Working together to create magic: English Language Learners gain confidence from shared outings

Issue: Volume 97, Number 4

Posted: 12 March 2018
Reference #: 1H9hqU

A recent adventure has helped students from a migrant background, as well as those born in New Zealand, gain confidence and learn about each other.

Around New Zealand there are currently 55 ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Professional Learning Communities (PLC), established by teachers with support and funding from the Ministry of Education’s Migrant, Refugee and International Education team. These cluster groups, which include ESOL teachers and coordinators, senior leaders, learning assistants and Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB), meet once a term for collegial support and professional learning based on a theme for the year.

A common thread in many PLC discussions is how to assist English Language Learners (ELL) to make friends in their new schools and to learn about New Zealand culture. Teachers of ELL also recognise the important part that ‘hands on’ activities play in helping their learners to remember new language and in building confidence in the use of English.

Activities may range from in-school tasks such as cooking, gardening and simple science experiments to visits in the local community; for example, to the supermarket, pizza shop, beach, park, library or sailing club. There may be a chance for trips to exciting destinations further afield like the zoo, museum, swimming pool, or ferry and train trips.

Taking an English-speaking friend along on a trip is valuable for language learning as well as for social reasons, and recent migrants can participate in activities that most
New Zealand-born kids are familiar with. Sharing new experiences enables children to start new friendships and build social connections, as well as develop language skills.

Adventure in the forest

Members of the Whangarei ESOL PLC collaborated to organise a trip to the Adventure Forest in Whangarei at the end of last year. While most schools in the Whangarei area have a relatively small number of ELL, overall numbers are growing. By working together, the Whangarei schools have been able to provide engaging, language-rich opportunities for their ELL.

The PLC learning thread for the year was oral language development, and the trip was followed up with activities designed to consolidate oral language. Speaking from experience is empowering for students, says one classroom teacher. “After this event they [ELL] gave speeches and all of them were not shy to speak to their class. Two students made it to the school speech finals.”  

Teachers Les Gribben of Excellere College and Julie Hepi of Whangarei Primary are members of the Whangarei ESOL PLC and say that it’s important to organise contexts in which New Zealand-born students and those from international backgrounds can easily work together and socialise.

“At school the ELL students often play with each other because it is easier for them to communicate with one another, so [shared activities] help them develop new friendships and use their English to communicate.”

Miranda Pol of Matarau School says that these shared activities don’t just benefit students from migrant backgrounds – New Zealand-born kids take their role of helping their fellow students gain the confidence to get involved in their new culture seriously.

“Kiwi kids really enjoy learning about a different culture and take their responsibility for looking after these students seriously – they look after them in class and during break time.”

RTLB Chris Mutton, who has been closely involved with the cluster group for several years, helped organise the Adventure Forest outing, involving students from three Whangarei schools. She says that the experience was “a life-changing experience we will all remember through making new friends and overcoming challenges”.  

To find out about an ESOL PLC in your area, or if you would like to discuss establishing a new group, please email senior advisor ESOL Nan Cooper at or phone 09 632 9513.

Chris Mutton’s recipe for ESOL success

Chris Mutton provides her recipe for shared activity success:


Twenty-six year 4–8 English language learners from South Africa, South Korea, Fiji, Bangladesh, Philippines, Vietnam, China, Thailand and their 14 Kiwi buddies.


Get information, permission paperwork and transport sorted.

Book a fine day.

All meet together at a nearby park for gumboot throwing and a shared morning tea.


A high-wire Adventure Forest experience.

A Mr Whippy ice cream at the end of the day.


  • “Can we go back?”
  • “That was so much fun.”
  • “Can we do it every year?”
  • “It was awesome.”
  • “I was scared at first but then I had fun.”
  • “It was the best day ever.”


  • Increased confidence.
  • Hearing usually ‘non-verbal’ English language learners talking.
  • Seeing students helping each other.
  • Seeing students attempting things they have never tried.
  • ESOL students from different schools getting to know each other.
  • Students discovering skills they never thought they had.
  • Seeing students have a go even though they were scared...then going back and doing it again.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 12 March 2018

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