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5 Ways to Engage ELLs with SEL

Today, more than ever, classrooms in the United States are full of English language learners (ELLs). In fact, about one in 10 students consider English as their second language.  ELL and immigrant students have unique learning needs. Many are unfamiliar with U.S. cultural norms and learning a new language can be difficult. These students often suffer from high levels of stress, anxiety, and the inability to form meaningful relationships with peers or educators. To effectively support ELLs, educators must adjust their teaching practices. Part of this adjustment is understanding the challenges ELL and immigrant students face and how social and emotional learning (SEL) can help.  

SEL can ease ELL and immigrant students’ transition into schools and communities. It promotes strong relationships with educators and peers and lessens the challenges of learning new cultural norms. SEL also nurtures cooperation, clear communication, and conflict resolution. Additional benefits include stress management, motivation, self-efficacy, and confidence to seek and offer assistance when it’s needed.

 Here are five tips for engaging ELLs by using SEL:  

1. Teach stress management. Everyone needs to learn how to manage stress — it’s a normal part of our everyday lives. For ELLs, it’s important to start by teaching them how to express their feelings using English words and phrases. This will not only improve their language skills, but also give voice to their feelings and ability to ask for help. Read this article for ideas on how to teach ELL students ways to talk about and manage stress.  

2. Use SEL visual aids. Every educator who has worked with ELL students knows the power of visual aids. When teaching social and emotional concepts, use flash cards, posters, and images to improve comprehension and understanding.

Pinterest has many free printables that can help your students identify and recognize emotions. Or, try a free image library for educators such as Pics4Learning or Shahi Visual Dictionary. Teach the English words and phrases that exemplify each emotion, and discuss cultural nuances and appropriate reactions to emotions.  

3. Build students’ confidence. ELL students may lack confidence, and this can impact their academic performance and ability to assimilate. Research shows that when students believe they are capable of doing or learning something, they are far more likely to persist and overcome challenges. On the other hand, when students lack confidence in their ability to perform a task or overcome a challenge, they are more likely to give up and may even go out of their way to avoid working toward the desired outcome. Build ELL students’ self-confidence with these actionable steps.

4. Foster strong relationships. Strong teacher-student relationships are important for all students, but especially for ELLs. ELLs often feel isolated when they enter a new place and culture. Having a teacher they can trust can make a big difference.

There are many ways to build relationships with ELL students. Check in with the student on a daily basis verbally or with a written note; get to know the student’s family; or learn about the student’s culture. Here are even more ideas.

5. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Encouraging and teaching students to set specific learning goals can keep them motivated to continuously improve. Help students avoid setting vague objectives, such as “I want to learn English,” because these can be difficult to achieve. Instead, use the M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Based) model, which breaks goals into manageable tasks. This model can help your students create attainable goals that will keep them engaged and motivated to keep progressing.

SEL can engage ELL students in learning and help them achieve academic success. SEL nurtures clear communication, stress management, relationship-building, self-efficacy, and effective goal-setting. And, developing ELLs’ social and emotional skills makes teachers’ jobs easier because students become more engaged, motivated, and integrated into U.S. culture.

Interested in learning more? Contact our SEL experts through the form below, and let’s chat about creating a plan to leverage SEL to support ELL and immigrant students.

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