Note that some of these strategies are more applicable in tutoring contexts, but most of them are also effective in faculty-student individual–or group–conferences.
Ask English language learner (ELL) students the same questions about their paper that you would ask any student:
- “What’s the assignment? Do you have the instructions?”
- “Where are you in the writing process?”
- “What feedback have you gotten from your peers or your instructor?”
- “What would you like to work on?”
If the student asks to work on grammar, try to identify what they actually mean:
- “What types of grammar issues do you typically struggle with?”
- “What type of grammar errors has your instructor marked in your papers in the past or asked you to focus on?”
- Sometimes, “grammar” really means “word choice,” “style,” “transitions,” “logic”…
Whatever the student says, don’t panic! Project confidence:
- “I can definitely help with [some of] that.”
Please do not say “We don’t work on grammar here” or “I can’t help you with grammar.” We want to make it clear that we don’t fix grammar for students without their input or engagement, but we absolutely will help them to identify patterns of error and learn how to fix errors on their own.
During the Session
Read Aloud– In many cases, it’s helpful to read aloud some or all of the paper, usually starting with the introduction. You can either have the student read [if they are a more advanced learner and/or seem comfortable doing so] or read yourself [if they hesitate at all or seem to struggle]. Explain this strategy so that the student will understand the importance of hearing their work read out loud:
- “If I simply go through and fix the grammar, you won’t learn how to correct your own mistakes; we want to help you get better at fixing them yourself. As we read together, we’ll see what you can identify on your own, and I can point things out to help you, too. That way you can learn to recognize patterns of error and begin to correct them yourself.”
- “By hearing your paper read out loud, you often hear missing connections that you otherwise cannot see. It will help more than just the grammar, and you will likely be able to find more of your own mistakes than you now realize.”
- “As you are [or as I am] reading, if any place feels strange or is difficult to read, or you are unsure about something, stop reading [or ask me to stop reading] so that we can talk about that area in particular.”
Solicit– Establish comprehension by asking soliciting questions:
- “I got lost here, can you help me…” or “I’m confused by…”
Listen– Practice active listening; try to paraphrase the student’s ideas:
- “So what I’m hearing is X or Y. Which one do you mean?”
Clarify– Ask for clarification as often as needed:
- “What do you mean by (certain words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs…)?”
Scribe– At times, you can write for the student by recording their exact words. If they are brainstorming ideas, construct charts, outlines, or other visual representations of those ideas to help them see how they relate to one another. Just be sure you are using the student’s own ideas and not writing their paper for them!
Wait– Wait patiently for answers. The “second-language lag” may add 5-10 seconds to the typical “thinking lag.” After waiting at least 30 seconds, you might ask, “Which part of what I said seems confusing to you?” (Or, if you realize you were confusing, just say “Sorry, I think that was confusing” and rephrase!)
Research Together– If you don’t know a particular grammar or citation rule, don’t make things up!
- “Let’s look at the handbook and figure it out together.”
Catalog– Make a mental list of the errors you notice (or mark errors in one paragraph). After the first 1-2 paragraphs, you can go through and point out common grammar errors (usually verb tense or word forms). Then ask the student to go back through those paragraphs and find all (verbs/nouns/etc.) and check them. Most students are perfectly capable of finding and correcting their own mistakes if they have a guided idea of what to look for.
Supply– Don’t be afraid to model academic language for students:
- Signal phrases: “despite,” “not only/but also,” “however,” “that said,” “on the contrary,” “nevertheless,” “while,” “at first glance,” “upon closer examination,” “taken together”
- Qualifying words: “apparently,” “probably,” “ostensibly,” “seems,” “perhaps”
- Modal verbs: “might,” “should,” “could,” “can,” “may,” “would”
- There are templates in They Say/I Say that are really helpful to look at with students
Offer Context & Choices– Help students with vocabulary:
- “Do you mean X or Y?”
- “We typically use this word in X context, because it has Y connotations. Is that what you intend to say?”
- Focus on words the student used that don’t mean what they think they mean.
- Look words up in a dictionary together.
- Sometimes, it’s OK to give students the correct word, but be sure to either explain what the word means or have the student look it up in a dictionary.
Ending the session in a way that helps the student get some perspective on what they learned and where they plan to go from here is crucial in all consulting appointments. For ELL students, this is no different. You can:
- Review what you believe the student learned in the session: use the tutorial form to reinforce key grammatical points or ideas.
- Note that you didn’t cover everything, and ask the student what still needs to be done.
- Ask the student to articulate some version of their plans either in the short- or long-term.
- Use the tutorial report form to reinforce what you discussed; either you or the student can write down what you covered and what still needs to be done at home or during the next tutoring session.