Welcoming and Integrating EL Newcomers into the School Community

Learn how to welcome EL newcomers into both the classroom and school community
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Importance of welcoming EL newcomers into the school community

About This Strategy

Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for newcomers (any recently arrived foreign-born student) is the very first step in establishing a supportive school culture for newcomers. This strategy is for both teachers and leaders who hope to create a welcoming environment for EL newcomers to their school. In this strategy, teachers and leaders can learn five actionable steps to take to create a supportive environment for all EL newcomers.

Implementation Steps: Creating a Welcoming School

  1. Create a welcoming environment and school hallways. This could include: 

    • Displaying flags, photographs of places, or pictures of important people from students' native countries in classrooms and hallways.

    • Representing native language in written form throughout the school. For example, a "Welcome" sign in all the languages of the school community.

  2. Welcome families into the school community. Create "Welcome Kits" (see resource below) to give to all new families that include community resources and important school information. Communicate often with families, especially about students' successes. Remember:

    • All communication to families should go home in multiple languages. Using translation apps like Google Translate are a place to start if you don't have a member of your school community that speaks students' native language. 

    • Keep in mind that many families may have trouble accessing text resources. Schools can create short videos using Loom or Screencastify in native languages to make the content accessible for all families. 

    • Use texting or WhatsApp with families if this is easier than a phone call. The SayHi app allows for in-text instant translation. 

  3. When possible, have staff or community members who speak the same native language be the students' and families' first point of contact. This will put students and families quickly at ease and allow them to have any questions answered. If there is not a staff member who speaks the students' native language, try to find someone in the community who can welcome students and translate to families when needed. Connecting with local libraries or your town or city's office is a great place to start.

  4. Host community events that encourage new families to be a part of the school community. These could be school-wide picnics, celebrations of student learning, or culture-specific events (such as a community Iftar or Three-Kings Day celebration). Schools can also partner with local community-based organizations to co-host events.

Implementation Steps: Creating a Welcoming Classroom

Within the classroom, it is important that students feel integrated into the community. To do this, teachers can:

  1. Get to know each student individually. Many newcomers and their families face numerous challenges, such as finding stable housing, obtaining jobs, and navigating the complexity of many new systems at once. Be a resource for your new students by showing them that you care. You can: 

    • Encourage daily journaling, even in students' native language. 

    • Give students surveys to get to know both their interests and their needs. See the resource below. 

    • Connect students to existing resources in your community. 

  2. Develop a curriculum that encourages students to share parts of their lives, languages, cultures. This could include students writing an "All About Me" book, writing memoirs, sharing memories in daily or weekly journals or check-in circles, and more. Check out the Circle Up: Co-Creating Community Conversations using Class Circles resource shared below.  

  3. Provide ample time and scaffolds for students to produce language and participate. This includes carefully modeling the expectations for a think-pair-share or discussion, providing sufficient wait-time, allowing students to write their response (either in their native language or new language) before sharing aloud, and providing anchor charts or word walls to support students' oral expression. Use sentence stems to encourage students to respond aloud. 

  4. Give plenty of opportunities for students to speak in their native language. This helps to validate their native language, creates space in an academic context for their native language to be honored, and can often help students learn their new language. See the resource below for more information. 

  5. Integrate students' culture and experiences into the classroom. Teachers can play music from students' countries and provide opportunities for students to share dances or food from their native countries. 

Peer Mentoring

Peer Mentoring programs are a great way to welcome new students into the school community. This relationship can both make new students feel included in the school community, as well as give new students a person who can answer their questions. 

Implementation steps:

  1. When a new student joins your school community, pair him/her with a student who has the same native language. The mentors can be students in the same grade as the new student or older students. 

  2. Create a space (such as a lunch period or after school) where the mentor and mentee can meet up. If necessary, offer conversation topics for the students to discuss. Encourage students to speak in either their native language or new language.

  3. Consider offering the mentors extra credit, a positive phone call home, or explaining that they could use this experience on job or college applications. 

  4. Give students conversation topics or offer simple games for students to play.

Special Education Modification

Nedra Massenburg
Special Education Specialist

Creating an inclusive learning environment for new English Language Learners is a foundational tool teachers can use to support those learners who also have disabilities.   Building an environment where these students feel safe and valued is the first building block to helping them form relationships and thus build overall engagement and investment in their learning.

