Monday, August 29, 2016

Help Your Students Climb to Success with Word Walls

"One forgets words as one forgets names.
One's vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die."
-- Evelyn Waugh

I used to think that word walls were just for little kids to learn the alphabet and how to spell basic sight words.  I thought they were just a prop that students could look at when they needed a little extra support with their writing.  Now I know better!

Descriptions of 3 types of word walls used in an ESL classroom | The ESL Connection
A good way to teach vocabulary; source: The ESL Nexus
When standardized testing became prevalent and the test results were of overarching importance in my former school, I suddenly saw loads of word walls in middle school classrooms.  Math, science, and social studies classes sprouted word walls, along with ELA classes.  I didn’t know how those teachers used their word walls but I realized having one was a good idea.

The first word wall I had, although I didn’t call it that because it didn’t conform to my idea of what a word wall should look like, was a bulletin board display of commonly-used words on standardized tests.  My principal had given us teachers a list of the words during a grade-level meeting.  I knew that many of the words were new to my ELLs and that they needed to know what they meant.  There were over 30 words in all and they encompassed all four core academic subjects.  I just printed out the words on regular 8.5” x 11” blank white paper and stapled them to the bulletin board in the back of my room.  Then, whenever one of the words came up during a lesson, I pointed it out on the board and spent a couple minutes discussing it with the students.

Descriptions of 3 types of word walls used in an ESL classroom | The ESL Connection
Test-taking word wall; source: The ESL Nexus
A few years later, I decided to create a different kind of word wall.  At this point, Massachusetts had adopted the WIDA standards for English Language Learners and they distinguish (that, by the way, was one of those test-taking words) between content-specific vocabulary and general vocabulary.  I thought it would be useful to have a word wall of academic words in the core content subjects, according to grade level.  These words could be the foundation upon which my ELLs could learn those content subjects.  I sent a short email to all the content teachers in Grades 5 – 8, compiled the results, and then created the word wall.  You can see it in the photo below.  I didn't directly teach these words but did refer to them as they came up during lessons.

Descriptions of 3 types of word walls used in an ESL classroom | The ESL Connection
Academic word walls for Grades 5 - 8; source: The ESL Nexus
These words are now available as a resource in my TpT store.  While I displayed the words on posters in my classroom, Word Walls for ELLs: Essential Content-Area Vocabulary for Grades 5 - 8 also includes the words in task card size so they can be photocopied and distributed to students.  In addition, I just updated the product and the words now also come two per page, so you can pick and choose which words you want to focus on. The words in this format can easily be displayed on a bulletin board for student reference.  The image below shows the three formats in which the words are presented in this product.

Descriptions of 3 types of word walls used in an ESL classroom | The ESL Connection
Click HERE for more info about this resource; source: The ESL Nexus
I also had temporary word walls for each social studies unit I taught.  These were lists of target vocab words written on large flip chart paper on an easel in my room.  When each class met, I just opened the flip chart to the correct word list.  These words were explicitly taught.

In hindsight, I didn’t utilize my word walls to their greatest potential.  I could have had my students do all kinds of activities with them: draw pictures to illustrate the words, write their own definitions of the words, use the words in pieces of writing, create games with the words, and make dictionaries with the words.  Please share how you use word walls with your students in the Comments below.

September's linky party (starting a little early, I know) is devoted to word walls, a method of instruction that seems especially appropriate for the start of a new school year.

Find resources for all kinds of word walls in this month's link up | The ESL Connection

Monday, August 22, 2016

5 Quick and Easy Beginning of the Year Tips to Help Your ELLs

"Instruction does much, but encouragement does everything."
-- Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

Regardless of the subject you are licensed to teach, if you work in a U.S. public school you are probably an ESL teacher, too.  Chances are you have at least one English Language Learner (ELL) in your class and if you don’t this year, you most likely will in the future.  That’s because, as of the 2012-13 school year (the most recent for which statistics are available), ELLs comprised 9.3% of the student population in PreK – 12th grade (NCES 2016).  That may not sound like a lot but it’s just the average – the figure ranged from 1.3% of the students in Mississippi being ELLs to 23.2% in California.  And since they are the fastest-growing segment of the public school population in the U.S. (Edutopia 2016), there will be many, many more ELLs in the public school system in the years to come.

So what are mainstream and special education teachers who don’t have a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages or years of in-service training supposed to do when an ELL is placed in their classroom?  Well, first of all, don’t panic!  Even without advanced training, there are many things you can do to make your ELL students feel comfortable in class and help them learn.  Here are five things you can do right away to help you and your ELLs have a positive start to the new school year.  There's also a freebie you can download at the end of this blog post.

