Monday, August 31, 2015

Anticipating the First Day Back to School

"We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway...
Anticipation, Anticipation..."
-- Carly Simon

I know that in many places in the U.S., school has already started but today is the day teachers in my former school district in Massachusetts go back to school.  There is one in-service day of meetings and getting classrooms ready—though most teachers have already spent at least a week preparing their classrooms—and catching up with colleagues whom they haven’t seen since June.

How I remember the night before, trying to go to sleep but not being able to because my heart was racing with so many thoughts about the year to come.  And waking up early, tired but excited, eager to get to school.  Then coming home exhausted but still going on adrenaline and having an even harder time getting to sleep that night.

Such an exciting time of the year!  Arriving at school and seeing some students already there, dressed in their new clothes, carrying shiny backpacks, and smiles lighting up their faces as they run around the playground greeting old friends, finding out who else is in their homeroom.  Walking inside with the kids, making sure they find their classrooms, helping new students navigate the hallways.

Going back to school; source: Pixabay
Standing outside the classroom door, grinning as familiar faces walk by and greeting former students as they pass on their way to their first period class.  Waiting for my own students to arrive and welcoming them into what will be one of their homes away from home for the next 180 days.  Getting to know the class, students getting to know me, explaining the rules and answering questions.  Passing out materials and textbooks, doing a quick activity to get students starting to think about the content they'll be learning in the days, weeks, months to come.

The ESL Connection blog post for August 31, 2015
Click HERE for 5 suggestions on how to get to know your students; source: TheBusyTeacher
And then, just like that, the period is over and it’s time for those students to leave and to welcome in the next class.  And so it begins all over again.

The first day is off to a good start!

Anticipation...  Wishing everyone a fantastic school year!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Building Back to School #4: A Reading Tool for Adolescent Learners

In today’s Building Back to School Tools blog series, hosted by #TeacherMom, I am going to write about a Reading Tool that was invaluable to me.
The ESL Connection August 27, 2015
Have you ever had middle school students who were reading way below their grade level?  Not only did they have difficulty comprehending academic text, the books that were at their independent reading level were at least two or three grade levels lower that the grade they were in.  And when they wrote, their spelling was way off.  Some of these difficulties were because they were English Language Learners but that was not the only reason.  Maybe they were in a special education program but maybe they weren’t. 

These students had somehow never really acquired phonemic awareness of English.  I attribute that to the fact they had to learn to read in their second language instead of their native language and, as a result, they didn’t learn very well.  Because the sound system of English was different from what they were familiar with, they experienced difficulty in grasping the phonological concepts of English.

I searched for years for materials that would help adolescent learners improve their reading skills but most of what I found was either not appropriate for older learners because it was too cutesy or it was just not very effective.  But one day, I found the solution!  I attended a session at an ELL professional conference that was presented by a publisher about their reading program.  It was called Reading Horizons and it looked excellent.  I acquired the condensed version of the teacher’s manual and started using it with my fourth graders, all of whom were native Spanish speakers who needed intensive reading support.  That was at the end of the school year and it wasn't until they were in fifth grade that I was really able to delve into it with the students.
August 27, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus
Reading Horizons teacher's manual; source: The ESL Nexus
I love this program!  I was very fortunate in that my department was able to purchase the complete Reading Horizons program, which is not cheap but is well worth the cost in my opinion.  The core is a computer program; it can be set up for each individual student or used in a whole class setting, which is what I did, and it includes lots of diagnostics.  The teacher’s manual is very thorough and explains clearly how to teach each lesson.  It is scripted but that is to ensure the information is accurately provided to the students.  I am not normally a fan of scripted learning but it makes sense here and teachers can pick and choose which parts of the lessons to implement.  There is also a student workbook with exercises to reinforce the learning and another book of stories for reading practice.  These stories are leveled and go from easy to more difficult.  A free online workshop that introduces teachers to the program is available HERE.  The image below shows one of the pages from the workshop and gives an idea of what the coding system looks like.
Blog post by The ESL Connection on August 27, 2015
Page from Reading Horizons online workshop; source: The ESL Nexus
The foundation of Reading Horizons is a coding system that labels the sounds of English.  Students learn what the code’s symbols mean and then apply them to words they hear and read.  The computer program has loads of practice for this and the system is actually pretty easy to learn due to all the repetition.  My students enjoyed the tasks because I used a SmartBoard to teach it and created a game-like atmosphere in my classroom for learning.  There is so much content in Reading Horizons that I never finished everything in the two years I used the program, although if I had had more time with my students, I would have gotten through more of it.  I highly recommend this program if you have students who need reading support.

