Teaching migrants

Teaching English to refugees and migrants enables them to integrate into society. Those displaced come from various places around the world, for complex reasons, need our help and support.

Mass migration can be due to climate change, poverty, war and many fleeing for their lives will have experienced unimaginable danger to arrive in the UK.

The most important skill any person arriving on British soil will need is the ability to communicate. Speaking English will be necessary in finding work, finding a home and understanding/integrating into our culture.

Below are 5 factors to consider when teaching migrants and refugee adults or children.

1. Providing emotional support

dealing with trauma

Many of our learners both adults and children may have experienced trauma before, during and after their journey to the UK.

In Germany, on-fifth of refugee children suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

One third of the 160 unaccompanied asylyum seekering children in Norway suffered PTSD.

In Belgium, 37-47% had severe symptoms of PTSD.

As a Teacher, you are also offering a sense of safety for theses children but the classes maybe emotionally challenging.

You may hear their stories, you may feel their pain, you will be required to give them time and a safe place to learn at their own pace in a nurturing safe environment.

They maybe fearful, take longer to gain confidence in speaking and may

2. Writing stories

Bilingual story telling

Giving children the freedom to write stories that mean something to them promotes creativity and expression.

Children can express their feelings by writing their story down in their native language and translating to English. This bilingual approach to learning enables children to retain their identify whilst learning English.

Whilst the TEFL training encourages us to stick to English for learners, in the case of migrants, the bilingual approach may work well. Happy learners are more productive.

3. Developing vocabulary

develop confidence

Expanding vocabulary gradually and thoughtfully requires a Teaching plan.

The Teaching Plan should include the use of graphics, videos and resources as building blocks to growing students knowledge of words and phrases.

Establish an environment of repetition and revisiting words and phrases as the vocabulary bank grows.

Good use of appropriate resources will help to develop vocabulary.

4. Valuing home language

expresses themselves in native language

There has been a lot of research to suggest that developing your own language helps you to develop skills in acquiring new languages.

With this in mind, children should be encouraged to develop their understanding of their native language as much as possible.

This is not possible for English Teachers who are not proficient multiple language, but it is something to be mindful of.

Just restricting a child may not be the best approach.

5. Learner engagement

engage children at different levels of English proficiency

It is highly likely that a class of 10 young students will have different levels of English proficiency, so how do we manage this?

One strategy would be to test each student to gage their level of English proficiency right from the outset.

Another issue would be touching on sensitive subjects, again this would be different for each individual. Some students would engage by telling their story, some would withdraw and disengage if asked to recount their story.

This balance is something to consider with creating a lesson plan.

Resources and further reading

Teaching resources

Teaching English to migrants and refugees requires a sensitive approach to lesson planning. You can gain more information and guidance from the links below:

Refugee Action

Refugee Council

Student Action for refugees

British Council ESOL

Teachers for Migrants and Refugees rights

British Red Cross



Innovations for English Language teaching for migrants and refugees

About Me

Hello. I am a native English Speaker with a Degree in Business Studies and 120 hours of TEFL qualification. I also have a certification in Coaching and have been training people with their business marketing. I love helping people achieve their goals.