Ouya International Education

How does an ESL class work?

If you are wondering how ESL classes work, read on, as we’re about to go into detail about what you can expect the classroom to look like if you’re interested in learning English as a Second Language..

English as a Second Language (ESL) students cannot generally be mainstreamed in American and Canadian secondary schools because their English is fragmentary and colloquial. They cannot follow higher-level academic presentations and discussions in English.

Accordingly, most school districts (“where numbers warrant”) create a separate English Immersion class for the ESL students. The classroom may feature a coherent second language (actually, L1, the native language of the students) or it may feature a number of languages. We may describe this Grade Ten level classroom as an “immersion” experience because English rather than L1 will be the language of instruction across the curriculum.

How do ESL classes work?

Only once a student has English language skills appropriate to the regular university-preparation curriculum will he or she be transferred to the regular stream; the immersion process can last up to two years. Parents of such students should be mindful of the fact that, once a student turns 19 he or she cannot remain in a Canadian secondary school, and must go to adult immersion, usually in a community college.

As for classroom teaching, if we mix the two groups (native speakers and English Language Learner), the native-speakers  will probably always have an inherent advantage. The two groups will tend to experience the Writing Process and Language Arts Strands differently.

Finally, it is possible that “best classroom practices” means the same thing for both groups of learners? The one big difference, it seems to me, lies in the pre-teaching of necessary vocabulary. ESL students have a very limited academic vocabulary, whereas their peers who are native speakers may have a considerably larger recognition vocabulary.

Whether one is teaching ESL students or native-speakers, there will be constants in the classroom: contextual issues such as classroom management, student expectations, and curriculum requirements, as determined by the school, the district, and the province.

Another constant of which many of us are unaware is our expectations of and attitudes towards the students, their abilities, and limitations. These attitudes as well as the mandated curriculum profoundly affect the quality and types of the assignments that teachers give students.

Of the following classroom activities and assignments which are often regarded as “best practice” in the English Language Arts classroom, one stands out: the formal teaching of grammar. Although many younger English teachers believe that native-speakers do not require formal grammar lessons, some form of direct instruction in diction, syntax, etymology, and grammar is of benefit to ALL English Language Learners, not just ESL students:

  1. Using engaging and meaningful activities that will not bore students
  2. The instructor’s providing timely and appropriate feedback for each student
  3. Using appropriate instructional language, and avoiding less formal language since ESL students often do not comprehend colloquialisms
  4. Using appropriate teaching material: low-vocabulary/high interest print materials must be age-appropriate
  5. Utilizing an appropriate mix of individual, paired, and group work activities
  6. Direct teaching of vocabulary, including common words and expressions that
  7. non-ESL students have encountered long before the secondary grades.
  1. Integrating technology into the classroom, particularly video and audio.
  2. Assigning diverse groups: do not leave students in the same groups; mix
    them up so that the students who are dominant socially do not start to dominate
    all discussions.
  3. Allocating time appropriately (time management), depending upon the nature of tasks assigned
  4. Starting a lesson with a review of previous material: bridging the gap between what the students have learned with what they have yet to learn
  5. Creating a supporting and non-threatening learning environment: always encourage “chance-taking” and “educated guessing,” and protecting students from looking foolish in front of their peers
  6. Organizing appropriate seating arrangements, paying attention to who will work with whom, who has vision and hearing problems, how a newcomer can be integrated into an established group, and so on
  7. Maintaining good lesson flow; silence may be golden as an adage, but too much silence can deaden a discussion
  8. Encouraging student talk-time/output by direct questioning as well as in small group activities that require targeted discussions within a limited time frame
  9. Outlining clear lesson objectives at the beginning of each class. Put these on the white board, and make sure every student understands where today’s lesson is heading. Check frequently for understanding
  10. Eliciting information and bridging gaps in understanding
  11. The use of appropriate questioning skills in (frequently) checking for individual comprehension
  12. Deliberate teaching, not just utilizing student-centered activities
  13. Appropriate use of students` first languages (L1) in the classroom; having a translator can be extremely useful for checking comprehension of higher-level English vocabulary and concepts
  14. Deliberate teaching of grammar, and of grammatical terms

Please share this article if you think it could be useful to someone else. Thank you.

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