Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

ESOL Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Supporting Pasifika learners

This page has examples and resources for you to use when planning teaching and learning for:

  • speakers of te reo Māori
  • students with refugee backgrounds, who are English language learners.

Questions |  Examples |  Key resources

Teaching in a way that is responsive to the diversity in our classrooms has the most profound effect on our ESOL learners. Strong school–fanau relationships, culturally responsive classrooms, and the deliberate use of effective teaching strategies can all help Pasifika learners to achieve success.

Pasifika in New Zealand

After over 60 years of migration to New Zealand, 6 out of 10 Pasifika people are New Zealand-born. This creates a continuum of language proficiency, from those who exclusively speak their first language to those who exclusively speak English, and everything in between. All of these levels of language proficiency need to be catered for in the classroom.

Pasifika students make up the majority of funded English language learners (ELLs), whether new to New Zealand or New Zealand born. This means that these are learners that you are likely to encounter in many different classrooms around Aotearoa.

Find out more

Find out more about the languages spoken by your students.

Some questions that you might ask your students include:

  • What languages are spoken in your home?
  • What languages do your grandparents speak?
  • What languages do your parents speak?
  • What languages do you and your brothers and sisters speak?
  • If you know more than one language, who would you speak to most often in: your Pasifika language? English? another language?
  • If you know more than one language, where would you most often hear or speak: your Pasifika language? English? another language?

From  Language enhancing the achievement of Pasifika

Questions to think about in your school context

  • What support does your school offer to Pasifika students who are more comfortable with using their Pasifika language in class?
  • What specific strategies do you use to develop in your Pasifika students the English language skills that they need in order to progress their learning? Are they effective? How do you know?
  • What steps have you taken to engage with the languages and cultures of your Pasifika learners? How would your Pasifika students know that you have taken an interest in these?


Cultural diversity in the classroom
Rae Siʻilata, lecturer in bi-literacy at Auckland University, describes what the cultural diversity principle might look like in the classroom. She urges educators to create opportunities for all students to bring their valued knowledge into the school.

Improving student writing with digital stories
Bridget Harrison's class at Kimi Ora Community School is made up of 100% Māori and Pasifika students. Many of the students have English as a second language. In this clip she shares how they are using digital stories to scaffold the writing process. The success of this approach is reflected in their e-asTTle writing data showing students making a year's progress in two terms.

Being bilingual
Students like being able to work in two languages. It helps them to learn more easily. Offer students the opportunity to discuss learning in their first language first.

Building students' knowledge and understanding
Develop a school-wide policy to support the use and development of students’ first languages. Encourage students to use all their languages in the classroom to support each other in understanding new concepts.

Knowing a Pasifika language is not a barrier to being successful in English-medium schooling. Teachers who value and share the languages that Pasifika students bring with them into the classroom, and deliberately build their English language skills, help their Pasifika students to succeed.

Encouraging students to use their first language

Mainstream teachers and schools can provide opportunities for Pasifika students to work in their first language (L1) in a number of different ways. Here are some specific examples of activities that any teacher can use with Pasifika students in a mainstream classroom.

Encourage your students to draw on concepts and explore and discuss their ideas in their first language by:

  • promoting the use of bilingual dictionaries
  • encouraging the students to make their own bilingual dictionaries and to build their vocabulary
  • providing other resources in Pasifika students’ L1, such as printed and electronic materials. See Pasifika languages for suggestions of language resources for five Pasifika languages
  • drawing on other resources, including parents or caregivers who know Pasifika languages
  • providing group-based discussion in the students’ L1 as a basis for addressing curriculum content
  • encouraging the students to choose particular languages for particular activities
  • giving students the opportunity to brainstorm, plan, or draft a written text in their L1.

Key resources

Pasifika dual language books
This resource is comprised of 20 dual-language books, audio, and online resources in each of the following Pasifika languages – Samoan, Tongan, Tokelauan, Niuean, Cook Island Maori, and English. There are also support materials for teachers and whānau.

Language enhancing the achievement of Pasifika (LEAP)
The LEAP resource aims to bring together all the factors that can support bilingual Pasifika students’ learning, especially those that relate to students’ Pasifika languages and English. It suggests ways in which teachers can explore, in practical ways, language teaching and learning principles that can help them work more effectively with bilingual Pasifika students.

New Zealand Pacific Picture Book Collection
A collection of 36 picture books nominated by nine New Zealand based librarians with specific responsibility for providing library services for Pasifika communities in New Zealand. The collection represents Pasifika stories and knowledge easily accessible to classroom teachers, and provides suggestions for classroom activities linked to The New Zealand Curriculum.

Tapasā: Cultural Competencies Framework for Teachers of Pacific Learners
Tapasā is a resource for all teachers of Pacific learners. It is designed to support teachers to become more culturally aware, confident and competent when engaging with Pacific learners and their parents, families and communities. 

Updated on: 01 Sep 2021