Teaching Secondary Physical Education to ESL Students

By Glakas, Barbara A. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, September 1993 | Go to article overview

Teaching Secondary Physical Education to ESL Students


Glakas, Barbara A., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Teachers may find that students who are enrolled in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program in their schools are also enrolled in courses that are less language-based, such as art, math, and physical education. How can physical educators communicate with ESL students so that their experiences in physical education are successful?

In 1989, the National Association for Bilingual Education estimated that there were more than 6.6 million limited English proficient (LEP) students in American schools (Gil & Gil, 1989). LEP students are often enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and in other courses that are not considered to be highly language-based, such as physical education. ESL students may have a greater need to feel a sense of belonging and to experience success, and physical educators are in an ideal position to help fulfill the confidence needs of these students (Gil & Gil, 1989). For many language minority students, life in the United States it very different from life in their native countries. Adjusting to a second culture is often demanding and, in some cases, traumatic. Physical educators have a unique opportunity to make this transition easier. But it is not good enough to merely be empathetic or sensitive. Teachers must be willing to learn about the needs of these students and to modify programs or teaching styles accordingly.

To be successful in teaching ESL student, physical educators must not view them as merely a "problem" to be "dealt with." Although ESL students offer special challenges, physical education classes offer special opportunities for them. My high school is comprised for more than 60 percent ethnic minority students, and I have discovered a few helpful strategies for teaching ESL students in my physical education classes.

Identifying an ESL Student

On the first day of school, you may not know which students in your physical education classes are in the ESL program. Some ESL students are fairly proficient at speaking English, but they may not be able to read or write in English. Still others may not be able to speak English at all. Before explaining class policies and procedures, teachers must identify the English proficiency levels of their students. These levels may vary; the level of their proficiency will help teachers determine the students' needs. My school system categorizes ESL levels into the following groups:

* Level A: Students who have little or no proficiency in English and need intensive English instruction; some of these students may also be illiterate in their own native language.

* Level B1: Students who have limited proficiency in understanding and speaking English; they have little skill in reading and writing English; intensive instruction in English is needed.

* Level B2: Students who are fairly proficient in understanding and speaking English, but their skill is reading and writing is limited; they participate successfully in regular classes if instruction in reading and writing is provided.

* Level C: Students who are former members of the ESL program; they are considered proficient in English, have been mainstreamed into all regular classes, and no longer need ESL instruction.

One way not to identify ESL students is to say to the class, "Raise your hand if you are in the ESL program." ESL students may not raise their hands because they are too embarrassed to be singled out, or because they do not speak English and did not understand the question. There are three easy ways to identify ESL students:

* Ask to see the students' schedule sheets, which they will probably have with them on the first day of school. The schedule sheets should indicate whether or not a student is enrolled in any ESL classes.

* Ask the students to copy their schedules on a sheer of paper for you (again, their schedules should indicate ESL classes). …

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