Working with English language learners in Kindergarten

Working with English language learners in Kindergarten

Classrooms that contain ELLs differ signifi cantly in their student mix. Along with some English fi rst language speakers, there may be:

  • just one ELL in the whole class; one or more children who speak a variety of English
  •  one or a few children who speak many different languages (other than English);
  • a large number, if not most, of the children speaking the same language (other than English).

The mix in any single class will have an impact on how the


Kindergarten teacher will plan for instruction. All these children bring a rich diversity of background knowledge and experience to the classroom.

Starting off on a positive form




Coming to school is an exciting and sometimes apprehensive time for children. Coming into a new environment where everyone is speaking an unfamiliar language may simply overwhelm ELLs. They may not understand the nurturing message that the teacher is trying to communicate to them. The challenge is to ensure the communication is open and supportive to both the children and their families. Teachers can convey to ELLs that they are welcome, and make them comfortable at school through their smile, soothing tone of voice, and visual illustrations of what is going on. Welcoming English language learners who arrive throughout the year

There are sometimes circumstances (e.g., timing with immigration or refugee permissions, the need to move within Canada for employment reasons) that prevent families from coming to school at the beginning of the year or registering for Kindergarten at the time indicated by individual school  oards. It is important to welcome ELLs who arrive throughout the year as genuinely as those children who arrived at the beginning of the school year, and to be aware of whether a mid-year entry is the fi rst t me a child has been in a Canadian school or is a

transfer from another Canadian location. As an example, these newcomers need to see their names on coat hooks and wherever other children’s names are displayed. Depending on the time of the year that the ELL arrives, classroom routines may already be well established, and it may be possible to buddy the newcomer with someone (e.g., another Kindergarten child or an older student) who shares the child’s fi rst language, or with another child who will provide the support and friendship that the newly arrived child needs.

Strategies to support the transition to school

  • Practise the pronunciation of children’s names.
  • Learn a few words in the children’s first language.
  • Provide a little time and a safe space for children to be on their own as it sometimes   helps them absorb their new environment.
  • Allow the ELL to bring a favourite object from home; it can often be reassuring.
  • Outside the classroom door, place a picture of a clock to show entry and dismissal times.
  • Create a welcoming environment, with the fl exibility that allows parents to stay for a while if they can. Allowing parents to stay a little longer with their children often helps the children (and parents) feel more at ease. Teachers use their professional judgmentabout when to suggest this, and for how long.
  • When possible, access school personnel who can communicate in a family’s first  language.


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