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Chapter 3: Creating a Welcoming Online Classroom for Students

All students need a safe, welcoming, and supportive school environment to learn. Teachers strive to create a comfortable and friendly virtual classroom that empowers English learners to share their backgrounds and interact with other students. It’s essential ELs feel included and valued throughout their entire educational journey. When a student feels relaxed and accepted, they are more likely to ask questions, participate in class activities, and be confident they can achieve their goals.

Educators use different strategies to accommodate ELs and help them overcome common challenges. In this chapter, we’ll show you how teachers help ELs rise above obstacles and smile along the way.

Common Challenges EL Students Face in an Online Classroom

Learning an additional language while studying academic content can be challenging, but teachers are prepared to help ELs succeed. Here are common obstacles English learners face in cyber school and how educators offer support:

Using Educational Technology

Some ELs may not have experience using educational technology, and their parents might struggle to help with online coursework. Teachers can help students and their families transition into an online classroom by finding solutions that work best for them. At CCA, we provide students with the technology and technical support they need to be successful. Our teachers can also tailor digital tools to meet students’ educational needs.

Coping With Homework Stress

ELs may become stressed if they face a heavy workload and also have to adjust to new learning tools. Teachers can help students avoid schoolwork-related stress by giving them time to adapt to new routines and educational technology. Teachers may also encourage ELs to talk about their emotions and experiences to offer assistance and support.

Experiencing New Language Struggles

Learning a new language in itself is a big task. Anyone who’s ever tried to develop additional language skills knows how challenging it can be. Most students encounter issues learning a new concept at some point, and that’s OK. Teachers who are supportive and willing to give ELs extra time and attention can help them overcome these expected struggles.

Graphic: Experiencing new language struggles.

Encountering Cultural Differences

ELs may encounter specific cultural barriers when studying subjects like math, science, literature, and social studies. For example, ELs may not be familiar with the idioms used in English texts or certain historical terms. As a result of learning about students’ backgrounds, teachers can personalize their online classes and overcome cultural barriers to learning.

Speaking a New Language

Some ELs may hesitate to speak in front of native-English-speaking classmates until they develop their English skills further. Understandably, it takes time to feel comfortable speaking a new language. Still, it’s important students at any English proficiency level feel a sense of belonging and have opportunities to bond with peers. Teachers can encourage ELs to share their knowledge and cultural background in a way that works for them. Everyone in the class benefits when they learn about new cultures and values.

What Are the Needs of EL Students?

Because ELs are developing additional language skills and adjusting to a new environment as they learn academic material, they have unique needs. In general, ELs require the following to thrive:

Graphic: What are the needs of ESL students?


ELs need a positive, supportive environment to do well. A supportive environment allows ELs to feel safe asking questions and interacting with peers. They can also feel safe taking risks with schoolwork to practice new skills and learn from mistakes. A welcoming classroom enables ELs to share their authentic selves, which they can enjoy and look forward to.

To ensure ELs feel supported and valued in an online classroom, teachers should frequently check in with them. They should ensure ELs understand what’s expected of them and that they feel comfortable asking questions. It’s important students know that their teachers genuinely care.


Educators need to remember that it takes time to learn a new language, and some students may not feel comfortable speaking or sharing their unique knowledge right away. Teachers must take the time to learn about a student’s background and approach teaching with empathy and understanding. When students feel understood, they have an easier time staying motivated.


ELs need to practice speaking English to learn it. Teachers must provide opportunities for ELs to interact with other students online and talk. Interacting with other students is also a way to keep ELs engaged.

Colorín Colorado suggests techniques to increase interaction between ELs and native English speakers, such as “think-pair-share.” With think-pair-share, teachers ask students a question and give them time to think of an answer. This allows ELs to process the question and translate their answer. Then, the teacher gives students a chance to share their answers with a partner or small group. During this step, ELs get to practice speaking with classmates and ask for help if needed. Finally, each student shares their ideas with the whole class — and with greater confidence.


A structured and predictable routine helps students feel safe, comfortable, and less overwhelmed because they know what to expect. Teachers can develop consistent routines in various ways to suit their students. For example, a teacher might begin every class with a short, engaging activity to help students settle in. Or, a teacher might check in with each student briefly at the beginning of class.

It’s also essential ELs have structure at home. Structure at home can help students manage stress, focus on learning, and develop a habit of doing homework. For example, ELs and their families might create a daily schedule, including specific times for online classes, meals, and homework. Overall, a consistent routine can help students succeed.


