What the humanities teacher needs to know

This page has advice how mainstream humanities teachers can best help the ESL students in their classes.


Whereas science is often the favourite subject of ESL students, humanities In this context, humanities refers to geography and history. is typically the one they find the hardest and enjoy the least. This is no great surprise, because @ humanities courses offer students fewer of the opportunities for hands-on work that are the mainstay of the science classroom. ~

Apart from certain aspects of physical geography, humanities lessons tend to be characterized by discussions and activities of an abstract nature. Much of the necessary input for students in upper grades comes from reading dense texts.

Language researchers have found that complex decontextualized tasks are by far the most demanding for the non-native speaker.

The opportunities for students to activate background knowledge in humanities can be far more limited than in other subjects. A student from Korea studying the American revolution, for example, may have no existing knowledge that could help him to make sense of the tasks he has to perform in class and at home.

Suggestions for ESL student support

Although humanities courses such as geography, and particularly history, are clearly very challenging for many ESL students, it is possible to support the students so that they can learn with success and enjoyment. Here are some suggestions


Of course, modifications to existing humanities programs to make the instruction more accessible to ESL students demand extra work of the humanities teacher. But it is almost invariably the case that modifications made for ESL students benefit the other students too.

Further reading

Read more about the tasks that are most demanding for ESL students.

Here is the information for parents on the importance of the mother tongue.