Check out the links below that offer more information about Reading Horizons:
* A series of VIDEOs that explain the methodology of the program
* A WEBINAR (about 25 minutes long) about teaching reading to ELLs; this is the first of two parts; the second part can be accessed here
* For INFO about Reading Horizons materials for ELLs
* For INFO about Reading Horizons materials for K – 12 intervention

And here are a couple of fun links on the Reading Horizons website for teachers and students:
* Take a QUIZ to see how much you know about the phonology and orthography of the English language:
* Play Lemons for Literacy, an online vocabulary GAME that supports people learning to read

If you use or have used Reading Horizons, I'd love to hear about it.  Good luck with your reading instruction!

Monday, August 24, 2015

How to Prove Your Homework Help Program is a Success

"Success is achieved and maintained by those who try and keep trying."
-- W. Clement Stone

Implementing a homework help program is a lot of work and if you want to continue to run such a program after the first year, you’ll want to be able to show administrators that it was a success.  In Part One of this series, I explained how to set up a before-school homework help program and in Part Two, I offered ten suggestions for making sure the program ran smoothly.  In this third and last post, I am going to share some ideas for how you can demonstrate your program was successful.
The direction of success; source: Pixabay
 I wrote a report at the end of every year I implemented my program and emailed it to my associate principal in my school and to the ESL director of the district.  Using data will support your claim of success and that’s where the sign-in sheet comes in.  I broke down that information and wrote how many student visits there were total and also how many students in each grade participated.  I also listed all the reasons students came.  Lastly, I compared the most recent program with the prior year’s program to show that there was growth and a continued need for a before-school homework help program.  Below are excerpts from the report I wrote about the final year that I implemented the program:

          From the start of the program in the second week of school to the last 
          day today, there were 795 visits by students.

          Nineteen students participated in the program over the course of the 
          year:  Five students were fifth graders, one was a sixth grader, nine 
          were in seventh grade, and four were in eighth grade.  All but one were 
          ELLs  ...  Many students attended every day or almost every day, a couple 
          only came once, and some students cam on an irregular basis.

          The reasons for attending varied but most often it was to get help with 
          homework assignments that students either did not understand or because 
          they needed more time to complete assignments.  Students also used the time 
          to study for tests, to do research on the computers in my room, to print out 
          work (because they didn't have one at home), to do independent reading, to 
          play educational games on a computer (such as CoolMath), or to check in 
          with me on how things were going.
          At the end of the first year of the program in the 2010 - 2011 school year, 
          there were 483 visits by students.  Even taking into account that the program 
          that year did not begin until October, the fact that four years later there 795 
          visits, almost double the amount of students who participated this year, shows 
          there is a definite need for a program like  this for ELLs and even other students.  