Creating an inclusive learning environment for EL newcomers learners requires significant executive functioning (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.), emotional regulation, reading, and written expression skills.  In order to support learners with disabilities in these areas, consider the following modifications:


  1.  Teacher knowledge and acknowledgment of student disabilities is a key way to create an inclusive learning environment. Sometimes, you may learn that a newcomer had the equivalent of an IEP in their native country. If possible, it is helpful to obtain these documents.  When the documents themselves are not available, learning from the families and the students about their learning needs is essential in order to design appropriate instruction for the student. See the resources in the resource section below for more information.

  2. If you suspect that an EL learner may also have a learning disability, most districts have a "waiting" period to ensure that the learners’' lack of progress is not due to their limited language abilities. However, teachers should always document their instruction, interventions, and modifications that are helpful for the learner to make academic progress.


EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

Creating a safe space for newcomers is an imperative support for a vulnerable population of English Learners. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:


  1. Connect to families. Forging relationships with learners’ families can be challenging but is an imperative part of supporting English learners and newcomers in particular. Newcomer families may have insight about schooling background and experiences that can inform classroom supports. See the "Family Engagement is More than Having a Multicultural Potluck" and "Partnering with Newcomer Families" resources in the resource section below for more information.
  2. Seek out successful model programs. When supporting English learners who are newcomers, feeling unprepared is commonplace. There are many successful programs who will be willing to share best practices. Research local newcomer programs to see if you can observe, ask questions, and/or share resources. See the "ENLACE: Engaging Newcomers in Language and Content Education," "Newcomer Toolkit" and "Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment" resources in the resource section below for more information.
  3. Understand where learners are in the language acquisition process. Like all English learners, newcomers may be at different stages of the language acquisition process. Learn about the characteristics of each stage and support them accordingly. See the "Language Acquisition: An Overview" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  4. Practice culturally responsive teaching. Develop a deep understanding of culturally responsive teaching methods and best practices. See "Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions" and "Culturally Responsive Teaching Checklist" resources in the resource section below for more information.
  5. Be patient and observant. Some newcomers may dive right in to school life, while others may be more hesitant. Others still may have been through extreme situations or have limited or interrupted formal schooling that affect their interactions in the classroom. Support all newcomers by learning as much as you can about them, making thoughtful observations in class, relationship building, and seeking out support as needed. Consult learners’ language specialist about what they’ve learned about learners and their families. See the following resources in the resource section below for more information: "Addressing Student Trauma, Anxiety, and Depression," "Using a Strengths-Based Approach with ELs: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress," "I Wish My Teacher Knew Brainstorm Template," "SLIFE: Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education" and "Ecology of Identity."

Questions to Consider

  • What resources exist within our community that we can leverage to support newcomers? 
  • Who in our school community or district can help with some of our translation needs?

Coach Tips

Caitlin MacLeod-Bluver
BetterLesson Instructional Coach
  • Hosting community events, translating all materials, or establishing a peer-mentoring program may all like a lot to take on. Start small. The most important thing is that students feel like they are welcome in a new school and that teachers and staff take the time to get to know them. This can be as simple as a daily greeting, a few extra minutes of conversation in the hallway, or asking questions about their native country. 

  • Funding community events can be tricky. Reach out to local banks to ask for donations, create a Go-Fund-Me, or establish a request on www.DonorsChoose.org for food and materials for cultural events.

Tech Tools

Google Translate

  • An online translator. 

  • Google Translate can be helpful when communicating with students and families, when creating instructional materials, or when creating posters to display in classrooms. 

Say Hi Translation App

  • Say Hi translates in real time, so two people who don't speak the same language can have a text conversation with each other. 

  • This is a great app to use with students or families with very limited English.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the following resources were consulted: 

  • Karoly, L., Gonzalez, G. (2011). "Early Care and Education for Children in Immigrant Families." Immigrant Children 21 (1). The Future of Children. Retrieved from: http://www.futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=74&articleid=541. 

  • Rance-Roney, J. (2009, April). "Best Practices for Adolescent ELLs." Educational Leadership. 66(7). 32-37.