BAP064 ONE Newcomer in a Mainstream Classroom! What Do I Do?

Top Tips for receiving a Newcomer mid year!

I received a great question from Derek Rhodenizer this week.  I suggest everyone follow Derek, by the way.  He is a great source of inspiration and innovation! And we were fortunate to have Stephen Hurley chime in as well! He is the Chief Catalyst at VoicEd Radio and another one to follow!

Listen to the show in your favorite podcast app or right here:

Listen to “BAP064 One Newcomer Mid Year! What Now?” on Spreaker.

Derek is the head of a school in Ottawa & one of his 4th grade teachers received a brand new newcomer 1/2 way through the year.  The target language is actually French, but that doesn’t really matter for what I am going to recommend.

This 4th grade teacher is asking for strategies that will help this new child who is the only child in class who is not comprehending the language of instruction.  She is brand-new to this language.  Understandably, the teacher is translating a lot and this will slow down instruction.

Here are some notes and links to what I talked about on this show.

MINDSET:  Please don’t panic or over stress.  Please realize that everyone will acquire more understanding of your language each day.  Bitmoji ImageEvery day it gets easier for that child.  We can even do things to make this ability to understand go faster. So we need to relax a bit as teachers and not fear that this will be the same issue… to this degree… all year long.  We need to remind ourselves EVERY day that our newcomer student will be understanding a bit more each day as time goes on.  (It may not look like it because speaking usually takes longer than understanding).  Staying in this mindset is easier said than done, so I suggest that you plan with someone who can remind you of this.  We are on Twitter and happy to be the ones to answer questions or collaborate with you.  Here is a video that can help remind us of how newcomers acquire not only speaking ability but also reading.  Reading in your new language comes faster with repetition and high-interest text.  Emmanuel could not read in ANY language but with repetition, and high interest, he could not only read, he gained a great deal of language:

Stephen Krashen’s work tells us that language happens effectively through meaningful interaction. Krashen is a 2nd Language Acquisition guru and the prior video is a great example of what he claims. His other well regarded theory is that of the Affective Filter.  He suggests we do what we can to help lower stress for students because a filter (an Affective Filter) goes up when you are stressed or feeling negatively about yourself.

And here are the only 2 things your newcomer needs to get a new language:

  1. Comprehensible Input
  2. Low Stress Opportunities for Output

  • So as the teacher, stay in the language of instruction and use more visuals and gestures. Look for ways to make your content more understandable without translating. Gestures and visuals are the top tips from me on that (many of my fast-moving students tell us this).   So you can give your regular mini lesson to the class but use more gestures, pointing, and images as much as possible.  Slow down just slightly (so she can hear the breaks in the words) but not noticeably.  Just a few key sentences that you might want everyone hearing well.  (when you learn new language and people speak quickly, you cant tell where one word stops and the next one starts).  These actions provide for more comprehensible input…which is what newcomers need.  They just need the GIST of what you are talking about so they don’t get overwhelmed in your mini lesson.  Don’t stop and translate for her.  Make sure she knows to watch you and try to make sense of as much as possible and that she will always get a chance to get more meaning after you are done by talking to peers and working in collaborative groups. Do not translate, just start pantomiming EVERYTHING you say.  Tell the class that they should all do this because people can understand A LOT when we use gestures.  Watch this video to see what I mean.  You would not go this slowly. Valentina is just illustrating that even if you do not have ANY language comprehension, she can help you understand with visuals and gestures.  You can even show this video to your class so they help in this way.

  • Train your new student to understand that they will get more of the new language every day.  They need to be as comfortable as possible. So let them know that they don’t need to understand 100%.  They just need the GIST and they will have lots of opportunities to talk to other students and ask questions.  But they should repeat and copy and follow print every day.  Make sure they know this is KEY to acquiring more language.  Some words are high-frequency, so they will start to get them with repetition.  Some words are familiar or similar to words in their language and other words will have visuals or gestures with them so each day this will become easier. YES! You can always get a key word or phrase in your first language from your peers or a translator, and you can speak in your first language, but we will be explaining most things to you in French with visuals and gestures as much as possible.  This is a longer video and is for newcomer teachers to train their entire class.  But you might find it useful if anyone is going to explain to the newcomer the basics of how things should come together.  I also have a ppt and post about it here.

