Pair Your Newcomers with Buddies

Pair Your Newcomers with Buddies

by Judie Haynes

Assign a buddy or a cross-grade tutor to your English language learner and watch them both blossom. Buddies gain in self esteem and your ELLs will feel welcome in your class

A buddy or cross-grade tutor who speaks the newcomer's language is a wonderful asset at the beginning of the school year.

Buddies are classmates and cross-grade tutors are older students in the same school. The ideal situation would be to pair an older bilingual student with a same-language newcomer. During the adjustment phase, the buddy or cross-grade tutor can explain what's going on. This is a good self-esteem builder for a bilingual buddy and a new friend for the newcomer. You may want to rotate buddies so that students do not become too dependent on one person and the bilingual buddy does not miss too much work.

Use English-speaking buddies, too. You will need to help these buddies learn how to work with non-English speakers and to reward those students who take their job seriously. Teach buddies the importance of patience, repeating, and not overloading. Help them understand that some newcomers might not want to speak at all for several months after arriving, and that that doesn't mean they should give up talking to them.

Ask students to brainstorm the things they can do to make newcomers feel welcome. What ways can they have fun together? How can they learn each others' languages? How can they get their schoolwork done?

Much has been written about using buddies with new learners of English. Keep in mind that peer buddies have a more limited use when students are 5-8 years old. Remember that young bilingual students are not always reliable translators of important information.

Things your peer buddies can do with your newcomers:

Provide frequent "time-out" from English periods for newcomers. Allow the newcomer to spend time each day during those first weeks speaking with others of the same native language. He or she needs to ask someone "What's going on here?"

What if there are no students in the newcomer's class who speak his/her language? Keep a list of the people in your building who speak the languages of your students. The classroom teacher will need someone to translate important instructions. This list can include other teachers, custodians, same-language students in other classes, and bilingual parent volunteers. Make sure that the main office and the school nurse have a copy of these lists. Remember, kindergarten and first grade students are not necessarily reliable translators of important information.


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