How to Provide a Welcoming Environment to your Newcomer



Congratulations,  You have a multi- cultural student in your classroom!

Beginning school can be stressful to all students, especially a non-native speaker.  Here’s what you should know about creating a welcoming environment for your incoming English Language Learner (ELL) students.

Key points to creating a welcoming environment:

  • Assign a well- intentioned peer buddy that can provide assistance when needed. Provide plenty of picture books, or better yet, books in your student’s native language in your classroom library.
  • Learn to properly pronounce your newcomer’s name.
  • Prepare the class for your newcomer’s arrival, if possible (see me for ideas or invite me to address the class).
  • Physically show the new student how to manage the daily routines, including the lunch room and procedures.
  • Ascertain your newcomer’s language proficiency level.  This is obtained by your ELL specialist.  The levels range from No English Spoken to 6, similar to native-like proficiency.  Your ELL teacher will inform you of assessment results early in the year.  Then see the WIDA Can Do Descriptors Link to see what your new student is able to do.
  • Keep in mind that learning a language is a process.  It happens over a period of time (a beginner could take five to seven years to reach grade proficiency).
  • If your newcomer is in the “silent stage”, a beginner with no spoken English, alert any school personnel, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, and specialists of the fact.  A comfortable environment will enhance your newcomer’s transition.
  • When speaking to your new student it is not necessary to speak loudly- they can hear you, but they may not understand you.  It is important to speak at an appropriate pace, not too fast or too slow, and to enunciate clearly.
  • Use of gestures and body language when appropriate will help your new student better understand what you are saying.
  • Use pictures whenever possible, clip photos or use clip art then post pictures with key words and phrases on the wall.
  • Write key words for all lessons,  especially directions, on the white board.  You could  draw a picture!
  • Encourage parent participation and sharing of cultural holidays and celebrations.  Maybe your newcomer can teach the class some new words in their native language.
  • And remember to smile.  Your newcomer may not know what you are saying, but they can read your expressions.

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My Students are here. Now what do I do?

chalk board for blogSo you read about creating a welcoming environment for your beginning level English Language Learners (ELLs) and now you need to go to the next step.  Did you remember to:

  • Write key words on the white board?
  • Plan lessons with  pictures, gestures and realia?  If not, it is not too late- find a photo from Google Image, clip art, or Flickr to display while you are teaching.
  • You could give your ELL a graphic organizer to sort or classify vocabulary.
  • When modeling and teaching safety vocabulary, don’t be too concerned if you need to offer translation in their native language.  It will not hurt the acquisition progress.  Go to or purchase the google translate app for free on your I phone.  It will even say the word in the student’s native language.
  • Did you speak when facing the students, not the board?  Sounds odd, but it happens.
  • Avoid colloquialisms and idioms?
  • Provide explicit directions for homework?  Including writing the homework assignment on the board.  The beginning ESOL student can copy if allowed time.
  • So far, so good.
  • We are still smiling, right?  Trying to?  Don’t give up… it will get better!
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What Strategies Work Best for Pre-Production ELLs?


  Wondering how to include your newcomer?

IMG_1905 Most importantly you want your student to feel comfortable so he or she does not shut down.   Yes, stress is proven to have a negative effect on language acquisition because it heightens    the  “affective filter”.  The lower the stress, the lower the affective filter.  Think of the affective  filter as a screen that filters input as it enters the brain.  This filter is ineffective when  our ELL  students are anxious or stressed.  It lowers or works when we make our students comfortable.

 So how do you make your student comfortable?

Start by finding out what your student “can do”.  “Can do descriptors” can be obtained from your  ELL specialist.  They will explain what your student is able to do in listening, speaking, reading and writing.  This data is obtained from the WIDA ACCESS test students are give in in January or February of the prior school year.  If your student is new to the district chances are they were given the test in their last school.  If not, your ELL specialist can provide you with results of an English language pre-screen assessment that will help you evaluate your student’s strengths.

Let’s think about this a little more.  Put yourself in the student’s shoes for just a minute.  Assume you are given a task that you have yet to learn or suppose you know it but you can not find the words to explain yourself in a comprehensible way.  How would you respond?   Responses could vary but chances are there will be stress.

Eliminate stress by giving your students alternate ways of accessing the content.

