Write it down


Avoid giving instructions “in the air”. Instructions – even basic directions for classroom procedures – should be written on the board whenever possible since EL kids have a harder time processing spoken language. Students who have been enrolled in school in Mexico, or their home country, are sometimes able to read English better than Listening to instructions. Students can decode it at a rate they feel comfortable with. Listening is one and done, where writing on the board can referred to throughout the lesson.

Challenging concepts can be diagrammed or supported with pictures. Modeling the steps of a process or showing students what a finished product should look like can go a long way toward helping students understand. Students can create the instructions themselves by looking a a finished product. Not only will this kind of non-linguistic representation improve comprehension for ELL students, it will help all of your students grasp concepts better.

Learn their stories


Newcomers come into school with a story that they have not shared yet. Ask them to share, learn their story why their family came here, what their interests are, goals they might have for their life. Provide emotional support for these students. Be the person that the student checks in with during a formal or informal setting. Check-ins can provide students with the following benefits:

  • Offers a sense of stability, minimizes fear of acculturation, provides companionship to bolster student’s sense of belonging and contribution to the school and community
  • Helps student focus their efforts to achieve social emotional and academic success
  • Offers consistent communication to help strengthen relations among families, students, schools, and the community
  • Offers regular support for the student
  • Provides a one-on-one opportunity to speak with adults in an informal, confidential environment
  • Establishes a reciprocal sense of trust and caring
  • Allows adults to work with teachers and support staff to connect student with relevant services and supports
  • Provides opportunities to strengthen problem-solving skills, attitudes, and experiences in ways that help students become engaged learners and members of their new community

If you cannot speak their home language and/or can’t find another staff person or student who can, using Google Translate is a very viable option. Using the audio translation mode, it will automatically provide verbal interpretation. It’s not perfect by any means, but you should be able to have a basic conversation.

Please keep in mind that student performance is not tied to their ability to learn content. Some students carry baggage with them that will only share when asked and may be in the way of their learning. There are students who are here on asylum, some whose parents have sent them here because they wanted a better or safer life for their child, some students move between states working in the field, and students may be living with a Tia or Tio, but remember they all have the ability to learn when they feel valued by someone in a safe setting.



false cognate

I want to let you in on a little secret. If you think you don’t know Spanish, you are wrong. There are thousands of words that are similar in both English and Spanish. Roughly about 30-40% of words in English are similar to Spanish words. These words are cognates and can be used to help ELD students who speak a Latin-based language. Words such as list (English) and lista (Spanish) to analyze (English) and analizar (Spanish) are recognizable in either language. These words should be easily understandable for all students once connection is made.

Strategies when working with Cognates

Read Aloud

When reading a text out loud have students raise their hands when they hear a word that they believe is a cognate. Stop, take a minute to discuss what the word means in Spanish and then in English

Student Reading

Ask students to find cognates as they read through a text. Have them write them on a sticky note. Before the end of the period have the students discuss the words, how they sound, what they mean and how they are spelled, what are the differences and commonalities. Collect them and then create a Class Cognate chart.

Word Sort

Have the students match Spanish words with their English counterparts.

Circling Differences

Have the students call out the letter differences between words. The teacher or students should circle the letters that are different.


Be careful of the False Cognates. These are words in English that sound like they have a Spanish equivalent. They do not. Some examples are as follows.


Greek and Latin roots that are also cognates






More information:

Colorin Colorado

Spanish Dictionary

Google Translate

meow speaks my language

There are currently 20 newcomers that have been here for less that 2 years. There are another 20 EL students that have been here for 5 years or less. These students are fairly easy to pick out in your class. Remember, your newcomer student is as intelligent as any native-English speaker you have in your classroom.  He/she is just new to the English language please, don’t make the mistakes of speaking loudly in English to them or giving them a seat at the very back of the room.


Incorporating Technology to help newcomers

Now that students have iPads please incorporate technology to help support them in understanding the language. By using Google Translate to allow them to communicate with others in class helps them to understand the content. Google translate allows students to translate language by taking a picture (it will recognize printed language and convert it) or it can be used to translate text to speech.


Please be aware Google Translate works better in translating academic language rather than slang.

Khan Academy is in Spanish

Youtube videos can be translated for newcomers also. By adding closed captions and auto translate a video in English can now be presented in Spanish or any other language that you choose

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There are a lot of other tools to help newcomers in the classroom. This is just a few options, others will be addressed through upcoming EL Mondays.