Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Policies and Procedures for Reaching Newcomers

One of the questions I most frequently get asked as an ELL teacher is how I deal with new non-English speakers on their very first day or week. Newcomers are a challenge, to be sure, but they're also my very favorite class to teach. Here are some of our important routines that help them to fit right in and start learning basic English the very first day:

1. Songs

If you ask me about teaching newcomers, the very first thing I will point you to is songs. I learn and retain information so much better with a song and a video, and there are so many good, simple songs out there for practicing vocabulary and sentence structure! Here's a link to my YouTube playlist so you can check out some of the songs I use for yourself, or check out one of my favorites below:

You may be thinking that these songs are really young for some of your students, and I have the same problem. My fifth grade boys aren't always enthusiastic about the songs, but I've found that offering them choice of which old songs we get to sing helps them to be more invested. 

2. Oral Language Routine

We use our oral language routine as a spiral review time. With every vocabulary unit we finish, I add a new question to the oral language routine, which they will practice regularly in order to maintain the vocabulary they have learned.

We go around in a circle, asking and answering questions so that everyone has a turn practicing each question. Some of the questions we ask and answer are:

  • How are you?
  • What did you eat for breakfast?
  • What are you wearing?
  • Who is in your family?
  • How old are you?
  • What do you look like?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • What did you do after school yesterday?

3. The First Week Bag

When new students first arrive, they get a bag from me with a few things in it. I usually get the bags from the dollar aisle in Target- their Dr. Seuss bags are so cute and perfect for what I need.

Photo via http://www.allthingstarget.com/category/dollar-spot/
I also stock up on the Dr. Seuss color and shape flashcards to stick in the bags for new students to practice right away. Also in their first week bag is either a set of sight words cards or letter flashcards, depending on their literacy in their first language. I also send them home with one of these "Sparkle Readers" from Fran Kramer's TPT store - they are PERFECT for newcomers. One of the best TPT purchases I have ever made. Finally, I stick a book in there. Something simple with interesting pictures, because they'll be bringing books home and back in that bag for the rest of the year, and I want them to get in the habit even if they can't read it yet.

There's obviously a lot more to teaching newcomers, but I start with those three things and that at least gets them into our routine quickly. 

What about you? What tips and tricks do you have for a new student's very first day in the country?


  1. I love this...You have a great blog with some very helpful information. Thank you!

    1. Thank you! That's so sweet of you to say!