Background Information

Obtaining Student Background Information

Effective teachers and tutors of linguistically diverse students know that gathering background information on their students is key in supporting their English development and acculturation. This background knowledge helps teachers understand their students and better equips them to meet the students’ educational needs.

I don’t know what kind or how to gather information to help my student.

Provided is a list of questions that you want to find answers to in order to learn more about your student.

Primary Language

  • What language(s) are spoken at home?
  • What is the primary language of the student? Or, In what language does the student function best?
  • What is the level of language proficiency in these languages? Or To what degree is this language developed orally, in reading, and in writing?

Educational Background

  • Has the student attended school before in his home country? At what level?
  • Has the student attended school before in the U.S.? How long? At what level?
  • Is the child receiving additional supplementary educational services?
  • What is the student’s oral, reading and writing proficiency in English?

Geographical Background– Immigrant, Refugee, or Native-born?

  • What is the country of origin? Specific region?
  • Did the family belong to a specific tribe with unique characteristics?
  • How long has the student been in the U.S.? Where?
  • What are the circumstances of immigration? (For example, was immigration to the United States a conscious choice or necessitated by war, imminent danger or hardship? Or was trauma experienced or witnessed prior to or as a part of immigration? Did the student live in a refugee camp?

Culture(s) in the country of origin

  • What is/are the dominant cultural backgrounds of the student / family?
  • What are the basic beliefs concerning education (attendance, roles and responsibilities of the teachers, students and parents)?
  • What are the basic beliefs concerning family, friends, conflict resolution, religious beliefs, etc.?
  • What are the major important days of celebration?
  • What are cultural sports, games or traditions?

Family Situation

  • Is the family intact? Are the parents alive, together, separated? Are the parents living with their children? Are the siblings together / separated? Are their other family members / friends living in the home?
  • Does anyone in the home speak English and can help with schoolwork?
  • Is the family in the United States permanently / temporarily?
  • Is the family aware of available community resources and services in their home language / culture?

Personal Interests / Abilities / Health

  • What are the student’s special interests, abilities and talents?
  • Are there any physical or health conditions that influence learning or instruction (i.e. vision, hearing, food allergies, etc.)?
  • Is the child introverted/extroverted in school? What about at home? On the playground?

There are several resources you can use to find background information on the student:

  • Ask the student’s current or former teacher. The teacher has access to school files and documents that can help in finding the academic background of the student.
  • Ask the student (if the student has enough working knowledge of the language to communicate or use a translator –professional, parents, community volunteers, older siblings, other students, teacher assistants, and other community volunteers). As students become more comfortable in their new environment and competent English speakers, they become one of the best sources of their own history.
  • Ask the student’s family. Unless one of the family members speaks English, you may need to find a translator for this meeting.
  • Ask the student’s friends who know about their background.
  • Ask sponsoring agencies (in the case of many refugees and immigrants).
  • Inquire about any community resources available.
  • Work on activities with student to find out about their experiences.