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Educator-Approved Strategies for Supporting ESL Students

Diversity in STEM

According to the latest available survey data, English as a Second Language (ESL) students represent 10.4% of the K-12 population in the United States. While these students do not fundamentally learn in a different way as compared to their peers whose first language is English, they do need and deserve different types of educational support to help them thrive.

In an article published by Eutopia, Emily Kaplan, a journalist and former educator, interviewed ESL professionals and distilled these conversations into a series of strategies to directly support this population of students. A few of these include:


Cultivating Relationships and Being Culturally Responsive

Educators must ensure that all students feel they are respected and supported at school. To this end, it’s crucial not to force ESL students to subvert their culture or language. Emily Francis, an ESL teacher at Concord High School in North Carolina, believes it is always important for educators to ask themselves how their students are feeling in a classroom environment.

"The first thing that I need to think about is, how is my student feeling in my classroom?” Francis said in the article. “Are they sitting next to a buddy they can ask a question in their home language?”

Francis also recommends that schools do what they can to encourage an appreciation for the importance of diversity, both within curricula and by creating classroom libraries that reflect all students’ backgrounds and cultural identities.


Emphasizing Productive Language

The educators interviewed believe that productive language skills, hard-to-master components of language fluency that include writing and speaking, should play a central component in an ESL curriculum – even if students might feel reluctant or shy about their abilities.

To support those who might feel hesitant, Tan Huynh, an accomplished ESL educator, recommends using sentence frames that include helpful context clues.

“For example, when a science teacher wants [ESL students] to produce a hypothesis, they might offer the sentence, ‘If ___ was added, then ___ because ___.’ This sentence frame provides clues that empower [English Language Leaners] to sound and think like scientists.”


Speaking Slowly and Increasing Your Wait Time

Valentina Gonzalez, an ESL educator and author, recommends educators spend a little more time both speaking in English, and allowing ESL students to respond.

“Adding in an extra three to five seconds after we pose a question offers all students time to think,” Gonzalez said in the article. “However, for English learners, it also gives time to translate, process their thinking, translate back into English, and develop the courage to answer. If we call on students too quickly, many of our students will stop thinking about the answers—or trying to answer at all.”

Larry Ferlazzo, an educator at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California, agrees with Gonzalez. In the article, he explains that even adding just a few more seconds between asking a question and expecting students to respond, produces a quality of responses that can be “astronomically greater.”


Learn How to Support ESL Students Through Invention Education

Interested in learning how you can support ESL students through hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) experiences? We invite you to visit our blog to learn how Florida’s Pinellas County School District did just that by implementing a customized invention education program!

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