The Top Five Ways to Support ESL Learners

Teacher helping high school students with technology
Image source:

Do you feel uncomfortable when you visit a new place? I imagine how our students feel when they arrive to Canada. Not only are they here to learn English, but they’re also here to adapt to an unfamiliar culture.

Speaking from experience as a current ESL teacher and a former ESL learner, I thought I’d compile a short list of the top five ways that teachers can support their learners in their transition to help them adjust and become confident and effective learners.

1. Be observant.

Yes, we already observe our students as they work on something in class, but try to really monitor their behaviour to determine if there’s something more you can assist with. For example, I’ve had a student who was consistently nervous in class. She would tear up as soon as an independent task was distributed. After noticing this, I took her aside after class and informed her that she was in a safe learning environment and that I was there to help her. After a very long and, eventually, effective conversation, it turned out that all she needed was support such as praise, approval, permission to ask questions, and to work with a classmate to develop moral support and practice her English skills. So, I helped her, of course, and after some time, I noticed that she flourished and became more independent as time went on.

2. Be clear.

I’ve learned never to leave creating an assignment to the last minute because, although in my mind the instructions and the point of an assignment may be obvious, it’s not always easy to write them out clearly enough for all students to understand. You have to remember that certain students may interpret some instructions in a particular way and follow them incorrectly. So, take your time when writing any instructions and explain them using slower speech, visuals, intonation, examples, and written instructions along with verbal ones. Whenever I give instructions for a presentation, I make sure that I model my own presentation to my students.

3. Follow up on students.

We should always give positive and constructive feedback to students, but for those who sporadically attend or have stopped attending classes, we should try to stay in contact with them as well. I say this because I like to make each student feel accepted and acknowledged, and a friendly email from time to time does no harm. No one likes to feel ignored or forgotten, so email your students just to check in. They may not have any other support with what they’re going through, and putting a smile on their faces is worth it.

4. Praise your students.

Praise the students with behavioural problems. Yes, praise! Due to negative past experience, students who have behavioural problems may act as if they know everything, or as if everything they are learning is easy. Often times, we need to do more to stimulate them. Take them aside and tell them how you’ve noticed what they’re good at and how other students benefit from them being in that class. For instance, I’ve had a student who rarely respected the rules of the classroom, using his cell phone all the time instead of attempting to pay attention to lessons and working with others. I had to speak with him numerous times to remind him of the rules that were set for all students, but I’ve also complimented him on what he brings to his classmates’ learning, such as helping others understand certain concepts if they’re struggling while I am busy helping other students.

5. Learn about your learners.

Last but not least, provide opportunities throughout the term or school year for students to get to know one another and you. It can be scary to arrive to a new country for the first time and have to adapt to everything – routines, curriculum, culture, food, people, etc. Make sure that your teaching techniques and strategies also involve group work and fun activities where students get the chance to interact and share their opinions while learning English!

Do you have any strategies to help your learners succeed?

Martina Finnegan, being a former ESL learner from Bosnia, truly enjoys teaching ESL students! She has been teaching at Niagara College for 9 years and when she isn't in the classroom, she enjoys spending time with her family, going for walks, watching movies, and reading a good book!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *