I teach international students in a private school who are almost all living in host homes. You may be teaching American ELLs and have a slightly different situation, but the principles are probably the same.
I have found that many of my international students don’t tell anyone when they are not feeling well especially at the beginning of the year. First of all, they don’t know the school procedures. Who should they talk to? How sick is sick enough to go home? Secondly, these kids are just gettting to know their host families and don't want to be a bother or embarrasement.
This is one of the topics we discuss and practice in my class the first week of school. There is so much my students are learning that first week, however, that we have to review and practice throughout the year. I have included some free posters for you to download to help learn these terms. Posting them around the room or on your website will give the kids a resource when they forget.
1. Teach vocabulary that allows students to talk about being sick.
Use lots of pictures! We hop on the internet and start looking up pictures of sick people. Once we all understand the concept, we practice saying it in English (over and over.) Revisit the vocabulary throughout the year: play bingo, memory, charades, pictionary or anything that helps the kids review and remember these words and phrases. They’re going to need them!
2. Teach students what the school considers a reason to go to the office or to go home.
Most schools have the same stipulations: if you have thrown up or have a fever, STAY HOME! Those are the main two, but sometimes a kid just feels terrible. Let them know they have the ability to say if they feel too crummy to stay in class. That might mean they go to the clinic to rest or they go home.
3. Teach students how to contact their host families during the school day.
Some students have cell phones and can call or text their family, but usually students have to use a classroom or office phone. Practice English sentences that will help students communicate this need. (“Could I call my mom?”)
4. Teach students how to get to the office and what to do when they get there.
Actually practice going to the office as a class. Walk in there. Introduce the students to the office manager/secretary/guidance counselor/principal (whoever is in there running the show.) Explain what you’re doing so they can help orient the students (and have a chance to get to know each other a bit.) Ask if the students could see the school clinic. Is there somewhere kids can get tissues, sanitary pads, etc?
Prepare your students for the inevitable eventuality of illness. You know it’s going to happen, so get them ready!
I Feel Sick Free Poster 1i_feel_sick_poster_1.pdf
I Feel Sick Free Poster 2 i_feel_sick_poster_2.pdf