“Welcome to your first day with our class. Here are one million things for you to use and remember.”
This is an experience most of us recognise – from starting school to a new job, information overload is a problem.
For students with English as an additional language (EAL) this situation is even more complicated – after all, all the information coming at you is in another language. Of course, we need to help our new students feel welcome and able to navigate school – but how?
One simple but very effective tool is to develop an EAL Starter Pack, or Welcome Pack – a set of items to make that language transition into a new school that bit easier to handle.
What should you include in a starter pack?
This list is not exhaustive but is a good example of the sorts of things that are useful – and it’s important to remember you don’t have to give them out all at once, or try to explain it all in one go, otherwise you risk that information overload issues again.
1. A home dictionary (bilingual)
Students can take this home and use it should they face any barriers with homework or if they want to expand their vocabulary in their free time.
2. Keywords for the upcoming topic
These should be image-supported or translated and can be used in a variety of ways. Simple drilling games are an effective way of memorising vocabulary.
3. A visual timetable
This lets the student know what subjects they will be doing, which could impact what pre-learning they do. This could be done visually by having a paint brush to represent art, or a small dictionary for English or the times, divide, minus and plus signs for maths.
4. A translated school map
Let’s try to help our students not get lost. Such a map would need to be created each time you got a student with a new native language. However, you can then save the map for future students.
5. Sentence starters for each subject
These can be stuck into the front of each of their subject books; they are helpful when facing a block of ideas.
6. A journal for recording new words each day
This helped me a great deal when I was learning basic communication Spanish. You can even incentivise your student with a prize if they can remember X number of words per day.
Why you should use these
This is a nice thing to do, of course – but there is evidence that it can really help EAL students to settle. Research indicates that making them feel welcome is “essential to establishing a rapport and a sense of belonging”.
Carol Goodenow carried out a study of 353 students, which showed the “importance of belonging and interpersonal support in fostering academic motivation and achievement”.
Make your students feel welcome and they will feel higher levels of belonging; make them feel as though they belong and they will perform better academically.
Providing EAL newcomers with something useful to help them transition into your classroom gives them a sense that you are looking out for them, and helps them integrate without having to be constantly chaperoned or asking for direction, translations or other forms of help.
Gregory Adam is a primary teacher at Nord Anglia Chinese International School in Shanghai. He released his first book last year: Teaching EFL, ESL & EAL. A Practitioner’s Guide