more information and learning strategies:


    This article has some quickly applicable ideas that won't break your budget or waste your time:

    5 Tips for Classroom Teachers


  • Some scaffolds that apply to newcomers include:

    Preteaching vocabulary - you might modify your Basic Academic Vocabulary boxes to include a box to "Translate into another Language".  This could be an interestinig way to get your other students learning some of the newcomers language as well. Using vocabulary games such as Pass the Poster or Kahoot! are a couple of ways to do this as a class. Individually, you may want to use a page from the Oxford Picture Dictionary or provide some simple translations using Google Translate, or help the student create a word web or use sentence frames.

    Providing Noteswhile copying notes is a skill that will be used over and over, it is easier for your newcomer student to add to notes or fill in notes in the beginning if you are going to be lecturing while the student is copying notes.  Please realize it takes longer for them to copy notes.  It is very difficult for them to copy and write what you are saying at the same time. This goes along with the classroom modification providing extra time.

    Using GraphicsA picture says a thousand words.... including charts, graphs, pictures and diagrams helps all students grasp content by making common connections.

     Pics4learning               Clip Art

    Visual Dictionary

    Modifying Gradinga touchy subject to some... the debate is that if the student is being graded on proficiency that how can they achieve a 100 in the class if they don't know the content - a very valid point, however we can not penalize the student for not knowing the language by giving them a lower grade.  A good rule of thumb is grade them on what they complete and cut the amount of information they are supposed to know by at least half.  I know, I know, how do I cut it in half?  You must modify your student learning objectives.

    Modifying InstructionChoose the topics, words and texts that will have the most cross-curricular impact and will be needed to understand subsequent lessons and future classes.  For example, focusing on major events that changed history may be more effective in learning about American History (a subject a newcomer will have very little background knowledge) than studying the individual contributions of people. 

    Building BackgroundWe learn by making connections to what we already know. Therefore, it reasons that ALL students need to activate prior knowledge of a topic in order to assimilate new information. Review topics connected to new lessons.  Have students sort related words into categories, provide labels and then add to those categories or combine them to form the new information. 

    Think Aloudmodeling what you think helps others make similar connections, writing as you think gives them something concrete to build with- especially if you add some pictures or include a word from their native language

    Partner work/Think-Pair-Share/Jigsaw - these are all interactive ways (that you probably use already) to get your student to participate. Make it ok for them to listen and watch in the beginning. They will be more likely to join in if they feel comfortable doing so rather than forced to try to communicate.