Learning Differences back Back to Tips for Teaching ESL Students

Many students have difficulty understanding instructions the first time through. It can be extremely helpful for students to have material presented in a variety of ways. For example, instructions for homework assignments might be given orally, on an overhead, and posted to the class web forum.

Don't despair when students don't seem to "get it." Patiently explain assignments more than once, and if necessary, dismiss class a few minutes early on occasion to give extra time to students who are especially confused.

Don't hesitate to recommend outside resources. Refer students to the Writing Center, the on-line Writing Center, and the Office for International Students.

Have students sit in a circle so they can see one another. This aids in understanding when another student is speaking.

Repeat back what students say in conversation. For instance, "So what Shavkat is saying is that Shen learned to develop both an English and Chinese identity, is that right Shavkat?" This gives you a chance to make sure you understand the speaker's point, and it gives the other students an opportunity to hear the speaker's point again if they missed it the first time.

Put students in small groups as much as possible. It's easier for students to understand one another when they are in groups, and quieter students are more likely to participate in smaller groups (this is particularly true of female students, who may not speak out as frequently). This also gives students opportunities to form friendships within the class.

Don't feel compelled to stick rigidly by your lesson plan or schedule if it doesn't seem to be working. Students may need more time than you anticipate with certain material. Be flexible. It will help the students relax and learn more.

Ask your students, "Are there any questions?" or "Do you understand what we're doing here?" frequently. Sometimes ESL students are too shy to speak up when they don't understand. They are often afraid they are the only one in the class that doesn't "get it," which is hardly ever true. If a student looks puzzled, don't be afraid to ask him/her directly if there is a question -- "Chiemi, you look confused. Am I making sense?"

Allow a relationship to develop between you and your students. The best part of teaching period is getting to know your students better, and ESL students are fascinating, fun people. While it's true they have much to learn from you, the learning goes both ways. Teaching ESL students is a rich experience if you allow it.