4 Easy Ways to Engage Your ELL Students in the Online Classroom

Are you all of a sudden trying to figure out how to connect and communicate with your ELL students through a computer screen? How can we make online classes with our ELL students engaging? Above all else, our most important job is to create a safe learning environment for our ELL students, and for them to know it is a place they can be themselves, learn, and grow. When that foundation is established, then all these other strategies will push your students to stay engaged, connected, and interested in the materials being taught.

1. Play Games

A quick  and easy way to have fun in the online classroom is to play tic tac toe! I recommend using a white board with pictures of the vocabulary. You can then extend to have students use the vocabulary word in a sentence.You could host a once a week game day where the students will come expecting to play games the whole time. This is something that will give them something to look forward to!

Another easy game to play is “Yes and No.” On a notecard write yes on one side no on the other. Then, as a group, read aloud different statements (with a picture included if possible) and have the students answer by holding up their notecard yes or no. For example "do you like ice cream?" The students would hold up YES or NO. This is a fun way to get to know your students and for students to visually see commonalities and differences amongst each other! 

2. Realia

Students love to see real objects on the camera. It keeps them interested and engaged. I am always surprised at how I am able to spark their interest with showing them objects on the camera. For example, the other day I was teaching a lesson with the vocabulary word “exercise” and “weight.” Before the class started I grabbed a weight and I used it on camera to teach these words. I don’t think my student will forget the moment where the teacher brings out a 10 pound weight and lifts it up into the camera! Doing small gestures like this will give your students opportunities to laugh, to see their teacher having fun, and will help them focus on your lesson. All you have to do is before you lesson gather up a few things around your house that could be used during your lesson to teach or reinforce a word, idea, or concept.

3. TPR

TPR stands for “Total Physical Response” which summed up means use your body and gestures when you are teaching online! It will be more difficult for your ELL students to understand you because of the barrier of the screen, plus any additional noise in the background, so make sure to use gestures, visuals, and props to get their attention. Holding up a big ear to make sure they are listening is a funny way to keep them on track. I know it might feel a little like a circus performance, but to them they will see how much you care.

4. Rewards

In the online classroom it can be hard for students to know how they are doing. A simple system of rewarding stars can motivate the student to stay focused. It is a great behavior management tool for students who are distracted. I believe that depending on the length of your class, rewarding a star every 3-5 minutes helps the student stay motivated. You can set the prize at the beginning that if they get 10 stars they can play an extra game at the end, or you will play their favorite song. Something simple, but can be the motivation they need to stay on track.

What other ways are you helping ELL students stay motivated during online learning? We'd love to know! Comment below or come join the Inspiring Young Learners Facebook Group and share!

Looking for more materials to support ELL students during distance learning? Check out a bundle of materials created specifically to help ELLs learn online and to provide quality, engaging, and interactive materials created specifically for the needs of ELL students.

Blogpost written by Amy Petersen

Amy has been teaching students English online for the last 2 years with VIPkid and daily uses these tricks and tips to keep her students engaged and excited about coming back for the next class.

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