5 tips to encourage and support the English Language Learners in your class. | The ESL Connection
Source: The ESL Nexus
Tip#1: If You Use Cursive
If you like to use cursive when writing on the board in class or when writing comments on students’ papers, consider printing instead.  Many ELLs, especially those who immigrated from other countries, are not familiar with the American style of cursive. I didn’t realize that some languages write the letters of the Roman alphabet in different ways than we do in the U.S. until I saw some of my ELLs’ work and had to ask them what it said.  When students are trying to comprehend what sentences mean, you can make it easier for them to decipher the words by printing the letters rather than using cursive.

Tip#2: If You Give Oral Directions
If you give instructions to students orally, then also write them on the board or type them onscreen as well so students can read what to do.  When an ELL only hears directions from the teacher, it’s very easy to forget part of what was said.  This is especially important when giving multi-step instructions.  Providing a visual reference so the students can quickly and easily read what to do will not only benefit ELLs, it’ll also help other students and lessen the number of times you have to repeat your instructions.  I remember being in a kindergarten class one year and the teacher was explaining how to do a craftivity – she explained everything from start to finish and by time she reached the fifth step, I’d forgotten what the second step was.  I couldn’t imagine how the ELLs would be able to complete the task!
5 tips to encourage and support the English Language Learners in your class. | The ESL Connection
Understanding directions can be confusing! Source: The ESL Nexus
Tip #3: If an ELL is Distracted and/or Not Paying Attention
If you notice that an ELL is often looking out the window or looking around the class, instead of focusing on you and the lesson being implemented, then consider the possibility that the student might be overloaded by the language demands of the class.  When you have to concentrate so hard on trying to understand everything that is going on in a language you are not fluent in, it’s really easy to feel overwhelmed.  So it’s only natural that an ELL in that situation would need a break.  It’s easy for a teacher to fall into the trap of thinking the reason the ELL isn’t paying attention is because he or she doesn't care -- as a first grade teacher once told me about one of my students who was doing well in my class but not so well in hers -- when the reality is that the student is just mentally tired.  Give the ELL a break by letting him or her do something less linguistically challenging for a short while.

Tip #4: If a Well-Behaved ELL Isn’t Participating in Class
If an ELL spends most of the class period sitting quietly and is well-behaved, then don’t assume that the student understands the lesson and is following along with whatever the class is doing.  In many cultures, it’s considered the teacher’s fault if the students don’t understand and it would be showing a lack of respect to say something, so ELLs just sit quietly and pretend they know what’s going on.  Or they may be embarrassed to admit in front of their classmates that they don't understand.  Or they may think they understand what's going on and not realize until later that, in fact, they didn't.  To make sure this isn’t happening with your ELLs, consider arranging a special signal they can use to indicate when they don’t understand something -- a certain hand gesture or putting a small object unobtrusively on their desks.  Even if you can’t address the issue right then, at least you will know what your students need some additional support with.
5 tips to encourage and support the English Language Learners in your class. | The ESL Connection
Doing homework when there's no support at home can be really hard; source: The ESL Nexus
Tip#5: If an ELL Isn’t Turning In Homework
If there is a pattern of an ELL not turning in homework, then please consider the possibility that the student doesn’t understand the material and not that the student doesn’t care or is lazy.  It’s easy to get discouraged and frustrated and then stop trying when you just don’t understand the material!  Often, a student can do the work in class but then gets stuck at home because there are no supports available there.  If this happens on a regular basis, consider working with the student before or after school if that is possible, or finding another student who can explain the concepts in either the ELL’s native language or in English if the student’s language proficiency is high enough.  It's likely that the pace of the class is too fast for the ELL to process both the language and the concepts simultaneously and needs more time to completely comprehend everything.

Being aware of these issues and implementing these five tips will help you start the year off on a positive note with your ELLs.  Maintaining contact with their parents or guardians is also crucial for helping them be successful in school.  Every year on the first day I had my students for class, I gave them an index card and asked them to write down their name, address, phone number, and other information.  I sent the form home with students so their parents or guardians could fill out the sections asking for contact info.  I also wanted to know if my students had a computer, printer, and Internet access at home.  Not all of them had access to the Web so having that info was really useful because it helped me know what kind of homework I could give them.  I've created a freebie with the questions I asked my students that you can just print out and photocopy for your classes.  You can download it HERE.
This freebie lets teachers easily collect home family contact info and also info about computer access at home. | The ESL Connection
Click HERE to get your own copy; source: The ESL Nexus
Another very useful method for helping ELLs succeed in your class is to write not just content objectives for your lessons but language objectives as well.  I’ll discuss how to do that in an upcoming blog post.  In the meantime, you can find lots of useful ideas and resources about teaching ELLs on my Pinterest board, Teaching English To ELLs.  Wishing you the best in the new school year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Return of the #ELLEdTech Twitter Chat!

