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Let's Get Those School Basics out of the Way: ESL Newcomer Unit 1

Updated: Aug 1, 2020

So it’s the first day of school for ESL newcomers. You’re a little nervous; they’re a little nervous, probably a little more so than you. They may be in a total immersion environment, but you have given them some tools to be successful so far… a schedule, a tour, an introduction to your other ELs, supplies... With so much to learn ahead, the best thing to do is dive in! Our newcomers need the most TLC, so this curriculum provides different activities to get them learning and is specifically designed for middle school and high school students. ***** Covid-19 Update: This unit can now be used for ANY classroom situation that comes your way. It is ideal for an on-site or hybrid model of teaching. It is also updated for totally distance online learning. Woohoo! The digital resources can be shared on Google Classroom.

Unit 1: Introduction to School of my newcomers curriculum hits the ground running with 36 new words or phrases, 5 important basic sentences or greetings, and an introduction to singular and plural nouns, pronouns, and the simple present tense. Please note, in addition to this unit I am teaching students the short sounds of the alphabet. I use Words Their Way to teach this.

This unit challenges your students in the best way. It gives them some basic vocabulary that will help them survive in an English school setting. Vocabulary seems so difficult for students because they don’t know English word patterns yet. Heck they don’t even know how to pronounce a short “a” yet. Everything is new; everything seems scary. But rest assured, it can only go up and get easier from here!

Each day your students will continue practicing their flashcards. This is straight memorization and their first experience of what English words feel like and sound like as they pronounce them. They will need you to keep pronouncing the words for them and repeating after you to get comfortable and confident with this. They will also be practicing their vocabulary while learning basic grammar. I want to be clear about this: I do NOT test grammar in this first unit. It is way too soon. Memorizing the vocabulary is enough. I think it’s important to expose them to grammar, but not have the expectation that it is learned this time around. The grammar worksheets and activities are going to challenge your students. Be patient. I encourage you to use what my district calls the ME-WE-TWO-YOU format of teaching. I can’t find the person who invented this but know it was not me. It came from the gradual release of responsibility model of teaching coined by Pearson and Gallagher.


I recommend using this format when teaching new concepts. I explicitly teach the new concept and complete the first 1 to 3 questions for the students (maybe even more this first unit!). I explain my thinking as I go (ME). Then, we do the next 1 to 3 questions as a full class together (WE). This is followed by 1 to 3 questions in partners (TWO). Finally, whatever is left is completed independently (YOU). This strategy helps ELs in many ways:

  • Students are less likely to complete the whole worksheet incorrectly.

  • It ensures students don’t “get stuck” and just sit there.

  • It scaffolds the curriculum, so students have many opportunities to learn the concept with the help of the teacher or classmates.

  • Metacognition: As the teacher is teaching, it demonstrates to students what they should be looking for and thinking about as they are developing English grammar skills.

I actually was not trained on this method until my second high school I taught at, and I have found it so helpful with English language learners.

The game in this unit is Jenga. My students have so much fun playing this. I bought mini Jenga games from the Dollar Store, which were… well… a dollar. Of course I can’t find a comparable price online, but I did find something similar for cheap on Amazon. Click here.

This unit should take a little over 2 weeks. I have my students every other day for 80 minutes, so I spend about 7 class periods on this unit. On the unit vocabulary test, feel out which students need a word bank and which don’t. If I don’t give a word bank, I grade the test right away and circle words that are blank or spelled incorrectly. Then, I give those students a word bank to try again. I use standards-referenced grading, so I keep all this in mind when deciding their final test grade. As the professional getting paid the big bucks, you can decide what proficiency looks like in your own classroom. For Unit 1, I usually reward them proficiency if they can identify all the words WITH a word bank.

Good luck! Please check out this unit at Teachers Pay Teacher and let me know if you have questions or ideas on how I can improve it. To read up on Unit 2 on School Cafeteria and Restroom, please click here.


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