Even in noisy classrooms, busy hallways, and seas of faces, there are endless ways students might be lonely. Maybe they feel different, like they don’t quite belong. Perhaps they feel like they can’t contribute, that their voices and opinions don’t matter.  Some may feel like they can’t talk to anyone, at all.

Any child could feel these things, for any number of reasons. And having worked in ESL for many years now, I have come to see that multilingual language learners might be lonely in ways that are typically unexpected, in situations which otherwise might seem innocuous …

Perhaps loneliness might be born of listening to a class novel, read out loud by their teacher for 20 minutes … while the thrilling tale is open to all their classmates, it remains only a hum of disjointed sounds to the student just learning English.

Maybe loneliness finds them while staring confoundedly at a worksheet … devoid of illustrations and graphics, an intimidating wall of text stares back at them, crammed margin to margin with indecipherable script.

And loneliness might show itself at the sound of their classmates’ voices, at the sight of their hands raised … knowing that their peers are answering, participating, and understanding … while they themselves cannot.

This blight of isolation has an elixir, however. There is no one single recipe that produces this redeeming draught, but many educators know the basic ingredients. Luckily, my role affords me glimpses into this creative process, across many schools, in countless classrooms. School days, and weeks, and months reveal of a pinch of this, a dash of that, strong foundations, and ingenious combinations. Here’s a smattering of this years’ reimagined approaches:

A novel study, but with copies in multiple languages… so everyone is involved in the magic of the tale, and the meaningful exploration of related themes and topics afterwards.

A worksheet, dense script lightened by illustrations and open spaces, meaning unlocked through visuals and strategic translation, transforming that wall of text to an invitation, a welcoming-in.

A lesson, relevant to the lived experiences of students in the class, its ciphered speech slowly made comprehensible as teachers point to pictures of vocabulary they are talking about, visual clasps that fasten meaning to words … and the slight slowing of the voice as this happens, like stopping briefly on a stroll for a warm greeting.

As I’ve said before, each classroom is different, each teacher’s response tailored to the needs of the students before them. But each wonderful concoction has the same effect. And I never tire of seeing all the various ways our teaching can become that beautiful remedy, that antidote to loneliness.


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