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SEL for English Learners- Part 2: A Teacher’s Perspective

SEL for English Learners- Part 2:  A Teacher’s Perspective


I (Nicholas Metcalf) teach English Learners (EL) in my health classes regularly, and I tailor specific supports and accommodations for our students.  Many of my students have reported that they feel successful and connected to the classroom and school due to the supportive learning environment, inclusivity, and teacher/student relationship I build with them.

Understanding English Learners

As an EL Health teacher in a large high school (York High School) located in Elmhurst IL, I have had the chance to teach an EL Health class for our summer school curriculum. This class is an extremely diverse class that is geared to meet the needs of all EL learners from around the world. The curriculum mirrors was is being taught during the regular school year, including six different units ranging from mental & social health to performing CPR/AED training.  Over time, I have had students from Mexico, Guatemala and India in the class; however more than ¾’s of the students in the class typically come from Huehuetenango, which is a province in western Guatemala that borders Mexico. These students take the risk of their lives by coming to the U.S.  in return for having the chance to learn, grow and maximize many opportunities that aren’t present in their native area. In addition to this, all of these students leave many of their family members behind and are living and surviving mostly on their own. Based on my experience some of my EL students are not only learning how to acculturation to a new country on their own, they are taking one the responsibilities of young adults, such as working the late night shift at factories or fast food restaurants until early hours of the mornings and then quickly having a full day of school. As an EL teacher I not only understand the barriers of language or finding resources, I teach with empathy by going above and beyond to help positively shape and impact a young person’s educational career.

Health Class and English Learners

Like most suburban High schools, our Health class is a graduation requirement. The luxury of having EL students be able to take EL Health in the summer is that they can get the graduation credit done, learn in a safe environment and be able to take an additional class during the following school year that might spark their personal interest. Also, if an EL student takes Health class during the regular school year the chances of them getting placed into a very large general education Health class is likely.

Supports & Accommodations for English Learners

I have found a wide variety of tools and strategies that enhance EL learners educational experience in the classroom by using:

  • English/Native language dictionary/ electronic translator

  • Teach student to use dictionary in class and on tests

  • Highlighted texts/study guides/graphic organizers/guided outlines

  • Provide Bilingual content area glossary

  • Use modified/adapted textbooks

  • Paired oral and written instructions

  • Use individual or small group instruction

  • Read aloud tests

  • Simplified Tests (reduced choice-wordbank-change format)

  • Allow oral response

  • Test in separate room/ Allow extended time

  • No penalty for spelling/grammar

  • Classroom buddy

Using a Bilingual word wallAll of our EL learners at York High School have a delegated staff member such as a counselor, social worker-dean, EL secretary, bilingual school nurse,  & school psychologist dedicated to work with specifically our EL population. In addition, a community-school parent liaison works with our entire EL student population and the serving communities that attend York High school.

 Resources  and Links

As a classroom teacher, I use outside resources to ensure that the learning environment is enriched and supportive.  These are some of the resources that I typically use:

Language Reference

Google Translate

EL K-8 Games Plus

EL National Geographic

These websites are uniquely tailored for age-level and content areas, which could be applicable for a variety of K-12 classrooms.  As a teacher, I utilize state standardsWIDA English Language Development, and Common Core to provide development in the areas of bilingual/English Learning methodologies.


Above all,  the key to my success when working with our EL population has been being able to develop positive individual/group relationships that foster a welcoming and safe classroom environment.  And in our broader community and school context, I try to encourage our students to get connected to the school in some type of way,  by being involved in community events, clubs, or sports.  When these supports are in place, then they are more likely to have a positive attitude toward learning overall and build their confidence in navigating a new country and culture.
Editor’s Note:  this is part 2 of a 3-part series on social-emotional support for EL students,  led by SSWN lead contributor Ms. Marjorie Metcalf.  Part 1 is here and part 3 (a SSW perspective on working directly with EL students will be published by the end of the month.  Have an idea for an article series here at SSWN?  Send us your ideas @SchoolSocWork 

About The Author

Marjorie Colindres

I am a Bilingual Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working within school settings since 2012 with K-12 grade students in the Chicagoland area. Additionally, I work in a private practice setting with children, adolescents, adults, couples, and seniors. I also work part-time as an adjunct instructor at Loyola University Chicago and I teach School Social Work Practice and Policy. This year, 2019, I have assisted in coordinating the IASSW conference for professionals in the field of school social work. My Bachelor's degrees are in Spanish Literature and Psychology from Loyola University Chicago, Master’s degree in Social Work with a School Social Work Type 73 Professional Educator License from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Type 75 Professional Educator License with a General School Administrator Endorsement from Lewis University. As a school social worker, I personally enjoy being able to develop a positive relationship and empower my students to overcome challenging situations by identifying their strengths. My therapeutic style depends on the need of students as I use an eclectic approach (e.g., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, Task-Centered Practice, and Play Therapy).

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