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EAL | ELL | English as an Additional Language | English Language Learner | multilingual learner | secondary school

Practical Tips for Teaching Multilingual Learners

As educators, our classrooms are vibrant, diverse spaces where students bring unique backgrounds and experiences. One of the fastest-growing groups in our schools is multilingual learners.

Other phrases that are sometimes used to describe multilingual learners include English Language Learners (ELLs), English as an Additional Language (EAL), and Limited English Proficiency (LEP). In this blog post, we’ll refer to ‘multilingual learners’ as a catch-all term.

These students, who come from non-English-speaking homes and face challenges in communicating fluently in English, enrich our classrooms with their cultural perspectives. However, if you’re teaching multilingual learners, it’s important to recognize that they often need specialized support in order to succeed academically.

Here are eight stress-free strategies for supporting multilingual students in secondary schools.

1. Plan for Small Group or Think-Pair-Share Discussions

Small group discussions provide a comfortable environment for multilingual students to express their ideas. In these settings, they can practice their language skills without the fear of making mistakes in front of a large group. Implementing think-pair-share activities also encourages them to engage with peers, discuss concepts, and build confidence. Offering specific talking points can further scaffold their learning experience.

Students in a group smiling

2. Offer Extra Support with Subject-Specific Vocabulary

Academic vocabulary, especially in subjects like science, can be daunting for multilingual students. Using flashcards with images can help bridge this gap. Providing extra support through visual aids and simplified explanations ensures these students grasp key concepts while learning English.

3. Provide Visual Learning Materials

Visual aids are invaluable for multilingual students who are still mastering English. Diagrams, charts, graphs, maps, and photos can all be used to integrate visual elements in your lessons. These resources not only aid comprehension but also enhance critical thinking and analytical skills. Multisensory instructional strategies benefit all students and are particularly effective for those learning English.

4. Engage Students with Oral Language Practice

Listening and speaking are crucial components of language acquisition. Bring speeches, presentations, and educational videos such as TED Talks into your teaching. These resources expose students to sophisticated vocabulary and pronunciation in context. Follow-up discussions and writing assignments based on these materials can deepen their understanding and practice.

5. Make Use of Reading Comprehension Strategies

Tap into students’ prior knowledge with strategies like the K-W-L chart (Know, Want to Know, Learned). Explicit instruction on cognates—words that have similar meanings, spellings, and pronunciations in different languages—can significantly boost comprehension and language skills. Where possible, partnering with literacy specialists can also provide valuable support.

6. Establish a Regular Class Structure

Consistency and routine are essential for all students, but especially for multilingual learners. A well-structured classroom reduces anxiety and helps multilingual students to focus on academic content. Clear routines for seating, homework submission, and class activities free up cognitive resources. Using rubrics for assignments provides clarity on expectations, helping students to meet success criteria.

7. Allow Strategic Use of Students’ First Language

Encourage students to use their first language strategically. Allow them to brainstorm or pre-write in their native language before translating their thoughts into English. This approach helps them grasp concepts more comfortably. Facilitating peer discussions in their first language can also provide a social and cognitive break, making the learning process less overwhelming.

8. Integrate Technology in the Learning Experience

Tech tools can be hugely helpful for the development of students’ English skills. Digital teaching and learning resources can be more easily adapted and customized to meet students’ individual needs than physical textbooks. Spending dedicated time integrating these tools ensures that all students can make the most of them.

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Empower Multilingual Learners to Succeed

Supporting multilingual students requires a blend of empathy, creativity, and practical strategies. By implementing these eight tips, teachers can create an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity and promotes academic success for all. Remember, you are your students’ greatest resource. Your dedication and innovation can make a profound difference in their educational journey.