Home » Tales from kindergarten » On tutoring ESL (and other) kindergartners.

On tutoring ESL (and other) kindergartners.

Some of you may be wondering what I do when I tutor ESL kindergartners. I was wondering that myself when I started three years ago. I thought that I would just be reading to them. Boy was I wrong. Reading is the last thing I do.

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At first I was concerned how was I going to communicate with them. I’m not fluent in other languages. I know a smattering of several languages but not enough to really I interact for a long time. Plus, some of the kids start with languages that use different alphabets. I finally realized that I don’t have to know their language or alphabet. I have to know mine. And I know mine pretty well. I have clear handwriting, a clear voice, and a degree in English. I’ve tutored students with learning disabilities. This all helps. But mostly what helps is a desire to help them learn, and a willingness to try anything to get this information in. Half of my job is just showing up and trying whatever works.

There are children from the Congo, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, and Mexico. I was amazed when I first started how many people from all around the world make my little section of Nashville home. I’ve come to realize that is part of what makes Nashville so amazing.

I also tutor kids whose first language is English. I tutor whoever needs me. Often the English-speakers need me because they have other issues going on. Some are possibly dyslexic. Some get no attention at home because their parents are not really ready or able to be parents.

The teacher gives me lists of who to work with and what to work on. I use this as a guideline. Sometimes the child will see something else in my basket of “tools” and want to use that. Sometimes they will not want anything hard at all and they just want to have me read books to them or go over their ABCs. I have to be flexible, yet also aware when they are just trying to play and not work at all.

Here are some examples of the lists. WordPress might have turned these around. The uploader isn’t doing what I want today, but something, even turned sideways, is better than nothing.

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We have different games we use to teach them. I don’t invent these games. The teacher provides them to me on the day I arrive and I use them with the kids. I’m glad that she has all this figured out. Sometimes it takes a while for me to understand what I’m supposed to do with these games, but eventually it makes sense.

I started tutoring for one basic reason. I realized I was saying “How come they don’t learn our language?” way too much. I turned it around and said “How come I’m not teaching them our language?” There are a lot of immigrants here, and a lot of them don’t know English. They can’t speak it or read it. Sometimes they can’t read at all, even in their own language. It is common for people to expect government offices to accommodate them with their different languages. Rather than expecting each employee to have to learn each different language, it makes more sense for us to take the time to teach them English. Work on one language rather than thirty. It seemed easiest to start with children. I can’t teach everybody, but I’ll do what I can.

We use all sorts of tools, and they look like toys.
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Here’s something that helps with vocabulary. The items are in a brown paper bag.

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A child will put her hand in and I’ll ask her to find a specific item without looking. In this particular bag are a bat, a pig, and an egg.

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When she pulls out an item, we then match it up with the card and we use plastic letters to spell the word. They learn vocabulary, and that these letters represent this thing. They also get to practice fine motor skills.

We have a sight word slap game.

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There are words they should recognize by a certain part of the year, and this is a fun way to practice. They get a bug swatter and words on a sheet, in ladybugs. I call out a word and the child has to find it and swat it. It can get really exciting when there are two kids playing this together.

There is a neat plastic board with removable letters.

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The letters have little teeth on them that fit with the orange pieces. The orange pieces have pictures on them. We figure out what the word is and then try to match the sound of the word to the letters. The teeth in the orange piece fit the teeth in the letters, so it is self-correcting.

We always read books at the end. They are very simple books. I’m delighted when they get to the point that they can actually read the book to me and not just figure out the story from the pictures.

Towards the end of our time together I can tell they are getting tired. There is only so much one-on-one intense work they can handle. I’ll ask them if they want to go back to class or do something else like read another book. I always make sure they know that they have control. I am there for them, not the other way around.

After each child is through for the day I say “Thank you for working with me.” I realize that it is hard work for them. I’m grateful that they try so hard.

Here are some of them from the first year. They made “glasses” and were wearing them. I love the fact that I see some of them in the hallway when classes are changing and they still recognize me.

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A note on spelling –
Here’s the funny bit. Nobody seems to know what is the standard spelling for what to call kids in kindergarten. Sometimes the spelling is “kindergartener” and sometimes it is “kindergartner”. One spell-checker will challenge me on one, and another will challenge me on another. Whatever. So if I mix it up, it isn’t me.

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