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

During an ELL’s first few days in class, get an idea of the new student’s language abilities – how well he or she can speak, listen, read, and write not only in English, but in the first language too. Azmina doesn’t read and write much English yet, but Donner could learn more about her ability to read in her home language by asking her to bring one of her favourite books to school. She could observe how Azmina handles the book, the general complexity of the text, and how easy it is for her to read. She could also make notes about Azmina’s ability to write in that language. Her findings will help the school form


ETFO president Sam Hammond

When  school begins next September 600 Ontario elementary schools will open their first early learning program (ELP) classrooms.

teacher in front of class showing bycilce

Considering its recent assault upon educators and public schools in Ontario, it’s not surprising that the provincial government has been slow to publicize the findings of a report it commissioned in 1998.