The ESL Back to School season doesn't need to be stressful! Read on for easy tips and tricks for a smooth and effective start to the year!
When I think of planing out ESL Back to School routines and procedures, I just get so excited! Back to school is always one of my favorite times of the year; from a fresh planner to new packs of crayons, there’s just magic in the air. Add in English Language Learners, and my heart goes pitter-patter. I know that ESL Back to School time means I’m about to witness an incredible year of growth and is there anything better than that? I don’t think so!
Back to school can be a little overwhelming, too! I always have a billion ideas swirling around in my head to sort out, and sometimes, I’m just plain nervous! Whether this is your first time planning ESL Back to School activities or your 30th, I have some tips and tricks to make the first few weeks as smooth as can be!
Back to School Night
Most of us have a Back to School Night, and this is the PERFECT time to invest in your ESL students. Back to School Nights are an excellent chance for your students to see the classroom, meet their teacher, and just get an overall look at what their school and classroom look like. For your English Language Learners, this night is crucial. These students tend to be a little more overwhelmed than their general education classmates because they might not understand everything that’s being said on the first day of school. Feeling comfortable in the classroom will help them feel at ease on their first day.
One important thing to note: many cultures don’t have school events. There are actually several cultures where it’s not appropriate for parents to come to the school! Furthermore, parents might not feel comfortable coming to school for their own reasons, whether they’ve had terrible school experiences or even no experience in school at all. Reach out to your ESL students’ families many times before Back to School Night. Call, text, send home a letter, use a translator. Explain the purpose of the night, where to go when they get to the school, and what to expect once they’re there. Taking out as many barriers as possible and helping families feel comfortable will make all the difference!
The First Days of School
So, you’ve made it through Back to School Night, and now you’re wondering how to tackle the first day of school! When planning out ESL first day activities, there’s a simple formula for success! Just make things visual, repetitive, and slow.
Your ESL students will likely be at different proficiency levels when they enter your classroom. Some might understand every word you say on a typical day, and some might not understand hello. When the brain is stressed, though, logical processing is less effective. That means your students will likely understand less language on the first day of school than they will on a typical school day. Patience is key! So are visuals.
That doesn’t mean you have to spend tons of time finding a picture for every single thing you’re doing, though! Here are some easy, no-prep ways to add visuals to your first day lessons:
What’s the easiest way to understand what’s expected when you don’t speak the language? Repetition. Repeating things over and over again will help students understand what is happening in your classroom, what is expected of them, and how they can participate. Does this mean repeating the exact same content and boring your students? No way! It does mean creating routines and procedures that stay consistent. Having a consistent routine will also make your life easier as you plan!
You may feel like your students will get bored, but I promise they’ll just feel more at ease. Change the content and activities as needed, but keep the basic schedule and structure the same. (Bonus points if you use visuals to show the plan to your students!)
Keeping things repetitive might look something like this:
When planning your ESL back-to-school activities, it is so important to remember to go slow. Your students will need extra time to process what is being asked of them, and feeling rushed can make your students feel overwhelmed! Plan on taking things slow for the first few weeks of school, then gradually build up speed. Start with simple texts that introduce what you will be doing in class. Build in extra time for practicing routines and explaining directions. All your students will benefit from the added clarity and the stress-free start to the year. Are you worried about early finishers? Let them read or work on homework! No need to create more work for yourself. As a bonus, your early finisher students will be sure to appreciate the time to get work done!
ESL Back to School Games
You didn’t think I’d suggest keeping back to school all business, did you? Games are the perfect way to get students involved, making friends, and having fun in your classroom! When planning ESL back to school games, remember to keep things visual, repetitive, and slow—no need to introduce extra-competitive games with complicated rules. Keeping games fun, easy to follow, and free of academics will help build a strong community in your classroom! Here are a few of my favorite games for the first weeks of school:
Start slow and demonstrate how to play each game with your class. Your students should catch on to all of them quickly! As far as repetition goes…. Play the game you picked for the entire week! Your students will look forward to game time, know exactly how to play, and work on strategies and teamwork. What a fantastic opportunity for learning together!
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