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  • Writer's pictureAmalia Ibarra

Step 1: Building Rapport in Reading Conferences with ELs

Updated: Dec 18, 2023



If relationship is truly what we are building an education on, shouldn't we make time for it?


We've all been there—standing before an English learner who'd rather gaze at a speck on the wall than engage in a conversation about their book. These reticent ELs, often buried behind a wall of hesitation or shyness, present a unique challenge during reading conferences. While it's tempting to chalk it up to apathy or disinterest, it's crucial for educators to recognize the importance of building rapport in these situations. Why? Because rapport is the bridge that connects us, making genuine communication and understanding possible.


1. Breaking Down Barriers

Reticence can be born out of various factors: fear of judgment, lack of confidence in articulating thoughts, or simply not knowing how to initiate or engage in a discussion. By establishing rapport, educators can gently dismantle these barriers, making ELs feel safe and understood. A nod, a smile, or a well-timed question can open doors that seemed locked tight.


2. Unlocking Authentic Conversations

Once trust is established, authentic conversations can flow. And isn't that what reading conferences are all about? They're opportunities to dive deep into stories, characters, and themes—to share, reflect, and grow. When ELs believe they are in a judgment-free zone, they're more likely to lower their affective filters and share their true feelings and thoughts about a book, and to represent their language they often feel insecure about.


3. Empowering the EL's Voice

Every English learner has a voice, though some may keep it hidden. By building rapport, educators can amplify these hidden voices, affirming their importance. Once ELs recognize that their perspectives are valuable, they're more likely to share them in the future, not just in reading conferences but in other discussions and settings as well.


4. Encouraging Future Engagement

A positive experience during one book conference can set the tone for future interactions. If a reticent EL feels that they have been heard and understood, they're more likely to engage in subsequent conferences and classroom discussions. This cycle of positive reinforcement can gradually turn a hesitant EL into an eager participant.


5. Personal Growth and Empathy

The effort of building rapport doesn't just benefit the English Learner; it's a growth opportunity for educators too. It requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to step into the EL's shoes. These are invaluable skills that can enrich an educator's professional and personal life.


Building Rapport: Practical Steps

  1. Active Listening: This is more than just hearing words; it's about understanding the emotions and thoughts behind them. Make eye contact, nod in acknowledgment, and give ELs the time they need to articulate their thoughts.

  2. Open-ended Questions: Instead of asking yes-or-no questions, pose queries that allow for elaboration. For example, instead of asking, "Did you like the protagonist?", ask "What did you think about the protagonist's decisions in the story?"

  3. Non-verbal Encouragement: Sometimes, a smile or nod can be more powerful than words. These subtle cues can make an EL feel recognized and encouraged.

  4. Creating a Safe Environment: Ensure that the physical setting is comfortable and that the emotional climate is supportive. This can involve setting ground rules for respectful listening and ensuring privacy during one-on-one conferences.

  5. Be Genuine: ELs can sense when educators are going through the motions. Authentic interest in their thoughts and feelings can go a long way.

While student progress is the primary focus of reading conference at AIR Language, the relationship between educator and student can't be overlooked. By investing time and effort in building rapport with reticent ELs, educators pave the way for meaningful discussions, empowered voices, and a richer educational experience for all involved.


If leveled books and reading conferences sound like the direction you would like to go in your English Language classroom, go to this page to request more information.




For more information about the CELL protocol, check out the original article.

Terrantino, Joe, and Sarah J Donovan. “CELL Protocol (Conferring with English Language Learners): Supporting ELLs' Reading Comprehension in Middle Level Education.” Middle School Journal, vol. 43, no. 5, 2021, pp. 14–25., https://doi.org/10.1080/00940771.2012.11461831. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.


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