Here are a couple other things you can do to can help prove the necessity of a homework help program for ELLs:
* Have students who attended regularly fill out a short evaluation form.  Collate and analyze the results and use a few of their quotations in your year-end report.  I didn’t ask students to complete a formal evaluation form but from my year-long observation of those who participated daily or almost every day, I could see improvement, mostly in the form of increased self-confidence and also in the quality of their writing.  Here's a freebie sample that I just created:
The ESL Connection Blog Post on August 24, 2015
Click HERE to download this freebie; source: The ESL Nexus
* Ask teachers of the students who regularly attended if they noticed an improvement in their ELLs' work.  It would probably be a good idea to let the teachers know early in the year that you’ll be asking them later on about this.  You could give them a written form to fill out but with all the paperwork teachers already have to do, a quick email asking for their opinions might generate a better response.  You could also include a few quotes from teachers in your final report, if applicable.  Teachers during the course of the year would tell me, in emails or in conversation, that they appreciated the program and that they thought it was helpful to the ELLs they had in their classes.  (But don’t forget to ask both the students and the teachers for permission before you use anything they said or wrote.)

At the end of my report, I thanked the associate principal for allowing me to implement the program.  In my reports from earlier years, I also said that I hoped I would be able to run the program the following year since there was clearly a need for it.  If I had remained in that school district, I would definitely have continued to implement the program.

I hope these blog posts have given you lots of ideas on how to run your own before-school homework help program.  If you are already implementing a program like this or now decide to start one, please share your experiences in the Comments section below.  Good luck!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Building Back to School Language Tools: A Free Resource about Teaching ELLs!

This week’s Building Back to School Linky topic is Language Tools and I would like to share a new resource with you.

I am so excited about this freebie!  Engaging ELLs: Resources for Teaching English Language Learners is an e-book produced by a group of TpT teacher-authors who work with ELLs.  It is a sampler containing links to 20 free products and includes ideas for teaching ELLs plus links to additional paid products.  I edited it and Laine from A Little Peace of Africa was the fantastic designer.
ELL sampler in The ESL Nexus TpT store
Click HERE to download this sampler!
This free resource is for all teachers, not just ESL teachers!  Organized by grade span, it has resources for students in pre-school through adult education and for students at all levels of English language proficiency.  The freebies are for math, science, social studies and language arts classes and develop students’ writing, vocabulary, critical thinking, reading, speaking, and listening skills.  These resources will work well not just with ELLs but also with other students, too.
ebook about teaching English Language Learners
Table of Contents for the ELL Sampler
And please check out the TpT stores of the wonderful teacher-authors, not all of whom are actual ESL teachers—many are mainstream teachers with ELLs in their classes.  But lots of TpT stores that cater to English Language Learners also have products that regular education and special education students can use as well. 

Since ELLs are the fastest-growing demographic of public school students in the U.S., and also attend school in other countries, finding instructional materials that teach both content and language is essential. I hope you find this sampler of language tools useful!

Monday, August 17, 2015

10 Suggestions for Implementing a Before-School Homework Help Program

"The road to success is not easy to navigate, but with hard work, drive and passion, it's possible to achieve the American dream."
-- Tommy Hilfiger

 If, after doing a needs analysis (as I described in last week’s post), you decide to go ahead and implement a homework help program, below are 10 recommendations that will help make your program a success.

First, make participants aware of the rules.  You can post them in your room, type up a handout, or just tell the students what they are.  I opted to just tell the students since that was easiest for me and I didn’t really have a place to hang a poster nor did I want to use part of my precious paper supply for that.

Second, if the students need passes to attend, make something for them to use.  The first few years I implemented the program, they didn’t need passes; if a teacher stopped them in the hallway when they were on their way to my classroom, the kids just told the adults where they were going.  But in my last year at the school, a new administrator wanted them to have passes so I gave them popsicle sticks with their name and my room number on it that they could show anyone who asked them where they were going.

