Helping Second Language Learners

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Cynthia Salinas

For some reason or another, people come to this country with hope of a better future for themselves and their families. Whether your family came to the United States a couple of years ago or centuries ago, their goal of a prosperous life was the same. As parents we want the best education and life style for our children; that is the main reason people come to this country.  I too come from a family of second generation immigrants; therefore I would like to stress the importance of the role a teacher plays in a child’s life and how a teacher can help second language learners in the classroom.

Get to know their family and culture. Learn about them, what they like and don’t like. Be supportive of their culture. Learn their name. Call them by their name and do not change or shorten it to your convenience. Make them feel valued and respected when you call them by their name.

Have your classroom filled with multicultural literature (Garan, 2007). Having a diversity of books, especially books they can relate to, helps children feel a part of the classroom. You want to make your students feel valued and respected.

I encourage you to label your room in the different languages your students speak. (Garan, 2007) If you are not familiar with other languages you can ask the parents to help you label you classrooms.  Labeling the room in different languages promotes acceptance of their language. Whatever you do be positive, supportive and encouraging for second language learners.

Have interactive word walls in your classroom. Post vocabulary words from stories you have read. You can post words students don’t know and want to learn. At the beginning of the school year you can have student’s names on the word wall with their picture to help them get acquainted.

Read to the students. Read alouds help students learn new vocabulary words and makes reading an enjoyable experience. Allow students to choose a reading selection once in a while. You may also read books that are culturally related to the second language learners.

As you read to students, read with expression. Have an expressive voice that will transmit the tone of the story. Use hand gestures or movement when you read. Make the reading experience engaging making sounds, connecting to the story.

Music helps second language learners develop oral language. Provide ample opportunities for children to chant. They can chant nursery rhymes such as the Itsy Bitsy Spider, Jack and Jill, etc… Rhymes help students develop their phonological awareness, which helps develop literacy. Provide students with opportunities to practice their oral language development by singing. Include singing activities not only during your morning routine but to learn other subject areas. You can always adjust any learning material with a tune of a song.  I will give you an example: chant math facts to the tune of the “wheels on the bus.” 1+1= 2, =2, =2, 1+1=2, so let’s keep on adding, 1+2=3,=3,=3, etc…

These are effective practices that will benefit second language learners. I encourage you to try and implement them in your classroom.



Garan, E. (2007). Smart answers to tough questions, what do you say when you’re asked about fluency, phonics, grammar, vocabulary, ssr, tests, support for ells, and more. Scholastic Teaching Resources.


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