Distance Learning: Tips for Supporting Emerging Bilingual Students

If you’re looking for ways to continue engaging your emerging bilingual students in the face of prolonged school closures, the TpT community is here to help. We spoke to a few emerging bilingual experts, and they shared their ideas — whether you’re looking for creative ways to help students practice their language skills or to ensure that families have the tools they need to support at-home learning.

Ideas for helping students speak and listen in their second language

As Dyana of Biliteracy Now notes, distance learning has made it extremely difficult to come up with authentic and interactive activities to help emerging bilingual students practice their second language. “Students not having access to their peers makes it almost impossible to practice or reinforce a lesson,” she says. “Because our students are in the process of developing a second language, we have to plan out our lessons more strategically. I find that asking myself questions really helps me figure out what I’m going to do next. What lessons am I recording in English? What lessons am I recording in Spanish? Do I have matching printable resources for students who do not have internet at home? How can I ensure my lessons are interactive? What visuals do I need to include in my lessons? Answering these questions has helped me tackle these challenges.” 

In addition to these foundational questions, TpT Teacher-Authors had several ideas for how teachers could support students as they practice their speaking and listening skills in their second language:

  • For teachers who are able to make videos for their students, Susan of The ESL Nexus recommends speaking more slowly and more clearly than you would normally do. “This is particularly important for ELLs because they need more time to process what they hear,” she says. “If they have to pause the video when they watch it, that interrupts the flow of the content and makes it harder to comprehend the material. It’s also important to speak more slowly and clearly if you are delivering content live over the Internet because ELLs cannot pause to process the information they are hearing.” 
  • Dyana of Biliteracy Now recommends using podcasts, songs, and TV shows as a way to continue developing speaking and listening skills — especially since they are pretty easy to access from a home setting. “After watching or listening, students can record themselves talking about what they learned from listening to the podcast, or what they liked about the song or TV show,” she says “It’s a fun and easy way to tackle listening and speaking skills.” Similarly, curriculum specialist Sara-Elizabeth of Calico World says that  having students watch programs intended for young, native-speaking children like Pocoyó and Peppa Pig can help in this area. “The language is repetitive,” she says, “but in the context of a fun, short storyline — which makes it the  perfect recipe for language acquisition! And these programs are widely available on YouTube.” 
  • Josie from Mrs Cabello Spanish Class advises teachers to include audio, where possible, in the resources and assignments so students can practice their listening skills. “Google Slides allow you to add audio. Boom cards as well,” she says. “You can easily create vocabulary videos and add the audio files to your resources.” In addition, she notes, students love to talk about themselves and their interests. To have them practice speaking, she recommends picking a theme from your current unit and asking them questions about it. “For example if the unit is about ‘rooms in the house,’ ask them describe their favorite room in the house. Always give them options. Also, you can send them a specific question so they can answer it during your Zoom meetings.”

Tips for communicating with students’ families

Educators should also keep in mind that the amount of support that a student’s parent or caregiver might be able to provide will likely vary across families. “One of the biggest challenges I’ve experienced with my emerging bilingual students is definitely the language barrier,” says Valeria of Bilingual Diaries. “Parents around the nation are currently having to take on a more proactive role in their children’s education. Many of our parents want to do the same, but most of them only speak their native language. Their children, however, continue to receive instruction and assignments in both languages. This can be extremely frustrating for everyone — especially those receiving additional work from special needs, dyslexia, or speech teachers who only speak English.” To help, TpT Teacher-Authors recommend some steps to take and some resources to turn to in order to help parents better support their child’s learning:

  • Dyana of Biliteracy Now recommends trying to assign work that students are able to complete with minimal support. “However, if we know the work might require the help of their parents, we need to provide them with instructions in both languages. We can also provide parents with examples or visuals to ensure understanding. More importantly, we need to monitor our own expectations based on what we know regarding their home life. Communicating with parents that we don’t expect perfection will go a long way.”
  • “One thing that’s helped my parents tremendously,” says Valeria of Bilingual Diaries, “is creating a Google Site that serves as a one-stop shop to house various video and screenshot tutorials. You would be surprised at how much parents appreciate even the simplest screen recording in their native language of how to use a program or turn or turn something in. They want to be involved and this is a quick and easy way to ensure they feel confident during this time.”
  • Annie of Globally Taught recommends using the website Colorín Colorado to aid families who might not know how to support their child at home. “It’s one of my favorite resources for parents,” she says. “Through their website, you can find resources for parents translated into many languages, and you can send home information on where they can access books online and questions to ask their child while they read.” 
  • Maria from Everyone Deserves to Learn recommends using an app called Talking Points, which automatically translates text messages. “This is particularly helpful for educators who may have to communicate with parents who don’t speak English, and/or communicate in an uncommon language like Kinyarwanda and Tigrinyan,” she says.

Resources to get you started

Here are a few PreK-5 resources that TpT Teacher-Authors developed to support some of the strategies discussed in the article: