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Strategies for mentors working with ELL mentees

Below are some strategies that can be shared with mentors working with students who are developing their English language skills to help them build a strong relationship with their mentees. 

Enhancing In-Person Communication

Understand your mentee’s experience:

  • Meeting you for the first time is scary! Your mentee wants you to like him/her. Your mentee may be nervous to communicate with you in English. First meetings can be intimidating and overwhelming.

Ensure that you and your mentee understand each other:

  • Find a quiet space to talk. This will allow you to hear and better understand each other.
  • Speak clearly and consciously:
    • Enunciate carefully, and make sure to make eye contact with your mentee while speaking; it's helpful for ELLs to be able to watch your facial expressions and mouth movements while listening to you
    • Speak slightly more slowly than usual.
    • Do not use challenging vocabulary or slang.
    • Do not group multiple thoughts/questions into one sentence.
  • Be comfortable with waiting. Be silent for a couple of seconds after you ask a question or make a statement. Your mentee may need some additional time to process what you said.
  • Clarify meaning without being intimidating: 
    • Ask, “I heard you say ___________. Is that right?”
    • If you wait for a few seconds and your mentee doesn’t respond, ask “Did you understand what I said? Do you want me to repeat or rephrase what I said?”
    • If you ask your mentee to repeat him/herself, communicate that you couldn’t hear him/her, not that you didn’t understand him/her.
  • Get creative: use the back of your packet to write or illustrate words that aren't understood, and take advantage of tools like Google Translate and Google image searches to help you communicate

Enhancing Written Communication

Call att ention to the main points of your message:

  • If you ask your mentee any questions on the Platform:
    • Physically separate your questions by putting them in a separate paragraph. Label the paragraph “questions for you to answer.”
    • Underline, bold, and/or number your questions. Put an extra line between each question.
  • Ask your mentee to respond to your questions: End your message by saying “Please respond to my questions.”
  • Acknowledge progress: Provide positive feedback when your mentee responds to your questions.
  • Model: Show your mentee how to answer questions clearly (e.g. "I joined many clubs during college, such as the economics club, community service club, and basketball team.”).
  • Create templates for your mentee to fill in: You can model this first, and encourage them to copy, paste, and change your answers to their own (e.g. Something good that happened this week: I watched a funny movie with my sister. Something bad that happened this week: I was late to work on Tuesday because the trains were very delayed).
    • Let your PM know that you're trying out this technique, so that they can support your mentee with understanding this strategy in class. 

Write messages that your mentee can comprehend: 

  • Use simple sentence structure: Do not group multiple thoughts and/or questions into one sentence.
  • Explain what you mean:
    • If you use a challenging vocabulary word, define it! Establish a consistent system for including definitions so that the mentee can easily process this, such as having definitions in parentheses following the word being defined.
    • Do not use slang and/or idioms: Canvas is not the right place to attempt to explain something so nuanced
    • Use your Program Manager: If you have an important point that you want to ensure that your mentee understands, contact your PC to ask him/her to follow up with your mentee in class.

Make sure you understand what your mentee wrote: 

  • Read it aloud: This can be helpful if a mentee is spelling phonetically or mistakenly used a word that sounds similar but means something different.
  • Ask your PM to read the message: He or she may have more context and thus a greater ability to understand your mentee’s message.

Use Platform activities as an opportunity to communicate and connect, not an opportunity to correct!

  • Use Platform activities to offer guidance and support: It is more important to support your mentee and develop a relationship than to correct your mentee's message!
  • Talk to your mentee and your PM: If you want to correct or provide feedback to your mentee’s messages, first speak with your mentee and your PM to determine whether this would be constructive.
  • Think about when correcting is appropriate: If you want, ask your mentee if he/she would like you to review school assignments. This is more appropriate and helpful than correcting a written messages.

Supporting your mentee towards college

Support your mentee’s academic success by teaching advocacy skills and connecting your mentee to resources:

  • Your job is NOT to be your mentee’s tutor! 
  • Define goals: Ask your mentee about his/her academic goals for the year. Then, work together to make plans to accomplish those goals.
    • Help your mentee set specific, measurable, tangible goals. Take a broad, long-term goal such as "I want to learn English" and break it down into daily and weekly actions that will add up to accomplish this large scale goal.
  • Make plans: Help your mentee to develop plans for preparing for exams and assignments. Review study skills and develop specific plans for preparing for important exams.
  • Help your mentee develop self-advocacy skills: Encourage your mentee to ask questions in class, to stay after school for extra help, to request extra credit or to retake exams, etc.
  • Connect your mentee to resources: Help your mentee look for resources to help him/her succeed academically. Encourage your mentee to look for tutoring services, online resources, and more. Do not do the work for your mentee, but do hold your mentee accountable by following up.
    • Check with your PM about what types of resources the school already offers, and encourage your mentee to take advantage of accessing these supports as much as possible.

Support your mentee in his/her college application process without being overbearing 

  • Give the facts: Provide objective, factual information about college and the benefits of college.
  • Connect to resources: Help connect your mentee to his/her college counselor at school.
  • Be culturally aware! Your mentee’s parents may not want him/her to attend college. This may be for cultural or financial reasons. Do not criticize your mentee’s parents if they do not want him/her to attend college. If your mentee wants to attend college but feels limited by his/her parents, coach your mentee on how to have a productive conversation about this with his/her parents.
  • Be encouraging: Most community colleges and many 4-year colleges have English language support programs. Work with your PM to identify local institutions that are ELL-friendly, and get your mentee excited about this pathway into college-level coursework.