  • Teach to the top and then facilitate group work as much as possible.  Your mini lesson is to the high flyers, your top 25%.  They will get the concept and be in a position to lead a group on collaborative work.  Your high flyers should be all around the room so that you are not having to repeat your instructions.  Allow kids to work together.  “Whatever the top 25% of your class can do, everyone can do collaboratively.” – Leo Gomez.  The following graphic is from the Gomez & Gomez Dual Language Enrichment program and has served me in ANY class where I have taught anything.  How kids are seated allows me to teach to the top.  So your newcomer is not part of the top 25% of the class.  That is okay.  75% of your students may not be absolutely clear on the learning from your mini lesson.  That is intentional.  They will get it working together. In the last few minutes of class, you may need to pull a handful of kids who did not get it in the mini lesson or the guided activity.  But they heard it twice and may just need some concept refinement.  And that should be a smaller group.   Try not to sit your lowest kids right next to your highest kids.  This can cause frustration.  As much as possible have them like this.  But in my reality, I just need to mix kids up over and over as often as possible.  That said, this arrangement is the goal:

  • TOP TIP!!  Allow kids to talk to process or negotiate meaning every 8-10 minutes.  Plan at least ONE structured conversation so that everyone is set up for success.  This is key for all high-functioning classrooms.  The person doing the speaking is the person doing the thinking.  Do not dumb-down language.  It does not hurt your newcomer to hear academic complete sentences. She just needs a conversation where she can get the meaning.  But your entire class benefits from a structured conversation.  Some of this will be important for your newcomer but really, all kids will benefit.  To structure conversations, we recommend using the QSSSA strategy.  This is recommended as a top tip for all classrooms.  Structured conversations lead to a 19 point percentile gain in achievement for all kids in multiple studies (Marzano 2001) Find a TON of #QSSSA on the internet by Googling it and also looking at Images.  Here is a great blog post about what it is and how to do it.  
  • Create and train the entire class to use an “Instead of I Don’t Know” poster.  This lets you randomly call on students but also supports a lower stress environment.  Your newcomer can memorize “May I ask a friend for help?” so that she can start to be empowered and not worried she may be called on. She may start to take risks sooner because she knows she can fall back on that phrase.  We are empowering every student with this but it is critical for your newcomer to have a few of these phrases.  Make a poster like this one and ask kids why it is important for all of us to use these instead of saying IDK.

  • If anyone has time to work with her one-on-one, you can really help her accelerate her reading in French. I suggest that you co-create text WITH her.  Ideas that are FROM her.  Here is an example of how students who were illiterate and beginners in English (and from poverty) gained a great deal of reading ability in their first year.  So if this child can read in her native language, she has more advantages than many of these students:

  • Frame your lesson.  Go over the objectives on the board so every child gets a chance to practice academic language and every child is clear about the expected goals.  Your newcomer gets to practice output (pronouncing words in the target language) in a low stress way.  But your fluent students ALSO need to practice complete, academic sentences.  You can also use this as a vocabulary strategy so put higher language in your objectives as time goes on.  This goes to John Hattie’s work on teacher clarity.  This has a huge effect on achievement of the average child (being clear on what the goals will be).  Be sure to ALWAYS track the print with your fingers when you read anything and let her know to watch you do that so she starts to grab more of the high frequency words and sounds of the letters.



A great deal of this comes from these two books.

7 Steps to a Language-Rich, Interactive Classroom

Boosting Achievement, Reaching Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education

I hope it is helpful!!


LIVE ESL Radio Hour this Weekend Plus Resources for You!

Our friend Tan Huyhn from is going to join me for an hour of LIVE radio this Saturday, Jan 18, 2020. Tune in at 6:30pm-7:30pm ET to hear the show.

To listen to the show, download the VoicEd Radio App or just visit and click on the LIVE Stream.

We invite you to submit a question to us here (that can be anonymous) or tag us on Twitter.  To connect with us on Twitter, you can find Tan here or find me here.

You can also connect with us during the show by using the #BoostingAchievement hashtag.

Or just listen to some LIVE radio about supporting English Learners.  But be prepared…Anything can happen in LIVE radio! Thanks to everyone listening!!

