I predominantly teach people seeking refuge and asylum at a further education college in Scotland.
I've taught there since 2007, and in that time I've met many English language learners from different backgrounds. Some have difficult living situations, family worries, or mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression. Others face economic hardship.
Creating a safe space where students feel valued, supported, and relaxed is crucial for motivation and student success. In order to best support them, I aim to make my English language classroom as supportive as possible.
Here are the five tried-and-tested methods I like to use to promote mental health in the classroom:
1. Listen & be flexible
I'm very aware that learning English may not be my learners’ top priority.
I would love it if they did every piece of homework and always arrived to class on time, but I understand that asylum claims, work, family, and health are more important.
If my students aren’t performing as they should, I set time aside to speak to them in private and ask them how I can help. If they need to make changes to their class times or workload, then we can discuss that and make a plan.
2. Offer community support & resources
In some cases, I may not be able to help. I’ve had students who have become homeless or who have experienced severe trauma, torture, or abuse.
It’s useful to have a list of local support organizations that can be contacted in this instance. Consider collating a shared resources document within your team with contact details.
- Fire, police, and health services
- Women’s aid shelters
- Homeless charities
- Mental health support teams
- Community centers
- LGBTQ+ support agencies
If possible, try to develop partnerships with these organizations over time. You’ll probably find that they’re eager to work with you. They may even offer visits or weekly drop-in sessions specifically for your school.
See My Community Services resource for a ready-made template that newcomer students can fill out with your help.
3. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is developing the ability to be aware of your feelings, situation, and surroundings without judgment. It's been found to be beneficial for relaxation and mental well-being.
Practicing mindfulness in the classroom is a great way to start or end a lesson. You can also use mindfulness to calm students who are feeling anxious about upcoming assessments or who need to relax and focus after an energetic activity.
As a graphic facilitator, I find more and more benefits to drawing in class every day. One of these benefits is its therapeutic nature and the ability to make people laugh.
Herbert Bensen, a Harvard cardiologist, found that drawing has a relaxation response. The movements necessary to draw were found to decrease blood pressure and lower pulse and breathing rates.
Ellii has plenty of worksheets, activities, and blog posts incorporating drawing in class. You can search for "draw" or check out these drawing-related materials:
- 3 Tips for Using Flashcards–No Prep Required
- How to use Pictures as Grammar Prompts
- Drawing Activities
5. Get outside
Being outside has been found to...
- reduce stress levels and anxiety
- improve confidence, mood, concentration, and sleep
So it’s a good idea to take your English classes outside when you can.
If there’s a park or recreation space nearby, use it for speaking activities, or language games. Day trips, walking tours, or setting up an outdoor-themed club (e.g., football, cycling, or gardening) can also be beneficial.
Share your thoughts
How do you promote mental health in your classroom? Have you tried any of the things I mentioned? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.