Verbal/Nonverbal communication - Ways to Help LEP Students in my Classroom


     for ESL students in your classroom -


    Cultural considerations:

    • Eye contact - Asian culture does not make eye contact as a sign of respect to elders and superiors.  Students will find this to be very strange and uncomfortable in the early days of school.
    • Laughing or giggling is not only for humor - This is a common way that Asian students show that they are nervous or uncomfortable in a particular situation.
    • Not the first to volunteer - Students from Asian countries are not used to volunteering answers.  It is disrespectful and not something that is desired to show one's intelligence and superiority among peers.

    The Japanese have an expression, "The one that stands up is the first to be pounded down."

    • Gender differences - Arabic and Spanish speaking girls have very defined roles in their cultures.  Students may not be used to going to school or thinking of themselves as scholars.
    • Concept of time - different cultures have different ideas of what "being on time" means.  Spanish speakers understand time as dependent on themselves.  A cultural understanding in Latin American countries is that "Time waits for us."  This is very different from our particular expression, "Time waits for no one."  In the early days, your ESL students may have a difficult time coming to class on time, and navigating their schedule.
    • Malinche, ombudsman, Great Communicator - very often, ESL students are asked by their family to schedule doctor's appointments, translate at doctor's appointments, conferences, other family.  Student may miss class for these reasons.  They are going to be nervous and concerned about missing class.  One thing to do is to remind students of your absent policy (where they can find missing papers, try to get them to let you know a few days before if they can, so they will have all the papers).  This show of trust and support will be very beneficial to both.

    Verbal and Non-verbal Communication:

    • Make an effort to slow speech down.  This will encourage ESL students to try and speak more often if they feel they can have a dialogue with their teacher.


    • Make an effort to enunciate spoken English.  It is much easier for language learners to understand, "Please hand me your homework," than "Pazit for'erd." 

    NOTE:  I have heard stories from teachers who have had homework launched at them in the form of various projectiles when using the 2nd command :)

    • In early days, students learn more from the nonverbal than the verbal.  Smile, get to know your students, use whatever is at your disposal to communicate (your body, resources, humor, other students).


    • Repetition is the key to comprehension in the early days.  Be comfortable repeating directions and questions.  Practice saying things different ways to help students comprehend questions and class content.
    Understanding Student Responses:
    • ESL students are RELUCTANT to use their new language.  They do not want to make mistakes.  As teachers, we play a vital role as catalyst to their speaking.


    • Give ESL students enough time to process and form responses.  Although it may seem counter-intuitive, ESL students require and benefit from a sometimes uncomfortable amount of time to process information and formulate a response.


    • This process takes time.  Each ESL student experiences language in his or her own way.