Reach Out & Relate


Relationships, relationships, relationships! No matter whether or not you share the same language, building a relationship is still key to future learning. Reach out, welcome them, and help them become connected to their peers. This may require some “match making” special activities, to communication aids such as apps like Google Translate. In this episode teacher, Wendy Williamson, clearly expresses the importance of building relationships even among the new second language learners and their peers.

"Students have to Maslow before they can Bloom"

(, 2019)

This quote reminds us that how a student feels is just as important as the content they are learning (, 2019). Extensive research shows that students who have positive, supportive relationships with teachers tend to be more engaged in learning, have fewer behavior issues, and experience higher levels of social and academic development (Ferlazzo & Sypnieski,2018). All students learn more effectively in a safe, positive and welcoming classroom environment. Edutopia provides an excellent video on the Power of Relationships in Schools.

Supportive school-based relationships have been found to play an important role in engagement and academic performance for ELL students.

The following strategies are suggested to create a welcoming environment in order to help newcomers build strong positive relationships


Learn how to pronounce the student’s name correctly. For many cultures, naming a child is a significant task that is accompanied by ceremonies and rituals. The way ELL families pronounce their names is the way we should pronounce them too, if we want to honor the ELLs and their cultures. One trick is to record students pronouncing their own names. You can replay the recording to help you practice. Another way is to use NameCoach: a software company offering a simple and effective technical solution for the problem of name mispronunciation: users voice-record their names online so others can easily learn and remember how to say them.

The following books celebrate the importance of names: 

Alma by: Juana Martinez-Neal

Oten, students come to new countries and feel worried about their name and how people will pronounce it. This book brings a beautiful message about where Alma's name came from and why it is so important! It brings up an important discussion of names and respecting how to say each others’ names correctly.

The Name Jar by: Yangsook Choi

This story is a similar story to Alma, and better for older students to read. It focuses on Korean culture and helps students to understand the point of view of what it feels like to be a new student in America.


Greeting students daily is an easy way to make students feel welcome. Teachers

who greet and acknowledge students daily make an immediate positive connection and the students come into the classrooms with good energy. Some days are harder than others to greet each student at the door so when this happens it is important to make sure to greet the class as a whole. Establishing this as a daily routine can be challenging but well worth the effort.

Learn simple expressions in the student’s language (both teacher and peers). Google translate is one method but asking the student and showing interest in their L1 is much more powerful.


Like names, language is connected to one’s identity. We can create an identity-affirming environment when we allow students to use any language. Research has found that it is important to encourage students to develop their L1 skills no matter what their current level of proficiency is. Second language acquisition is most effective when a learner’s first language is well developed. Continued development of L1 supports linguistic and cognitive development in English, enabling students to think, talk, read and write at a higher level than if they were restricted to using English only (Coelho, 2004).

 Even when classrooms are limited to one or two ELLs, the use of L1 should be emphasized and utilized. Not only do students need to understand that their first language is embraced, acceptable and welcomed but that it is important for future learning.

Strategies to incorporate L1 in the classroom:
  1. Have school websites and information (newsletters, announcements) in students’ L1
  2. Post-student-created bilingual/multilingual signs throughout the school
  3. Encourage the use of L1 through reading, writing, and oral activities
  4. Invite students to add on to class displays, anchor charts and concept maps using subject-specific vocabulary for specific lessons in both English and in L1 to support academic learning and thinking


The temptation for many teachers who have rigorous content objectives is to have ELLs complete a different task that is more manageable. However, ELLs language proficiency is not an indicator of intelligence. We have to remember that ELLs are capable of doing the same kind of thinking that non-ELLs can do. They might just have to temporarily show it differently than their peers. Use the same objectives but with different paths to reach the end goal.

Carol Tomlinson (The Differentiated Classroom, 2005) offers a simple framework of how to differentiate material in the classroom.


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