The #ELLEdTech Twitter chat is back this Sunday, August 21st!  Please join co-host Laurah from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J and me at 7:00pm Eastern, 4:00pm Pacific time as we discuss Tools for Helping Teachers Learn More about Working with ELLs.  Details are below.
Join us as we discuss tools for helping teachers learn more about working with ELLs in the next #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on August 21, 2016 | The ESL Connection
Join us!
Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introductions: Tell us your name, location, level and subject taught #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1: What tech tools do you recommend to teachers of ELLs? #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2: Who are these tools aimed at: ESOL/mainstream/SPED teachers, coaches,  admins? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: How do they help educators who work with ELLs? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: What’s your biggest challenge in getting educators to use these tools?? #ELLEdTech  
7:37 = Q5: How do you persuade teachers to use these tools? #ELLEdTech

Directions for Joining the Chat
1. Log into Twitter on Sunday; the chat runs from 7:00 - 7:45pm Eastern.

2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #ELLEdTech in the search bar.  Make sure to click “All tweets.”

3. The first five minutes will be spent introducing ourselves.

4. Starting at 7:05 @ESOL_Odyssey or @The_ESL_Nexus will post questions every 8 minutes using Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. to identify the questions and the hashtag #ELLEdTech.

5.  Answer the questions by prefacing them with A1, A2, A3, etc. and use the hashtag #ELLEdTech.

6.  Follow any teachers who respond and are also using #ELLEdTech.

7.  Like (click the heart icon) and post responses to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your answers to the questions in advance by using an online scheduler such as TweetDeck or HootSuite (and remember to use A1, A2, etc. and #ELLEdTech).  Links are encouraged, but use tinyurl, bitly, or to shorten your link so it can be included in your tweet.  Just click one of those links, paste the longer link in the app's box to shorten it for Twitter, then paste the shortened link into your tweet. If you have relevant images, we encourage you to post them, too.

Is this your first Twitter chat?  Here are our rules:

1. Please stay on topic.

2. Please do not post about paid products unless explicitly asked. 

3. If you arrive after the chat has started, please try to read the previous tweets before joining in.

4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet if you prefer -- we know the first time can be a little overwhelming!

5. Always use the hashtag #ELLEdTech when tweeting.

6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, administrators--may see what you tweet.) 

You are welcome to let any of your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us as well know about it. We look forward to chatting with you on Sunday evening!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Custodians and Cleaning Up, Deciding How To Decorate

"Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone."
-- Gertrude B. Stein

I was locked out of my classroom for most of the summer when the superintendent decided several years ago that teachers could not enter the district schools more than a week later than the last day or a week before the first day of school.  This was annoying because I preferred to take my time cleaning up from the year and because I also wanted to prepare for the following year at my leisure and there was just too much to take home to work on there.

But the decision made sense because summer was the time when the custodians were able to do a thorough top-to-bottom cleaning throughout the building without the distraction of students and teachers being present.  They cleaned the carpets in the classrooms, painted the walls in the hallways, moved furniture around, replaced air filters, and waxed all the floors, and did everything else necessary to the smooth functioning of the school that they couldn’t do during the academic year.
Custodians are the superheores of summer in US schools! Show your appreciation & find some classroom decor in the August ELL linky party. | The ESL Connection
Thank you for all your hard work!  Source: The ESL Nexus
That meant I had just one week to pack up my materials, stack furniture against the walls, cover bulletin boards with plastic garbage bags ripped apart, get all my milk crate boxes of books off the counters under the windows and cabinets, cover the computers with sheets so they didn’t get dusty, and clean off my desk.  Which by the end of the year I could have used as an example of what happens when a cyclone hits. 