Third, make sure students sign in.  They can do that anytime they are in the room but most kids did it on their way out to homeroom when they were finished.  I just used a piece of lined, yellow paper—the kind I had my students write first drafts on—and wrote “Date,” “Name” and “Purpose” at the top, then numbered it all the way to the bottom of the page.  As soon as that page was filled, I started another one.  I also made sure to have a pencil nearby to make it easy for the kids to fill out the form.  (Although the pencils kept mysteriously disappearing...)  The reason I asked for the purpose was two-fold: a) To keep track of why they were there, so I could analyze their reasons for participating, and b) to get them to think critically about why they were there.  That is, I didn’t want them to just write “homework” or even “ELA” – I wanted them to be more specific, especially if they were working on a multi-part project or assignment.
Blog post by The ESL Nexus, August 17, 2015
Form used by students; source: The ESL Nexus
Fourth, make sure students are quiet!  It was often hard to maintain an atmosphere of calmness because my students were naturally exuberant but it is so important that all students be able to concentrate on getting their work done, especially when they have difficulty understanding what to do or are studying for a test.  If a student or group of students got too loud and I had to remind them more than twice to keep their voices down, there were consequences: Sometimes I’d warn them they wouldn’t be able to come again if they didn’t change their behavior or I told them I’d be emailing their parents -- that usually got them to straighten up right away!

Fifth, if you, the teacher, are busy helping one student and others also need help, see if a classmate or an older student can provide assistance until you are able to check in and see what’s going on.  I frequently had to resort to asking other students to help out and most of the time, they were okay with that.  In fact, a lot of the time, if students had the same assignment, they’d sit at a table in the back of my room and work.  I told them they had to do the work themselves but when they were done they could compare their answers.  I kept my eye on that and it worked out pretty well.

Sixth, it’s fine if students need to go to the bathroom but make sure they take a pass.  And remind them not to wander the hallways when they are supposed to be in your room.  Some of my students would take a long way to the bathroom and stop at their locker but if another teacher found them, they were on their own – I did not provide them an excuse since they were out of bounds.

Seventh, have something available for students to do if they finish their work early and there isn’t enough time to go outside or wherever the other students were yet it also was to early to go to homeroom.  I had a huge library of books which a few students would look at; more would play a board game from the pile I had in a cabinet.  A few of the boys liked to play catch with one of the squishy balls I kept on hand for ADHD kids to use during class and, as long as it didn’t interfere with anyone else, I allowed them to do that.  However, they most definitely were not allowed to throw the yoga balls back and forth!  And, yes, some of them tried.
Blog post by The ESL Nexus, August 17, 2015
Two of my squishy balls; source: The ESL Nexus
Eighth, if you have computers in your room that you have decided students can use, boot them up before they arrive.  My computers were old and took forever to warm up so that was the first thing I did after arriving in my room and putting my stuff away.  I allowed students to play educational games if they finished their work and I also allowed a few students who didn’t have Internet access at home to use the computers if they didn’t have any homework and just came for that reason.  However, it’s really important to keep an eye on what they are doing online to make sure they don’t go to a website they shouldn’t be on in school.

Ninth, before students leave the room to go to homeroom, make sure they clean up any mess where they were sitting and working.  Students have to be responsible for their work space!  On the other hand, if they were working conscientiously but still hadn’t finished when it was time to go to homeroom, I often told them I would clean up for them.  I let the students work as long as possible in my room and I didn’t want them to get in trouble for being late.

Tenth, if you have a student whom you know will be slightly late in getting to their homeroom, give a heads up to that teacher by contacting them to let them know.  (I phoned or emailed but texting works, too.)  Also, if a student tried to do some work but just didn’t get it—even with my help—or wasn’t able to finish everything, I sent an email to the teacher to let her or him know that the student did try and shouldn’t be penalized for not finishing, because the kid did make a good faith effort.  Teachers really appreciated hearing that from me and it was a good thing to do because it gave the regular ed teacher an insight into how the ELL was doing in that class.

One last thought: One year, a guidance counselor asked if a regular ed student--not an English Language Learner--could come up to my room to do his homework.  The counselor explained that this student was not able to do his work at home.  Of course I said yes.  And that student came just about every day and was very responsible about doing his work and helping younger kids if he had the time.  If a counselor or an administrator asks that an exception of some sort be made and you can accommodate it, then I definitely recommend doing that.  You'll generate a lot of good will as a result!