Not all assignments or tasks need be applied in a whole group or traditional teacher- directed method.  Do not be afraid to experiment with cooperative learning structures or assigning project- based assignments.   Don’t worry about rigor and relevance.  Allowing your class to participate in new teaching and learning structures can still be measured with high expectations.  What you will find is that as you begin to use these new strategies, your students will gradually take responsibility for their own learning leaving you time to observe their progress.  It is interesting that their learning grows as your effort lightens.

I must warn you though, you will need to spend time planning engaging lessons.  

Once you do, I promise, you will get a break for while your students are applying their learning, you are getting formative assessments off your to do list!

Why is a cooperative learning structure right for ELL students? 

Cooperative learning takes the spotlight off your ELL student and allows the student to observe others, share in decision making and take on a meaningful role that will heighten his or her motivation.  It offers all students the chance to participate equally. Similarly, kinesthetic response modes can be easily integrated into structures such as RoundTable, RallyTable, and others so students can demonstrate concepts through manipulatives or drawing structures could prove to be your number one essential tool for ELL success. offers suggestions for mainstream teachers who are challenged by serving multiple levels of ELs in their classrooms.

These Kagan strategies have been helpful to me in the past with newcomers or students in the pre-production level of proficiency:

Kagan Structures:

  • Line-Ups
  •  Formations,
  • Mix-Freeze-Group,
  • Similarity Groups
  • Corners


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How Important is your Daily Routine to your Newcomer?

communicationfolder4An important first step in designing an inclusive classroom is to critically analyze your students’ daily routine. This includes access to instructional materials.

Here are some reflection questions:

  • Is the material I am giving my student representative of their language proficiency level?
  • Will the diverse language abilities and cultures represented in my classroom be able to follow this anchor chart, worksheet, assessment, homework, classroom assignment or communication note that is being sent home?

Research has shown that students’ development of knowledge and perceptions of both themselves and others is significantly affected by the classroom instructional materials they encounter (Hirschfelder, 1982); this is especially true for EL students and others who might also be navigating the acculturation process at the same time (Ndura, 2004).

You can help your newcomer assimilate into the classroom routine by:

  • Providing your newcomer with all resources available to other students, name tag, home communication folder and such.
  • Assigning a buddy (preferably a student who speaks the newcomer’s language).
  • Including your newcomer in all classroom routines by planning cooperative learning opportunities whereby the newcomer has a role.
  • Scaffolding classroom expectations and assignments to align to what your student “can do.”
  • Modifying or accommodating all assessments. (See your ESOL specialist on how to begin this process.)

Classroom Routines

Your newcomer can participate in all classroom activities. In fact, he or she is keenly aware of everything that is happening in the classroom and will mimic the actions of others. For this reason, be sure to be consistent with daily routines and resources. Assign your newcomer a task of copying, matching pictures, tracing, being the timekeeper during group work or drawing. There are numerous activities he or she can do. Using the Blooms Taxonomy Chart, look at DOK level one. Then assign a language objective that meets the needs of your standard or assignment goal. Give your newcomer a task that fits both the verb from the DOK chart as well as the lesson objective. Be sure to scaffold the student with pictures, manipulatives or graphic organizers.  If you need help getting started, contact your ESOL specialist.

Home/School Connections

Be observant of what materials you are sending home. How much English is read at home? Important materials can be translated into the family’s native language.

Is your student’s home communication folder clearly labeled? By marking each side of the folder KEEP AT HOME and RETURN TO SCHOOL you will be helping the family understand what is expected of the home/school materials.


All students should receive formative and summative assessments. See your ESOL specialist for tips on modifying and accommodating assessments based on your students “can do” level of proficiency.

Want to learn more? Check out this list of the top 14 principles for ELL instruction in the mainstream classroom.

What teachers should know about instruction for ELLs

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Formative Assessment Tool to use with Newcomers

Perhaps you are wondering if you are reaching your ELL newcomer.  Try this simple formative assessment.

  1. Make two cards and at the top of one card illustrate a question mark and on the other illustrate a light bulb.  The question mark card is for concepts not understood by the student and the light bulb card represents concepts understood.
  2. Model how to use the cards to your student by writing a single academic concept word or drawing a picture to represent your question or your understanding of that concept.
  3. If this assessment strategy proves useful you can expand upon it by rating the understanding with numbers.

Ask your ELL teacher to help provide comprehensible input for your content in the ESOL classroom, especially once you have identified specific challenges facing your newcomer.

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