Creating Welcoming ESL Classrooms

Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for English Learners (ELs) in the ESL classroom is essential for their success and confidence. I firmly believe there are effective ways to make ELs feel welcomed and celebrated through intentional actions. Over the years, my visits to EL classrooms have consistently shown how successful teachers are in creating such environments.

Fostering Community and Confidence: A Successful Approach to Welcoming English Learners

Mr. Rivera, a dedicated high school ESL teacher, employs various strategies to build a sense of community and belonging in his classroom. One of his key approaches is using individual flags for each student. Every student has a flag representing their country, which they place on their desk upon arriving for class. This practice celebrates their cultural identity and makes them feel recognized and valued.

“The flags represent the country the student comes from. I tell them they represent, as ambassadors of that country, through their behavior and heritage, and when a classmate or visitor asks them in English: ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘Where is that flag from?’ The student feels proud of their origin and keeps their country’s flag throughout all rotations. This gives the students pride in who they are and where they come from. Additionally, it helps others learn about the flags of the world,” explains Mr. Rivera.

In addition to fostering a sense of belonging, Mr. Rivera uses ClassDojo to award students points for participation, engagement, and helping with tasks. It’s remarkable how high school students enjoy earning points and actively engage in tasks and rules. Students can redeem points for rewards like chips, candy, or points toward quizzes or final grades. “The benefit is not just for the students but also for making the class competitive and fun and helping those who are shy start to feel like part of the classroom and the school. Additionally, it promotes responsibility,” says Mr. Rivera.

By combining these practices, Mr. Rivera creates an inclusive and supportive environment where students feel proud of their heritage and are motivated to participate actively in their learning journey.

Next, I share several strategies teachers can implement to make students feel at home in the classroom. Please note that this article contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you buy something. Read my full disclosure at the bottom of this page.


Celebrate Diversity with Posters

Posters are a great way to decorate classrooms. Use posters that showcase different cultures, languages, and traditions. Translated posters showcasing different languages are one way to communicate appreciation of different cultures.

Using posters educates all students about diversity and fosters a sense of pride in ELs about their heritage. Put up posters with common phrases, greetings, and classroom instructions in multiple languages. These can be valuable reference points for ELs throughout the day.

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Display and Provide Students’ Flags

Visual representations of students’ home countries and cultures validate their identities and foster a sense of belonging. Seeing their cultural heritage celebrated in the ESL classroom can make ELs feel recognized and respected, which is crucial for their emotional well-being and academic engagement.

Decorate your classroom with flags representing the home countries of your students. Provide each EL student with their respective country flag. Have students share with the class about their flag. This visual acknowledgment of their backgrounds helps ELs feel recognized and valued from day one. Giving ELs the chance to display their flag each day reinforces this value.

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Label Classroom Items

Multilingual labels provide essential language support and help ELs connect new vocabulary with their native language. This approach not only aids in language acquisition but also shows that their native language is valued, promoting a positive attitude towards learning English.

When possible, label classroom items and areas in both English and your students’ native languages. This helps ELs navigate the classroom while learning new vocabulary. Multiple exposure to vocabulary in context increases any student’s vocabulary.

Foster a Sense of Belonging

Create a welcome board with messages in the students’ native languages. This gesture shows that their language and culture are respected and welcomed. Encourage students to bring items from their culture, such as traditional crafts or photos, to display in the classroom. This personalizes the space and helps build a community feel.

Have students create their items to display, or give them options to pick items you can display.

Engage with Visuals and Interactive Materials

Visual aids and interactive maps make abstract concepts more concrete and accessible, which is especially beneficial for ELs who may struggle with language barriers. These tools can help bridge the gap between understanding and expression, boosting students’ confidence and comprehension. Use charts, diagrams, and pictures to support language instruction.

Visual aids can bridge the gap between languages and make learning more accessible. Set up a world map where students can pin their home countries. This interactive activity not only teaches geography but also celebrates your students’ diverse backgrounds.

Promote Peer Interaction

Social connections are vital for emotional support and language practice. A buddy system and collaborative group projects encourage ELs to interact with their peers, providing opportunities to practice English in a natural and supportive context. This peer support helps reduce feelings of isolation and builds a sense of community.

Buddy System: Pair ELs with a buddy who can help them navigate school routines and offer friendship. This peer support is crucial in helping new students feel comfortable.

Group Projects: Organize group activities that encourage collaboration among students. This helps ELs practice their language skills in a supportive setting.

Highlight Achievements and Progress

Recognizing and celebrating the achievements of ELs, no matter how small boosts their confidence and motivation. An achievement board and cultural projects provide a platform for ELs to showcase their talents and progress, reinforcing their sense of accomplishment and encouraging continued effort.

Achievement Board: Dedicate a board to showcase student work and achievements. Highlighting ELs’ progress can boost their confidence and motivate them to keep striving.

Cultural Projects: Assign projects that allow ELs to share their culture and language with classmates. This not only builds their confidence but also enriches everyone’s learning experience.


Tailoring instruction to meet the specific needs of each EL ensures that they receive the appropriate level of challenge and support. This individualized approach helps students progress at their own pace, making learning more effective and enjoyable. Flexible grouping strategies further enhance this personalized experience, providing diverse opportunities for language practice and social interaction.

Creating a welcoming ESL classroom where English learners feel confident and celebrated is key to their success. By incorporating these strategies, including posters and student flags, you can build an inclusive environment that honors and supports every student. These strategies help newcomers and any student who enjoys learning about other cultures.

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