So these are my recommendations for ensuring a smoothly-run before-school homework help program.  Most of the students who attended my program appreciated the opportunity to get extra support and most took it seriously because they wanted to do well in school.  Their teachers also expressed their appreciation of the program.  If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please share them in the comments section below.  I'll conclude this series next Monday with some ideas on how to use the data collected on the sign-in sheets and share some final thoughts about implementing a before-school homework help program.
TpT Back to School Sale at The ESL Nexus
Click here to go to The ESL Nexus TpT Store -- on sale on Tuesday, August 18, 2015!
On a completely different note, TpT is having a one-day sale on Wednesday, August 19, 2015!  Everything in my store will be 20% off and by using the coupon code MORE15, you can save up to 28% off the cost of a purchase.  There are quite a few products that are good for back-to-school needs and I have a few new products available since the sale earlier this month so I hope you'll find time to stop by and check things out.  Thank and happy shopping!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Building Back to School Classroom Tools: 2 Essential Items

I’m continuing to blog about education tools as part of #Teachermom’s Building Back To School blog series for August.  There are two classroom tools I want to discuss today which made teaching my ELLs much easier.
The ESL Nexus August 13, 2015

The first tool is something I cannot live without: File folders!  They were an essential part of my classroom organization and greatly helped with my management of paperwork.  I used them to hold articles I wanted to save but which didn’t fit neatly into any category; to store forms I had to fill out, such as blank ESL monthly attendance forms and ESL report cards; for teaching ideas I wrote on scraps of paper; and to keep track of info from other teachers.  I did have file cabinets but for the papers I used most frequently, I kept them in file folders in a bookcase near my desk for easy access.
August 13, 2015 post by The ESL Nexus
File folders from Staples; source: The ESL Nexus
I bought my folders in bulk at Staples.  Every August when Staples had a Teacher Appreciation Day, I got myself up early because the early shoppers could get some nice swag.  But the best part was the discount on back-to-school supplies so I stocked up on notebooks, pencils, file folders and other materials.  I usually bought around 50 file folders in a variety of colors—each color was used for a different grade level or purpose.  I preferred the style that had two pockets inside without fasteners.

My second classroom tool that I want to share with you is a dictionary.  Actually, I had several dictionaries; some were for beginning or intermediate proficiency level ELLs, one was for idioms, one was a rhyming dictionary, and I had sets of other regular dictionaries as well.  But the one I found especially useful was an academic content dictionary.  I’d never seen one like that until I went to a TESOL Convention one year and saw it on display at the Cambridge University Press table in the exhibition hall.  It was expensive but I bought it on the spot.  It helped that it was on sale to celebrate Cambridge University Press’s 400th anniversary, or something like that.  (Wow!)
August 13, 2015 post by The ESL Nexus
My go-to dictionary for middle school ELL vocabulary; source: The ESL Nexus
What’s great about this dictionary is that it defines academic vocabulary words in easy-to-comprehend language.  Many entries include example sentences.  There are also lists of related words and word choice and usage information.  I consulted it a lot when trying to explain science and math words my students were learning in other classes and didn’t understand clearly.  We also used it when I couldn’t sufficiently explain a word in one of my own classes.  I highly recommend this Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary.  The ISBN is 978-0-521-87143-3.

So those are my two essential classroom tools.  If you have a tool you are especially fond of, please share it in the Comment section below.

Monday, August 10, 2015

6 Steps for Starting a Homework Program

"I would have to say I was an excellent student.  I was the type to always do my homework and study when I needed to.  I never really partied or did anything like that."
-- Tia Mowry

 A comment by a reader last week gave me the idea for today’s blog post, which is about starting a homework program for students.  Today I’ll write about laying the groundwork for such a program and in future posts, I’ll write about how to implement it and make it a success.

