Supporting Elementary Newcomers

Supporting Elementary Newcomers

Supporting Newcomer ELLs in Elementary School

Newcomer students receive some support from an ESOL teacher in most elementary schools. The majority of their time is spent in their grade level classroom. Here are some strategies for supporting a newcomer student in their grade level classroom.

Differentiate Assignments

In the beginning, you will likely do more modifying of the assignment. The learning goal might be different for your newcomer student. You might instruct them to listen to a read-aloud and try to remember five new words from the story. During writing, give them simple sentence frames so that they can practice basic vocabulary. If the class is working on writing a personal narrative, the sentence frame might be: “I live in a _____.”

Over time you will provide more accommodations such as vocabulary sheets and sentence starters so that the student can achieve the same results on an assignment as their classmates.

“Teachers can encourage better learning outcomes by providing opportunities for students to actively participate and interact with one another in relation to the subject matter (Haynes & Zacarian, 2010).” For a newcomer, this might mean having pictures available as part of a science unit that the student can point to and sort until they are comfortable speaking and writing.

Use Peer Tutors

A peer tutor can be an effective way to support a newcomer student. Even a responsible kindergartener can take on this role.

Shadow a Student

In kindergarten, a newcomer can complete most tasks that other students are working on but may need to see it in action or hear the directions repeated. He or she can have a partner that they follow and work on the same activities in parallel. In the beginning, they may be primarily copying but that is fine.

Playing a Review Game

This is a great activity for math. The partner can go over the rules of a math game. While the students are playing, the partner is reviewing math skills and the newcomer student is practicing math and practicing speaking English.

Consider giving the newcomer speaking prompts of helpful phrases while they are playing the game. This includes:  “Your turn” “My turn” “Please say that again” “Can you show me how”

In upper grades, a peer tutor can read simple directions as a newcomer student is practicing basic vocabulary.

Use Visuals and Modeling

Modeling the steps to an assignment and behavior expectations is beneficial for all students. This is especially true for ELLs. Consider showing an example of a finished assignment. Writing out directions with a visual is helpful for all students and can help them stay on track when they are working independently. For a newcomer, they might only comprehend a small part of the directions when you are verbally giving them, but be able to understand more as they review the visual and writing directions. In addition, visual pictures can help students to learn new vocabulary.

Practicing Basic Vocabulary

It is important for a newcomer student to take part in most of the activities that the rest of the class is participating in through differentiation. It is also important for them to learn basic English vocabulary so that they can communicate. Have one or two responsible students work with the newcomer student as a peer tutor. The peer tutor can play a vocabulary game, read a book, or go over the directions for basic vocabulary practice.

File Folder Games are a fun way to practice basic vocabulary. I have ready-made sets available to help save you time.

home vocabulary file folder game

Also, take a look at this basic vocabulary mini book and supporting worksheets. The worksheets are an easy way for a newcomer student to practice writing basic school vocabulary. Their peer tutor can read the vocabulary words to them and then the newcomer student can work independently writing them.

School vocab mini book

Use Materials that Highlight the Newcomers Culture

In elementary school newcomer, students will range from those that have never attended school before to students that are able to read and write in their native language.

Find Read Alouds that Have Words in the Students Native Language

Sharing a book with familiar language is a great way to make your newcomer student feel more at ease. It is also a great way to show other students in the class how it feels to not understand everything that is being said and build empathy. Here are some resources for finding bilingual audiobooks.

International Children’s Digital Library– This is a free database of books in multiple languages. At this time there are 5 books available in audio format in Spanish and English. Search for “audio.”

The Fable Cottage– This site has audiobooks available in multiple languages. The available languages are English, Spanish, German, French, Italian. There are additional fairy tales available on a partner site

Include Books about the Newcomers Culture

Check your classroom library and see if it has books with characters and settings from the student’s culture and home country. Look for both fiction and nonfiction books. Your school and public library are great places to find books to supplement your collection. For book ideas, I have lists of diverse books on a variety of subjects.

Lists of Diverse Books for ELLs

In Conclusion

It can be highly rewarding to have a newcomer join your school. Are there any additional strategies that you have found helpful for working with newcomer students?


The ELL Teacher’s Toolbook 

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