The Importance of Social Skills with Newcomer Students
by Graciela Williams, Guest Blogger
Thanksgiving is almost here, and, undoubtedly, your classroom is buzzing with excitement for the soon-approaching break. You might find that you and your students have finally found a steady routine. You may even feel that your students have some sense of your classroom rules and requirements, even if many of those aren’t exactly followed to a “T.” Your sense of classroom “normalcy” is at its peak when, suddenly, you get word that you will have a new student. Not only will you have a new student, but it will be a new student that speaks limited English. You have been here before and know the difficulty of adding a new student into the mix, but a student that speaks limited English is a step further. The classroom dynamic changes, and the educational “catch up” game quickly follows. This scenario is all too common in many schools across the U.S. Teachers and school administration begin to identify the challenges of students who start school mid-year, but they soon find themselves focusing on classroom dynamics and making sure that the student meets certain targets for educational purposes. An area that can be easily overlooked is the newcomer’s social and emotional well-being. Adjustment in the classroom involves much more than the student’s physical and mental understanding of school and classroom norms.
Research is finding that new incoming students require social and emotional support during school adjustment periods. Although the needs of the students increase, the school’s ability to provide adequate resources and staff to meet the needs of the students remains limited. Even with limitations, schools can still make sure that all of the newcomer’s needs are met in order for the student to be successful in the classroom. Incorporating social skills lessons within the classroom can promote an environment where newcomer students share experiences, establish connections, and practice their English abilities.
Sharing experiences, for newcomer students, in a non-threatening environment is a great way for students to start building connections and relationships with their peers. Beginning conversations at the lunch table or at recess can be intimidating, but providing an in-class activity, where students share in small groups, can help promote effective communication and relationship building. It allows the newcomer to participate in the lesson all while learning essential vocabulary skills. Social skills lessons can help promote English by having newcomers practice their English skills within the four domains: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Social skill lessons can also help the teacher understand their student’s background in a non-intrusive manner. Understanding the student’s past experiences can shed some light on educational learning experiences and current levels of social, emotional, and physical adaptation to a new learning environment.
For a FREE sample social/emotional lesson, visit the “Newcomers/SIFE” folder in the English Learner Portal Resource Center. This activity promotes the four domains, while engaging students in a fun, interactive activity where they feel comfortable sharing about their experiences. The full lesson plan and Feelings Cards included!
Graciela Williams “Gracie” is a licensed bilingual school social worker in Annapolis, Maryland. Gracie currently works with newcomer students and runs several social skills groups around the county. She specializes in working with international students who have experienced trauma. She has done extensive work incorporating and facilitating student and parent reunification groups within the school system. Gracie has worked as an Adult ESL teacher and program manager for literacy centers in South Carolina and Colorado. She has a bachelor’s degree in counseling from Bob Jones University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of New England. Gracie is also an Adjunct Professor for Goucher College, where she teaches a graduate level seminar course regarding At Risk Students, and she is an Adjunct Community Faculty for The University of New England providing field instruction to current MSW students.
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English Learner Portal November 2017