Welcome to Canada: Receiving and Supporting New English Language Learners in Your School

Jeffery Robinson, Peter Dorfman

Last fall, the Ontario Ministry of Education released a new policy on English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Literacy Development (ELD). The ideas presented in this article will help your school meet the requirements set out in that policy.

Jill Donner (not her real name) is a grade 4 teacher in a small, lively school in a typical Ontario town. In four years of teaching, Donner has worked with students from various cultural backgrounds, but she has just received her first English language learner (ELL), Azmina. Although she is a skilled and conscientious teacher, Donner does not feel prepared to teach a student who doesn’t speak English. With no ESL/ELD teacher onsite, Donner feels frustrated and unsure about the first steps she should take with Azmina. Like many mainstream classroom teachers she needs some guidance.

The following suggestions include some practical ways for teachers and schools to prepare for and meet the immediate needs of newly arrived students.

Develop a reception plan

Developing a clearly described plan for receiving students who are new to Canada will go a long way toward ensuring their success in their first days at school. The key players in the school should meet to make decisions about who will be responsible for each part of the plan and what needs to be done. They should then share that plan with the whole school team: administrators, secretaries, teachers, educational assistants, and parent council.

The reception plan might include providing a special package with information about the Ontario school system, a school handbook, a map of the school and community, and a list of items the student will need for class. (The website  settlement.org/edguide has print and video resources in 17 languages, to share with parents.

They are great for non-newcomers too.) One highly effective strategy is to have a team of student ambassadors who link newcomers with students who can help them with classroom routines, join them at lunch, and play with them at recess.

Conduct an initial assessment – in both English and the home language


Young children in winter wear standing out front of Waabgon Gamig First Nation School

Four years ago, the Georgina Island Indian Day School, located within the York Region District School Board, officially became the Waabgon

very young children playing in playground with adults

Imagine thousands of children and adults making cityscapes with blocks, or creating art and sculptures with paint, cardboard boxes, and pla