George Lucas Educational Foundation

3 Activities to Try With Your English Language Learners

3 Activities to Try With Your English Language Learners

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Student writing in a notebook

Back-to-school is upon many of us, I say many of us because in Canada we don’t start school until September. However, many of my US colleagues are preparing to be back next week or are already back in the classroom!

The first week of school is often so crucial in developing the connection and the relationship that we constantly talk about, that is teacher-student relationship. On the first day, I like to get to know my students, their likes, interests, and hobbies as I know many teachers do. So as we introduce ourselves to each other, I ask them to share either a fun fact about themselves, something interesting they did over the break, or to share their favourite tv/movie.

Throughout icebreakers and introductions, I notice that my ELL students start to feel more comfortable, with more smiles, laughter, and side chatter when someone says something funny. This indicates to me that English Language Learners need that extra personal interaction with the teacher and class as a whole to feel comfortable to communicate.

Find Someone Who

This is probably the most popular activity for the start of the school year, and always fun to try out in your classroom. They are basically customized worksheets with your own questions that you find fitting for your age group. You create questions based on the tagline: find someone who -- is a vegetarian, for example. Students will need to walk around the classroom and ask their classmates if they are a vegetarian. When this activity is happening the classroom often explodes with excitement that they often bring back with them once you reconvene together as a group.

Ask Me About

This activity gets a bit more on the personal level in that the conversation that comes out of the discussion amongst students is often deeper. In this activity, the teacher gives out cue cards to everyone. On the cards the students write 2-3 topics that they’re okay with discussing with their classmates. For example, ask me about: blogging, watching movies, and cooking Thai food. 

The conversations that come out of this activity are basic enough for ELL to understand and take part in, but they’re also deep enough to start forming their own relationships with other classmates. Working to build positive student-student relationships is also very important to foster in the classroom with ELLs, as these relationships impact their oral communication and social and interpersonal skills.

Ingredients of Me

This one is my favourite one, and I recently learned about it and shared it here. My friend and fellow educator Maha wrote about the procedure here.

This activity, while more on the individualistic side, really helped students see and figure out their interests, hobbies, and other things that consume their time throughout the day. It also allowed students to see commonalities between each other. This is of course beneficial to all students, but when ELLs see that they have many things in common with other classmates, especially classmates from different background than them, then it becomes especially important for them. One of the biggest challenges of being an ELL is feeling like an outsider. This activity allows students to reflect on their own interests, share it with others, and also to see how similar we all are.

How about you, what activities do you do with your ELLs at the start of the year?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA's picture
Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA
Advocate, Lawyer, Teacher and Founder of Beyond Tutoring

Rusul, I always look so forward to your posts. Great tips and tricks always. I do especially like Maha/your ingredients of me - that is just so much fun and definitely a way to tap those funds of knowledge and also at the very same time realize that everyone is, in the words of Carl Sagan, "made up of star stuff". Talk about two birds one stone!

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Thank you so much Katie! That's exactly what it's about, looking at the individual side but also allows everyone to appreciate who you are, including yourself. I've had students say, wow I've never realized I have a lot of things I do/care about. Thanks for being so supportive of my writing Katie <3

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