4 Strategies for Working with Newcomer EB Students

High school newcomer emergent bilingual student laughing with classmates at desk

Embarking on learning English as a Newcomer in the United States presents many challenges, especially when adjusting to a new school environment. However, as educators, we can support and guide these students toward success in their new surroundings. Here, we will explore 4 strategies for working with Newcomer Emergent Bilingual (EB) Students.

1. Establish Your Classroom as a Safe Place

Often, relocation from another country can be a stressful journey. Your Newcomer students may have experienced trauma and/or safety concerns before, during, or after travel. Additionally, some Newcomers have experienced prolonged danger and/or may have refugee or asylee status. Ensuring the safety and well-being of your students is a critical element for success.

Consider how you introduce Newcomers to other students, adults, and staff in your school. Newcomers may think, “Is this a person I can trust?” As a campus, you may want to provide an orientation for students that includes a tour of the school, campus expectations, and an explanation of the daily schedule, buses, lunches, etc. Strive to deliver this information in the student’s first language and involve families. 

While physical safety is important, examine your class culture as well. Is your classroom a safe place for students to practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing English? When you have established norms where all students contribute to a supportive and nurturing environment, free of ridicule, Newcomers will be more likely to take important risks with English. 

2. Get to Know Your Students

Learn the correct pronunciation of student names. Take the time to greet all students regularly and learn about their wants and needs. When students grow more comfortable with sharing, teachers are better able to make instructional adjustments that more effectively serve student needs. What do you know about the student’s home country? How might you include a student’s background knowledge in a lesson? Are there opportunities to bring familiar or high-interest reading material into your teaching? Show a willingness to converse in the student’s native language. Using translation tools together, even when making mistakes, is a great way to build rapport with Newcomers.

3. Consider Language Skill Development in Every Activity

Regardless of the grade level, Newcomers benefit from lots of practice time with listening, speaking, reading, and writing. When selecting activities for your classroom routines, look for ones that involve all 4 skills. Example: Do students regularly write for you as a warm-up? Could you add a listening, speaking, and reading component to that activity by having students read their writing aloud in pairs? Repeating these quality activities throughout your lessons will also help your Newcomers grow their confidence. Your students will be more inclined to attempt activities they already know how to perform, even when they contain challenging, new vocabulary.

4. Pause for Thinking Time and Breaks Often

Learning a new language requires a tremendous amount of attention and focus and can be cognitively exhausting. Over the school day, Newcomers often become physically and mentally tired trying to absorb a wide variety of content delivered in English only. Allow for thinking, writing, and processing time during your lessons. Model for students what this time looks like. Take breaks frequently, allowing students to get up and move. Mix in fun activities that develop social language skills, like watching a popular TV show or movie clip in English with closed captioning, learning the words of a popular song together, learning English slang and idioms, practicing giving directions to another location on campus, or journaling in the student’s first language.

Supporting Newcomer Emergent Bilingual students in their educational journey is not just a responsibility but a rewarding opportunity for educators. By applying these 4 Strategies for Working with Newcomer EB Students, we can make a profound difference in the lives of these students as they adapt to their new environment and strive for success. We invite you to join the Secondary Newcomer Network workshop, starting on November 1st, 2023, to further your skills and commitment to Newcomer students’ success. Together, we can create a brighter future for these young learners and empower them to thrive in their new educational and cultural journey.

Visit our Multilingual Instruction blog page to find similar content.

Daniel Schaetz is an education specialist for ESL/Bilingual working at the Education Service Center Region 13.

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