Not all students approach school like Tia Mowry did and for many ELLs, completing homework can be problematic.  Language issues exacerbate the difficulty of doing homework.  A lot of homework nowadays assumes parents can assist their children in doing it but many parents of ELLs either work at night or don’t themselves have the language skills necessary to help.  Also, many children think they understand what their teachers say during class only to realize when they get home and attempt to do an assignment that, in fact, they didn’t.  Sometimes the directions are just too complicated or confusing for students to comprehend.  Or the students said they didn’t have time to do homework because they had other things to do.  There are many reasons why an ELL--or any student--doesn't do his or her homework and laziness is not always one of them.
August 10, 2015 blog post
Calvin cartoon; source: Iowa State University
I saw all these issues with my students and I decided to do something about it.  I felt that it wasn’t fair for ELLs to be penalized for not turning in homework if they didn’t understand what to do. (Homework counted for a certain percentage of students’ grades at my school.)  Since most ELLs took a bus to and from school, staying after at the end of the day to get help from me wasn’t an option.  What they could do, though, was come before homeroom.  All middle school students spent between 10 – 25 minutes out on the playground, depending on when their bus arrived, before being let into the school building.  As a non-homeroom teacher, I was assigned one of these morning duties and had to supervise kids every day for the entire year.  I didn’t feel it was an especially good use of my time and, frankly, I hated being outside in wintertime, so I thought establishing a program in which my students could get help with academics would solve two problems.  My principal was amenable and so I started what I called the “before-school homework help program.”
The ESL Connection blog post on August 10, 2015
Temperature outside my MA house in February--brr! Source: The ESL Nexus
Here are my suggestions for getting a program going:
* First of all, determine there is actually a need for such a program.  Ask yourself: Are there students who are not doing homework who would benefit from getting this kind of support?  If possible, find out whether students are doing their homework on time and what the quality of it is.  You can ask subject-area teachers and also, if available to you, look at report cards.
* If the answer is yes, figure out how many students would be involved.  Write up a list of names and students’ grades.  It’s good to have something in written form!
* Determine what kinds of support you will provide.  I helped students understand instructions for assignments; explained concepts they didn’t understand, especially in math and science; helped students study for tests, let students use computers to type assignments; printed out work for students; photocopied worksheets they’d misplaced  (if a classmate had one), let students work on projects, gave art materials to students so they could do projects, and let students have a quiet space to work on their own if they just needed more time to complete their homework.
* Determine how long the program will last.  I think there should be at least 20 minutes available because students need time to unpack their materials and then pack them up and get to homeroom, which takes away from actual time spent working.  Less than 15 minutes of time for doing homework probably isn’t worth it.
* Determine who can participate.  My program was targeted at students currently in the ESL Program but FLEP students—former ELLs who had exited out—were also eligible.  If you allow FLEPs, you can look at the forms used to monitor their performance (required by Federal law for two years after leaving an ESL program) to see if they would benefit from this support.  Anyone of those students in Grades 5 - 8, which was middle school in my district, could participate.  On rare occasions, students who were not ELLs also came and I will discuss that in a future blog post.
* Decide on the rules that students have to follow.  For example, will they be allowed to eat breakfast in your room?  Many of my students ate breakfast at school but the principal didn’t want them bringing food from the cafeteria upstairs to my classroom.  Will they be allowed to play music on their phone or iPod (iPods were popular when I started the program).  Can they use computers to play games?  What will they do if they finish their work but it’s not yet time to go to homeroom?  Do they need a pass to come to the program?
August 10, 2015 blog post
Getting homework help; source: Wilson Writes
Once you have all the logistics figured out, you can write up a proposal and go to your school administration to present your idea for supporting the ELLs and helping them be more successful in school.  If you have good reasons and a well thought-out plan for implementing the program, there is a greater likelihood that your administrators will approve it.  Next week, I’ll discuss how to ensure that the program runs smoothly and students gain the maximum benefit possible from it.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Building Back to School Tools: 4 Ideas for Teachers

For the next few weeks, I’ll be linking up with #TeacherMom and her Building Back to School series of helpful tools for classroom teachers.
August 2015 Building Back to School Linky series
Read the first post by #TeacherMom here
Today, I’m going to write about four essential tools that I used every year when I was teaching ESL classes.

