November 7, 2012

Guest Post: "Helpful Advice for New ESL Teachers"

Hi guys!  I've been taking a mini-break from blogging as I get deal with a mess of end of trimester grading, get my report cards squared away, and finish projects for a grad class that's wrapping up next week.  I'll be back in action once I have my feet back on the ground (hopefully that actually happens!), but in the mean time I'm happy to bring you a guest post from Katheryn Rivas, a blogger for  I shared with Katheryn that I am adjusting to me new role teaching a level 1 ELL student who is a newcomer from Syria, and she agreed to write a guest post sharing some helpful tips for teaching English Language Learners. Enjoy!  :)

Helpful Advice for New ESL Teachers
Being an ESL teacher is no easy job, and it is especially overwhelming when you are new to the game. However, it is also a highly rewarding job that can easily put a smile on your face with every small classroom accomplishment.

If you are new to ESL teaching, you probably have days where you aren't sure if your students will ever learn English! Don't worry; they will. Just keep doing your thing, and everything will fall into place. In the meantime, it helps to search for inspiration and support from other ESL teachers who have been through the same thing as you. Below is a little bit of helpful advice to get you started.

Find a Translator
If possible, ask your school district if they would consider hiring a temporary translator to assist you and your students. The translator does not need a teaching degree, but they must be fluent in both English and your students' first language. This person will serve as the bridge between the teacher and her ESL classroom, until the students know enough of the English language to function on their own. If your school district does not have enough funds to hire a translator, see if you can't find someone who would be interested in volunteering; for example, a college student who is studying your students' first language.

Use is a great online resource that can be used to quickly clear up misunderstandings in communication. For example, let's say one of your ESL students is trying to communicate something to you, but they don't know how to say it in English yet. You can ask them to write it down in their first language on a piece of paper, and then use to translate the phrase or sentence into English. can be used to translate words, phrases and sentences from 15 different languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish.

Make a Connection
Imagine that you are one of your students, and try to understand how difficult it would be to learn another language from a teacher who doesn't speak your first language? First, it would be very hard to learn to trust someone with whom you cannot hold a conversation. Second, it would be very frustrating and tiring to try to learn something when you can't ask questions about what you are learning. One way to mitigate this difficult situation is to try to find a way to make a meaningful connection with each of your students. Try learning a few words and phrases in their language. They will appreciate your effort and see that you are truly interested in getting to know them and converse with them. Also, if you have a translator, spend one day in class for "show and tell." This will allow everyone to get to know each other a little better and ease anxieties.

Get Parents or Guardians Involved
If your ESL students are learning English because they are living in a region where English is the predominant language, it is highly important that their parents or guardians play a role in their education. Explain to the parents how important it is for their children to practice their second language outside of the classroom, and encourage them to enroll in an adult ESL class at a local community center or with a private teacher. If your ESL students never speak English at home or in other public spaces, they will have a very difficult time gaining fluency, so parents must also speak English with their children to increase fluency.

Do you have experience as an ESL teacher? If so, what advice do you have for new instructors?
Katheryn Rivas is a freelance writer and blogger for In addition to writing about all things education, Katheryn also enjoys covering topics related to technology, business and career advancement. Please send any questions or comments to her at

Got any suggestions for teaching ELL students?


  1. I teach mostly ELL students. Many of them are in the advanced/proficient stage or are in the intermediate range so their English is better than someone who just moved here, although I've had students who are newcomer ELLs as well.

    Personally I am a fan of the Sheltered English model and would highly recommend any newbie of teaching ELLs read up on it or better yet take a class/workshop if you can.

  2. I look on the net for resources that read to my students. Their understanding of spoken English is usually much better than their written vocabulary. Thinking of Thanksgiving at the moment, I can recommend the First Thanksgiving unit at It reads everything on the student pages. Another unit for later in the year that does the same thing is on the Underground Railroad


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