Other Resources For Early January

Kamal’s Video

I can’t think of a better time to watch this 2 minute video with ANY class but especially a class with language learners. You might find the podcast show on this helpful or the post about it here.  This student came to the US in 8th grade with no formal education and no native language literacy. He is not in a special newcomer school. He came from difficult circumstances.  He faced many challenges.  Fast-forward a few years and he is not only passing multiple state assessments, he is graduating this year!   His words inspire us and can launch us into great discussions about mindset!

Easy to do, Powerful MLK to Valentine’s Day Lessons

Martin Luther King Day is Jan 20th!  In keeping with that theme, here is a look back to an MLK unit of study we did 2 years ago.  It leads right up to Valentine’s Day with Kindness lessons.

There are many low prep resources in this post to help you teach who Dr. King was and why he was so significant to our world.
The unit was inspired by Emily Francis who told our class that US History was an area of difficulty for her as a recent immigrant in High School. (Emily is now one of the top ESL teachers to follow in the country & our students benefit from knowing about her!)  The lessons in this post use resources from Larry Ferlazzo, Nancy Motley, Valentina Gonzalez and Kahoot. It was improved upon last year with some Flipgrid additions I received from Jess Bell. 

The post explains how we start with lessons on who Dr. King was (with resources that work well with newcomers), and we move toward a lesson on kindness (just in time for Valentine’s Day!).  A big win is that it offers opportunities for them to make connections to themselves and what they want for their country.  Please check it out!

Free Learning Opportunities


VirtuEL19, #VirtuEL18 & VirtuEL17 are still available! They are worth a revisit! This online conference is COMPLETELY FREE with no registration and now has three years of conference sessions for you to watch on demand. Heavy hitters in the field present YouTube sessions on a variety of topics related to teachers of multilingual learners.  Check out all three years worth of PD here!

The Boosting Achievement ESL Podcast

If you are looking for free, self directed PD for teachers of ELs, I’d love for you to consider the podcast page of this blogThe video page also has some great things for reflection and also to use in your own PD.

The Padlets

For Newcomers specifically, don’t forget about the padlets we have available for you! These are from different PD sessions I give and you’ll find so many free resources to use with Emergent ELs.  Everything from mindset to classroom management to fundamentals of reading.

Best Resources for Serving Newcomers by Larry Ferlazzo

Many of us are following Larry Ferlazzo for his great resources!  Personally, I subscribe to his blog and check it each morning.  There is SO MUCH out on the web and in the field that it can be overwhelming. Larry is my filter for all things ELL and I highly recommend you follow him if you teach any language learners.  A few weeks back, Larry published this post on the best resources to help teachers of Newcomers.  There are a ton of free resources for us!

The Book Study, With or Without the book!

Whether you own a copy of Boosting Achievement or not, you can take advantage of the entire, free book study right here. This 5 week PD opportunity was designed to be accessible to people who are unable to get a copy of the book.  You can simply click on each week and read the free blog post and additional materials that are available for each week.  Folks who are reading the book love the extra content and those that don’t have the book can reflect on the questions using the posts that are available for each week.  Check it all out here. 

Where We Can Connect IRL

Please connect with me on Facebook or Twitter, I’d love to learn from you and with you!  Our PLN is really powerful and always available.  But if you can get to one of the following places IRL (in real life), I’d love to see you!  Here are a few places where I will be giving Keynotes or featured sessions in the Spring of 2020:

March in Oregon

March 11, 2020 for an Effective Questioning pre-conference & March 12, 2020 as the keynote for the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators.

April in Irving, Texas

Keynote presentation at the 36th Annual Bilingual Education Association of the Metroplex Symposium! April 4, 2020

May in Michigan

May 13, 2020 for a Using Technology with ELLs pre-conference and May 14, 2020 for featured sessions in Michigan for MABEMI20:

PD in Your District

If you are looking for meaningful, high-impact PD for your staff, I would love to come and work with you and your colleagues.  I work in the US and Canada offering PD along with free ways to extend the learning. I can offer you rave reviews from the school, district, regional and state level.  Just reach out to me at for more details!

Please reach out with any questions!

Thanks for stopping by!


Five tips for a Classroom Reboot!

Feel like you need a hard stop and start again?  There’s no better time to refresh than now.   I’m republishing this post and podcast from last January because it was one of the most played episodes of 2019.

Even if you heard it last year, you might want to give it another listen.  If you’re like me, I can always use some reminders about getting back to basics.

Click here for my 5 tips for a successful reboot!


Happy New Year, Edufriends!