Tool #1: Index Cards
I took full advantage of the fact that my school provided index cards in two sizes and ordered several packs each year.  I also bought my own colored index cards.  I used the cards in many ways:
* To make Concentration games for students – I used color cards for these games and wrote the words all on one colored card and the definitions on a different colored card.  In small letters, I wrote the grade level and unit and chapter numbers on the other side to identify which subjects the cards were for.
August 2015 Building Back to School Linky series
Part of a Concentration game a Grade 6 ESL Social Studies class; source: The ESL Nexus
* Giving them to students so they could make flashcards for vocab words.  Sometimes I asked students to make flashcards of words I’d chosen from a unit in the textbook.  Other times, when we read novels, I had the students find their own vocab words and make flashcards of them.  They used the larger-sized white cards for this.
* Writing just the words on the smaller white index cards and using them to play charades to review vocab words before a test.
August 2015 Building Back to School Linky series
Index cards for charades, to review vocab about Prehistory in Grade 6; source: The ESL Nexus
* Using colored cards to make parts of games.  I created some games to help students learn and review the content I was teaching and also had students design their own games on occasion.
August 2015 Building Back to School Linky series
Pieces in a game I created about Mesopotamia, for 6th graders; source: The ESL Nexus
* Coding student “mailboxes” by taping plain numbered index cards to the boxes and then posting the key nearby so students would know whose box was whose.  I cut the small white index cards in half for the labels.

Tool #2: Small Baggies
* Each Concentration collection of index cards and the cards used for charades were all kept in their own baggies.  I labeled each bag with a Sharpie so it was easy to identify them.  I also gave baggies to my students for their flashcards.  I preferred the kind that had a pull tab rather then the kind where you press the sides together to close them because it was faster and easier to close those.
August 2015 Building Back to School Linky series
Storage for index cards; source: The ESL Nexus
* For my elementary students who needed support with phonemic awareness, I cut out and laminated cards with blends and sound patterns and stored each group in separate baggies.

Tool #3: Flash Drives
Several of my students did not have internet access or a printer at home so they weren’t able to use Google Docs or email me or print out their work if they had to type an assignment for either my or other teachers’ classes.  For those students, being able to save their work to a flash drive and bring it school was a lifesaver.
August 2015 Building Back to School Linky series
Two of the five flash drives students could borrow; source: The ESL Nexus
I ran a before-school homework help club and students could come and print out their work from the flash drive at that time.  I bought several cheap flash drives and they got a lot of use over the years.

Tool #4: Spanish Dictionaries

Most of my ELLs spoke Spanish as their first language.  Spanish is not one of the languages I know, however.  So I found a really good dictionary and when my students didn’t know a word in English or I wasn’t able to explain the meaning of a word well enough for them to understand, I resorted to this dictionary.  Most of the time, we could find what we were looking for.  I also bought another dictionary just for verbs in Spanish so I could use the correct conjugations when talking with parents.
August 2015 Building Back to School Linky series
Books that really helped with communicating in Spanish; source: The ESL Nexus
It was kind of embarrassing to know I was mangling the Spanish language but on the other hand, I didn’t feel too bad because it showed parents that I wasn’t afraid to use my rudimentary knowledge of the language and therefore they shouldn’t be nervous or embarrassed either when trying to communicate with me in English.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas for your own classroom.  Do you have any other ways you use index cards?  Please share them in the comments section below.  And please head on over and read some of the other posts in this linkup—you can find them at the end of this post.  I’m sure you’ll find lots of great ideas!

And don't forget to enter the Secondary Back to School 2015 Giveaway for a chance to win my Early European Colonies: Charts to Organize Facts about 10 Colonies in America.  There's only a couple more days left before a winner is announced!
Enter Here for your chance to win!

Please take a few minutes to read at least some of these other blogs that are part of the Building Back to School Linky: