Join us as Fairmont Private Schools teacher and ELLoquence instructor Mr. Robert Esquerre reveals how he creates a welcoming classroom for his ELL students to thrive in!

What’s your ELL teaching background?
I have been teaching ELL students for four years. My teaching credential is for secondary English, but I have really been drawn to English language acquisition. I’ve had the opportunity to teach English to 6th graders through retired adults!

Why do you think it’s important to lower the affective filter for students in your classroom?
Lowering the affective filter is important for creating a comfortable environment. When students are relaxed in the classroom, they try new things and step outside of their comfort zone. This is a very important component of an ELL classroom because all students are taking a huge risk by learning and practicing a new language in front of others.

Is it more difficult to get students at lower levels to feel comfortable in an ELL class than at higher levels?
Lower level students are very unsure of themselves and lack the confidence that higher level students have gained. Every time a lower level student opens their mouth to speak, they are taking a risk; that can be very scary. As a teacher, I try to mediate those feelings of fear as much as possible by establishing a welcoming, safe classroom where making mistakes is okay.

When you work with the four skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, which is the hardest skill to lower the risk factor for?
Writing and speaking tend to be skills that students are the most scared to use and practice. It makes sense because the students are having to create content, versus comprehend something they’re reading or listening to. Speaking and writing are 100% their own work, so it bears more weight when their name is attached to it.

Which skill is the easiest?
Generally listening is the easiest for students to pick up, depending on the student and level. I think it’s because many students are good at reading body language and picking out key words they understand.

What are some examples of teaching strategies that help you create a welcoming environment?
I try to vary the activities in my class throughout the lessons. I like to play games and get the kids moving. I also try to incorporate low-risk speaking and writing activities, allowing students to practice their language without necessarily receiving a grade. Also, I like to stratify groups based on language levels and native languages to force students to practice their English with each other.

What are three of your favorite class activities?

  1. Monday Morning Storytime – This is when the students share about their weekend. The conversations are very casual and work as a good warm up for the school week.
  2. Group Sentence Summaries – The students work together on a text and summarize each paragraph using only one sentence. This forces the students to test their comprehension of the text and practice their writing mechanics, all while working together to create a well functioning, grammatically correct sentence.
  3. Vocabulary Pictures – The students have to act out their vocabulary words and stage a picture. This activity really pushes the students to fully understand the meaning of their vocabulary words and study them in an active way. The pictures that the students create are truly innovative and capture the meaning of the vocabulary, while allowing the students to have fun with each other.
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