Editor’s Note: I recently invited readers to contribute short posts about their experiences teaching adult English Language Learners. Many have responded – and there’s room for more!
This first post is by Antoinette Perez.
Antoinette Perez is currently a High School English and ELD Teacher in Ventura, California. She also works as a Language and Cultural Instructor to adult ELLs. She enjoys cooking, watching baseball, and traveling around the world to visit her former international students.
Teaching ELLs at any level can be challenging, but it can be the most rewarding part of the job. As a Cultural and Language Instructor and High School Teacher, I’ve learned that different strategies work for different levels. For primary and secondary ELLs, grouping students by level (by language, reading level, or fluency level) is great in the early stages of learning a new language. As students master routines, concepts, and foundational skills, it’s helpful to mix the groups. To do this, create cooperative learning groups made up of beginning, intermediate, and advanced speakers to provide students with opportunities to teach and learn from one another.
I’ve also implemented a 4-rotation model this year, where students work in stations for 25-minute rotations. In these stations, students work on a variety of tasks from small group instruction, grammar games, and reading comprehension, to independent reading, partner conversations, and fluency recordings. This keeps students engaged in new learnings every 25 minutes. I should note that I’m lucky enough to have a 2-period block with my ELD group, but this can easily be done over two instructional periods or in smaller increments It’s not only rewarding to see students get excited to learn, but it’s also rewarding to see the progress they make on their own.
For adults, the possibilities are endless. Many of them have already established the foundational skills in their L1, so I’ve found that they are faster learners. Speaking and using the language as much as possible is key. Sometimes that’s reading and discussing articles or current events, and sometimes it’s an informal conversation. I’ve spent hours preparing lessons and quality assignments that are adult-friendly, but all of my adult ELLs have favored having 1-1 conversations. Finding interesting topics to discuss is quite easy, especially when asking people to talk about themselves or their goals. One strategy I’ve found that works well with adults is making the content relative to them—whether that’s business related or personal, it makes all the difference. Getting to know ELLs on a personal level helps, and it becomes easier to create individualized lessons or tasks. The rewarding part is the fact that ELLs are learning English, but what’s more is being responsible for helping them build the confidence needed to speak it.
My favorite part of working with ELLs is the reciprocal learning. It’s about the culture, the language, and the way of life. It’s about embracing multiculturalism and showing ELLs that their language plays a vital role in learning a new language and culture. Sometimes, I ask students how to say words in their language and they get to laugh at me when I butcher them, and then I get to be one of them for a moment. It lowers their affective filter and helps build community, which is totally worth the laughs I get when they see me embarrass myself. I guess it comes with the territory.