Encouragement can help ELs stay motivated to learn an additional language and overcome related challenges. Teachers can help students by encouraging them to participate in their education and create their own goals. When students take responsibility for their schooling and are personally interested in learning, they are more driven to do well.

Accommodations for EL Students

Teachers provide accommodations during class instruction and tests to ensure ELs have equal access to grade-level content. For example, a teacher might give simplified instructions in English to ensure the student understands the assignment. With accommodations, ELs can work on their English skills while meeting the academic standards for their grade.

Educators consider a student’s English proficiency level and the type of assessment or assignment to select an appropriate accommodation. Here are a few ways teachers can accommodate EL students:

Visual Aids

Visual aids, such as photos, graphs, and videos, can illustrate concepts and help ELs comprehend new content. An online classroom is an ideal setting for visual supports. For example, teachers might demonstrate a key concept in a short video or label images on presentation slides with vocabulary words. Students might complete assignments by drawing or creating videos to show what they’ve learned without a language barrier.

At CCA, students have access to recordings of every lesson. They can watch lessons on their own time to review any material they need to see again. Teachers can show students how to slow down video speed, too, so they can listen closely to the instructions and process what’s said.

Tailored Instructions

Depending on the student’s needs, a teacher might provide instructions in simplified English. These instructions should be free of slang, idioms, and non-essential vocabulary. When giving instructions orally, it’s crucial teachers speak slowly, clearly, and give students a chance to ask questions. They can also give ELs written copies of oral instructions with examples. If a student is just beginning to learn English, teachers might provide instructions in their native language to ensure they can interact with the content.

In Pennsylvania, teachers can also provide accommodations for EL students on standardized tests, such as the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). For instance, they might offer a Spanish version of a math or science PSSA. Teachers are happy to determine a suitable accommodation for ELs so they can take standardized tests. As with classroom assignments, teachers make testing accommodations based on individual needs.

Extra Time

Some EL students may need extra time to complete assignments and tests. Teachers determine how much extra time students need based on their English proficiency level and the type of test. Even if students need more time, it’s important they still have a limit. Time limits keep students motivated to do their best.

Teachers should also give students extra time to answer questions during classroom instruction. This allows students to process questions and translate their answers into English. It can also help ELs feel less pressured and more confident.

Personalized Homework Assignments

Teachers can create home assignments that incorporate a student’s interests, strengths, and native language. For example, if a student enjoys drawing, the teacher might ask them to draw responses to homework questions and share their pictures in their online classroom. Teachers will give homework assignments that match each student’s English proficiency level and allow them to express ideas in their own words.

How CCA Creates a Welcoming Online Classroom

At CCA, we celebrate cultural diversity and look forward to providing our EL students with a quality, standards-based education. We also take joy in creating safe and engaging environments and watching our students flourish. Here are some of the steps we take to ensure our EL students feel comfortable:

We Get Students’ Names Right

We understand how important it is to spell and pronounce each student’s name correctly. Getting a student’s name right helps them feel welcome, and it’s critical for keeping accurate records. Our students can be assured our teachers take the time to learn how to pronounce their names correctly.

We Use Technology to Communicate

We use digital tools, such as multilingual texting, to communicate with non-native English-speaking students and their families in their home language. If families wish to speak to an interpreter instead, we offer those services, too. We want to make sure all of our students and their families feel comfortable asking questions and sharing their ideas. ELs can depend on us to keep communication channels open.

We Apply Total Physical Response

Our teachers use total physical response (TPR), an effective language teaching technique. TPR uses physical movements to build a link between action and language. For example, with TPR, a teacher will say a vocabulary word as they demonstrate its meaning through facial expressions or gestures. They’ll then ask students to mimic the same motions or expressions. TPR is a powerful technique that helps students retain vocabulary and feel less stressed as they learn.

Graphic: Total physical response.

We Implement Nondiscrimination Policies

We are committed to creating equal opportunities for all students and building a positive learning environment free of discrimination, harassment, and bullying. We encourage students and employees to take action if they witness or experience bullying, discrimination, or harassment, and we take every complaint seriously. It’s our priority that our students feel safe, valued, and motivated to learn.

We Embrace Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally responsive teaching links school subjects to students’ cultures, experiences, knowledge, interests, and languages. This approach helps students feel a sense of belonging and develop meaningful relationships. We value the unique assets ELs bring to the classroom and develop rigorous curricula based on their strengths.

To learn more about CCA and how we support our EL students, request more information today.

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