We were allowed back into our classrooms one week before the start of school.  I guess it was a good thing that I had to spend many hours during that week in my room getting ready since it prepared me for the upcoming year when I’d spend ten hours a day there over the next ten months.  But at the time, I resented having to get up early while on my vacation!  What I most hated about that last week before school started was cleaning the desks and chairs and counters.  We were supposed to use only approved disinfectants but everyone just used whatever cleaner they had at home.  All the little bitty bugs that got through the cracks in the windows, only to die on the countertops…yuck.
Custodians are the superheores of summer in US schools! Show your appreciation & find some classroom decor in the August ELL linky party. | The ESL Connection
I'd rather be teaching! Source: Pixabay
But the room always looked beautiful and once I got everything back in its place and had decorated the bulletin boards and cabinet doors, I was psyched to see students again.  Thanks to the custodians, I was ready to start the year off in the best way possible.  I always made a point of bringing them a gift to show my appreciation for all their hard work.  It was usually a large tin of cookies with a thank you card and I left it in the small room they used for their breaks.  And whenever I saw a custodian, I thanked them in person.  How do you thank your school custodians for getting your building ready for the start of school?  Please leave your comments below so we can get some new ideas!
Custodians are the superheores of summer in US schools! Show your appreciation & find some classroom decor in the August ELL linky party. | The ESL Connection
Without custodians, schools would be a mess!  Source: Pixabay
And, now that your room is all cleaned up, how are you decorating it?  What kinds of classroom decor do you put up to welcome your students at the beginning of the year?  Do you have a theme or a color scheme or is the content most important?
Add your multicultural classroom decor materials to the August ELL Excelerating linky party & find resources for your own classroom, too. | The ESL Connection

Monday, August 1, 2016

Ready, Get Set, GO!

"In any team sport, the best teams have consistency and chemistry."
-- Roger Staubach

A huge athletic competition is about to get underway in Brazil later this week.  Athletes have spent years preparing for it.  Spectators from around the world will watch, whether in person, on TV, or through the Internet.

Many teachers around the U.S. are about to start the new school year.  They have spent the summer preparing for their new classes and students.  Parents, administrators, and perhaps colleagues will be observing them as they implement their lessons.
Roger Staubach says teamwork is important.  That applies to schools & teachers, too! | The ESL Connection
Welcome back!  Source: Pixabay
In some ways, teaching has become a competition.  Just look at Race to the Top.  Schools and school districts compete for scarce dollars to fund programs.  Textbook and software companies compete against each other for a foothold in the education market.  Some teachers end up competing against each other when merit pay is at stake.

It doesn't have to be like that!  I think teaching should be a team sport where, when everyone has the same goal and agrees on how to achieve it, everyone, and especially the children, win.  I know that when I was in the classroom, I was most happy when I was collaborating with colleagues and there was a sense of collegiality, not competition, among us.

To help foster that team spirit, I am happy to announce that everything in my TpT store is 28% off today and tomorrow (August 1 -2), when you use the promo code BestYear!  This is part of TeachersPayTeachers' Back to School sale so lots of other TpT stores are also on sale.
Roger Staubach says teamwork is important.  That applies to schools & teachers, too! | The ESL Connection

I just uploaded a new product that might be of interest.  It's a novel study to accompany the book Dar and the Spear-Thrower.  This is a wonderful story about a Cro-Magnon boy who lived in France 15,000 years ago.  It's a coming-of-age story that really resonates with middle school students.  I've used the novel as part of a Social Studies unit on prehistory and my resource includes materials for practicing reading strategies, developing vocabulary, looking at literary elements, working on writing, and much more.  You can find out more about it HERE.  One of the themes of the novel is teamwork and that it's okay to rely on and ask for help from others, which I think is important for teachers to always remember.
Check out my newest product, a novel study for Dar and the Spear-Thrower. Get it on sale during TpT's Back To School sale! | The ESL Connection
Click HERE for more info
But wait, there's more!  :-)  Keeping with the spirit of teamwork, I am also pleased to announce that I'm part of a Back to School Giveaway hosted by Julie Faulkner and The Language Arts Classroom.  It runs from August 1 - August 5. There are 11 different giveaways being hosted, for high school and middle school math, science, social studies, and language arts bundles.
Enter the Middle School #3 Giveaway for a chance to win The ESL Nexus's Presidential Election Discussion & Writing Topics resource! | The ESL Connection
This giveaway has ended.
Scroll down to the 8th image, to the Middle School English #3 Giveaway, to find the one with my product.  I'm giving away my Presidential Election Discussion and Writing resource.  This contains 16 writing and discussion prompts about the presidential election process in task card format (for discussion and writing) and on one-topic-per-page lined paper (for writing).  Each short writing prompt is paired with a photo and key vocabulary words.  The product also includes several suggestions for use.
Enter the Middle School #3 Giveaway for a chance to win The ESL Nexus's Presidential Election Discussion & Writing Topics resource! | The ESL Connection
Click HERE for more info
Best of luck upon entering these Back To School Giveaways!  And if you are looking for materials and products to stock your classroom for the upcoming school year, I'm sure you will find some great resources during TpT's Back To School Sale!  To revise what Roger Staubach said: In any school, the best teachers have consistency and chemistry with their students and with each other.  Have a great year!