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The ESOL student in your class



So it's part of the way through the year and you suddenly discover two students from Korea are in your class. Chances are, the first you knew about them was when they walked through the door three minutes ago. You're shuffling your resources, greeting students, telling Toby energy drinks cause rabies, and, "no Libby, you can't go to the loo because you've just had interval," while guilt and a smidgen of panic sets in because you can't possibly cater for students with beginner English right now and you don't know when you'll find the time to create something specific for them. Now, before I go on, note I'm talking more about the fee-paying or immigrant students than those who come via student exchanges - especially those from Europe who often have very sophisticated language and are widely read. So...what are you going to do?!


Get out your toolkit! Here's what could be in it:


Add activities to your online class notes (eg MS Class Notebook or Google Classroom). That way, they are always there should the need arise. Include things like:

  • Getting to know you activities or questions;

  • Questions about topical issues (from current events or what the rest of the class is studying);

  • Links to fantastic YouTube clips about New Zealand. Eg: Mr Frosty and the BMX kid

  • Link to NZ short films which they could then respond to. Eg: I liked... I did not like... If I was ... I would... This makes me think about... This reminds me of... (depending on their level of English).

  • Links to listening activities. Randall's ESL Listening Lab is brilliant.

Have a folder of printed activities (there are plenty on the internet) ready to go. Better yet, show them where the folder is so that they can grab it themselves when they arrive each period. Sites like Busy Teacher, englishwsheets and LanternFish are awesome sites to hunt and gather from. ISL Collective is good - you do have to register, but it's free. Do remember:

  • Show them where the 'in tray' is so that they can place them here for marking;

  • You really must mark their work! Add stickers and hand-drawn emojis to help provide feedback. Do make corrections - especially with spelling and vocabulary.

  • Give lots of positive reinforcement.

  • Those with top English skills (eg the ones from Europe on short English exchanges) could perhaps work through an Achievement Standard task booklet or something like a film review. Keep a few of these handy (or share the google doc versions with them to work through digitally).

  • Those with English skills at a medium level could perhaps work through Unit Standard tasks.

  • Perhaps some EL task booklets? I'm just beginning to write a few of these. They are available here if you'd like to use these.

  • (Note: most task booklets aligned for NZ Achievement and Unit Standards will shortly be available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store without the achievement criteria if you're looking just for the activity.)

Progress charts are brilliant. Grab one here - fill in today's or this week's worksheet/activity, then let them colour in the squares or add stickers as they complete things.

The 5-fingered fiddle. Well that's what I call it anyway! Not sure if something you've provided is at the right reading level? Simply:

Get the student to read (aloud) one page of the text.

Each time the student:

a. cannot read a word, or

b. stumbles too much, or

c. stops to tell you they does not know the meaning of a word

count it on your fingers.

If you get to 5, then:

  • The text is too difficult and

  • The student is reading (or not!) at a frustration level.

Remember, vocabulary first. Whatever you give them, ask them to highlight words they don't know first, then add them to a vocabulary list in their exercise book, writing the definition in their own language. Check out our Literacy Lifesaver or this Godsend (do NOT be put off by the ugly brown cover - it is GOLD!)


Have board games on hand! Games like Pictionary and Scrabble are brilliant.


Empathize - what would help YOU understand if they were communicating to you in Chinese? What would you need? How would you be feeling? What things would make you feel more comfortable?


Find out what they REALLY think with Smiley face cards - soooooo many of my fee-paying students would tell me that something I gave them was fine (lots of smiles and thumbs up), but then when I gave them my emoji chart and asked them to point to the face that suited, they'd pick something quite the opposite!




Channel your skills in differentiation. Whatever you're giving your 'regular' students to do can be adapted for your English language learners. Carol Ann Tomlinson, differentiation guru, suggests using guides such as:

  • Straight Ahead, Uphill and Mountainous tasks, or you could use

  • Must do, should do, and could do

You'll find it's easy as you write activities on the board to ensure the 'Straight Ahead' or 'Must do' tasks are achievable for your ESL (aka ESOL) student. The example below might be too difficult, but you get the idea! For handy board cues and worksheet templates making use of this strategy, click here. Keeping them at least vaguely included in the same topic the rest of the class is working on will make them feel more included.




Keep it simple. Remember, key words only, and give instructions:

  • Using key words only

  • In written and verbal form

  • By acting out what you want them to do

  • Using numbering.

For example: 1. Highlight [show highlighter] new vocabulary. 2. Read this. 3. How do you feel? ...and so on.


Find opportunities to interact with other students. A questionnaire can act as a safety net as they take it to six students in their class for example. Even if they don't have to speak directly to the other students, they still interact through smiling, saying thank you, handing over the questionnaire etc. It's a great way to break some ice!


Spend some time getting to know your new students. It's easy to think, 'tomorrow' when you're rushing through your lessons and managing your 30 other students.



Now...set aside some time to get prepared, or perhaps create shared folders - one digitally, one hard copy - that everyone in the department can contribute to. Many hands and all that. You've got this!



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