Developing Effective ESL Classroom Activities for Middle School Students

As any middle schooler or middle schooler's parent can tell you, these years are turbulent ones; so, developing effective ESL classroom activities for middle school students might seem like a bit of a challenge. Not only are the students grappling with the changes that middle school brings, but they are also trying to navigate their way without speaking English fluently.

Understandng the challenges faced by ESL students is a crucial part of developing lesson plans tailored to their educational needs and learning goals. Students will generally respond better when the courses are crafted with their unique needs in mind.

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Understanding the Middle School ESL Student

To begin developing effective ESL classroom activities for middle school students, you must first understand the special challenges of the ESL middle school student. Their inability to communicate comfortably in English, combined with the peer pressure felt in the middle school grades can directly affect their learning experiences.

Levels of English

When children are in middle school, you may not know how much exposure to the English language they have already had. For example, an ESL student who went through elementary school in the United States is likely going to have a better grasp on the English language than an ESL student who is just coming to school in this country for the first time.

Diversifying your lessons to address the different needs existing within the ESL group itself is necessary. Some students may need more help with their vocabulary or grammar. If so, print out word lists or grammar study sheets for classroom study or to use with their homework writing assignments.

Competitive Drives

In middle school, many students, both ESL and non-ESL, are starting to feel the pressure of competition weighing upon them. They want to be the best. Some of them are already starting to think about college, and others may be hoping to get into prestigious private high schools in the area.

All of this competition tends to alienate students from one another, and it's happening at a time when ESL students need support the most.

Work on creating activities that encourage cohesion instead of division; a number of group projects, both large and small, addresses this goal.

Creating Lessons for ESL Students

At this point, you may have a firm grasp on some of the strategies that work well when teaching ESL students, but you also want to gather some concrete activities to include in your lesson plans.

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Incorporate Games

During elementary school, games play a valuable role in the lives of many students:

  • ESL students can feel a weight lifted off of their shoulders when games are played in the classroom.
  • The lessons do not seem quite as serious when games are involved.
  • Students may not be as afraid of being wrong.
  • Games are more casual, so ESL students do not have to worry as much about a slightly incorrect usage of a word.

Use Visual Tools

When you are teaching, try to use as many visual tools as possible. For example, let's say that you are teaching vocabulary words. Putting a photo or drawing next to each word will help the students to really see what you mean.

You can also create lessons that allow the ESL student to respond in visuals:

  • After reading a short story, they can draw a picture that depicts their favorite scene as opposed to having to verbally explain it to the class.
  • During a history lesson, they may be encouraged to make models to explore a specific moment in history, once again, as opposed to orally presenting it.

The more visuals you use, the easier it will be for your ESL student to communicate. Remember, the student often understands the concept you are teaching; but, he or she can become very frustrated when they can't communicate that understanding.

Build Their Confidence

Developing effective ESL classroom activities for middle school students involves speaking in a language that they can understand. The more they hear or write something, the more they understand. The more they understand the more they are able to learn.

If you constantly give your ESL students activities that they are unable to complete, their confidence is going to stay low.

If your classroom includes both ESL and native speaking students, consider modifying the activities that you present to the ESL students. For example, let's say that you want the students to select the right vocabulary word from a list of 20 options. For the ESL students, you might give 10 options instead.

When they have opportunities to succeed, they will likely feel more confident joining in on the classroom discussions.

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Teaching in the Disciplines

In middle school, many students start switching classes for the first time. They have different teachers for math, English, science, history, and so forth. Understand the effect that this can have on ESL students, especially if the program is not the same in their native country. The struggles that ESL students have across the disciplines often comes down to one word: vocabulary.

Even when the students are able to completely understand the concepts, they might not know what the vocabulary means. These are some tips you can use to prevent these issues:

  • Use simple vocabulary to introduce the lesson.
  • Review vocabulary words associated with a lesson before you start it.
  • Do not use idiomatic expressions that an ESL student cannot understand.

Sample Lesson Plan

The ESL experts at YourDictionary have prepared a sample lesson plan of how to incorporate history into an ESL lesson plan. The lesson plan is included at the top of this article.

Working to create lesson plans specifically geared toward the ESL students in your class will help to enhance the learning experience of the ESL student and develop a greater sense of cohesion in the classroom overall.

Developing Effective ESL Classroom Activities for Middle School Students


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