Schoolwide professional development requires careful planning to ensure that participants are both engaged and inspired. Activities need to motivate educators to apply what they’ve learned to support their students.
In the following model, educators explore themed stations to gain background information about English language learners (ELLs), experience what it might feel like to be an ELL, and explore methodologies to support this population.
Setting up the stations
Set up each station in a separate space or room so that participants can circulate through the stations of their choice at their own pace. Each station has discussion questions and supplemental materials, including electronic devices with access to Google Translate, paper, and writing implements. Participants can use a note catcher to document what they’ve learned and brainstorm action plans for adapting their experience in each station to their own work.
For reference, it’s helpful for participants to have a list of home languages that are represented in the school community. The atmosphere of each station can have calming background sounds, visuals of nature projected on a screen, and props that support the activity. This is similar to classroom activities that support ELLs who are likely to experience stress and anxiety due to cultural, linguistic, and social barriers.
The following are three categories of stations, with multiple stations in each category and instructions for each station. You can adapt the hyperlinked resources to match the ELL population of your school district.
Stations that provide background about ELLs
Understanding terminology: It’s helpful to provide background information about the history of the terminology that’s been used to describe English language learners. It can be helpful in understanding how the language we employ has an impact on how we view this population of students.
Providing historical context and way of life in the home country: Watch a portion of a documentary about a country or region of the world that’s represented among your ELL population. Here are samples about the history of Mexico, Venezuela, and Thailand, as well as ways of life in Guatemala, Mexico, and Latin America.
Recognizing cultural nuances: Here are an article that highlights simple ways of being mindful of cultural differences and a guide to cultural differences. Becoming familiar with the cultural nuances of every student in your classroom isn’t realistic, but being sensitive and open to understanding the impact of culture can tremendously help the connection with these learners and their families.
Reading personal narratives: Read essays written by immigrant students that reflect their experiences, including their life in their home country, emigrating, and their new life in the United States. A personal narrative can evoke a deep sense of empathy among readers, such as student essays from their English language arts classes.
Stations that help educators feel what it is like to be an ELL
Looking inside an English language learner’s mind: Draw two stick figures with a large thought bubble over each of their heads. In the first bubble, write five to eight thoughts in English that an ELL in your classroom might have on a typical school day. Translate these thoughts into their home language, and write them in the second bubble.
Listening to English as a nonnative speaker: You can use video to give an idea of what English sounds like to nonnative speakers. The actors use an English-sounding language mixed with recognizable words to simulate hearing the language from the perspective of a nonnative speaker.
Writing: Write a one-paragraph journal entry in English, similar to what you might assign in your class. Translate this text into a home language of your ELLs, and write the translation on a piece of paper. Choose a language that you have little to no familiarity with.
Reading: Read a text provided in a language other than English without stopping or taking focus off the paper for five to eight minutes. Look at every piece of text on the page even if you don’t understand it.
Listening: Listen to a lecture in a language other than English. Do not stop the lecture, and don’t get distracted for at least five to eight minutes.
Speaking: Use an online translator to have a simple conversation with a partner in a language other than English. Type what you want to communicate into the translator, listen to an audio of the translation to hear the pronunciation, and then read the translated text aloud to your partner. Show your partner the English text so that they understand what you said, and continue this method of communication for 10 minutes, alternating between participants in your group.
Stations that provide methods for supporting ELLs
Understanding basic methods for teaching language learners: Watch a short video of foundational teaching methods introducing ways that educators can support multilingual learners.
Translating authentic text into simple English: Choose a text from your Google Classroom or online that you would use with your students, and translate five to eight sentences into simple English. Do this by simplifying the grammar and vocabulary as if you are talking to a 6-year-old native speaker of English. Having the facility to quickly and easily restate language in simple terms can help educators when communicating with ELLs.
Learning common vocabulary in a language other than English: Make a list of words related to your subject area. Translate these into another language, and click the speaker button to listen to the pronunciation of each word. On index cards, write these words and their translations to show your students later. Ask them to check for accuracy and model pronunciation. Incorporate these words in future exchanges with your ELLs.
Connecting with home: Write personalized comments about a few of your ELLs. Translate these comments, and write them on individual note cards or in an email to send to their parents or guardians at a later time. Receiving such messages in the home language, even with some grammatical errors, will surely be appreciated. (You may want to mention that you used an electronic translator.)
Making time for fresh air: Walk outside through the school garden, greenhouse, or playground, or around the school building. Identify the spaces that you can utilize for educational purposes, and discuss how and why outdoor time can be beneficial for ELLs, socially and emotionally as well as academically.
Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment: Draw a picture of your classroom, your office, or any space in or around the school building. Then add three things that might make the space more welcoming to ELLs—for example, flags from the students’ home countries or multilingual signs. The physical environment in which we learn can have a strong impact on how we feel and behave, and it can even be a source of inspiration.
Incorporating mindfulness: Participate in this five-minute mindfulness video. Dim the lights, relax on a yoga ball, get comfortable with pillows. ELLs often have a heightened sense of stress and anxiety, and as a result, their minds may be racing with multiple distractions. Sharing this exercise with ELLs can help calm their thoughts and regulate their emotions.
Acknowledging multilingualism as an asset: Watch this video about the gift that all ELLs share. The video acknowledges that multilingualism should be recognized, encouraged, and celebrated in the classroom. After completing some or all of the stations, participants review their note catcher and make a cumulative action plan individually or with their group.
Supporting ELLs requires a district-wide level of understanding among all educators. This is achievable, in part, through meaningful professional development.