Its Been a While

I have now been on summer break for the past two weeks. I have been relaxing and reflecting on the past school year and asking myself a few questions. Maybe these will help you reflect on your academic year.

1. How did my students progress this year?
2. What could I do different?
3. What worked?
4. What didn't work?
5. What are the new cool things that I can incorporate into my teaching next year?

These are just a few to get you started thinking ... add any comments or experiences that you think could be helpful to the group.

WOW ... very impressive

I recently started incorporating blogs into my after school ESL program. I have had pretty good results, but one of my students, Diego, has impressed me so much that I had to share with you his blog.

A little background, Diego is a 12 year old Ecuadorian ESL student in the 7th grade. He has been living in the US for 9 months.

My instruction - I helped each of my students set up their blog and their profile. However, the blogs they write are completely their choice. If a student does not know what to write about I will give them ideas; favorite movie, things you remember about your country, what you learned in ESL class, etc. I will not edit their blogs unless they ask for help. Some students ask for help and some do not. Diego will ask for help on spelling a few words, but usually nothing more.

Take a look at his blog ... you will be impressed! (and if you feel so inclined comment on one of his blogs, you have no idea how happen he will be)
Diego's Blog

Non Fiction - How students process the information?

Non fiction is something that we should take advantage of in our ESL classrooms. When students read non fiction texts they are exposed to words, ideas and concepts that they can use everyday in their own lives. Students are able to gain information about people, places and things and articulate that information to their peers.

When my students are reading non fiction texts I use the process: collect, summarize, and present. While students are reading, they collect important information and write it on post its. Then they summarize the information into their own words. Finally they present what they learned from the book. The present part can be done as an oral presentation. However, typically I have the students showcase their information through a writing piece and then share one thing from their writing. Different ideas for writing are as follows; a travel brochure, a feature article on a famous person, web comparing and contrasting two animals, write a letter to author about the book, etc. There are many different ways students can present their work, we just need to make sure our students are processing the information they are reading about.

The School Year is Coming to a Close - Portfolio Time

Officially as of today we have one month of school remaining, before we know it we will be saying goodbye to our students and hello to the summer. Now is the time of year for students to reflect on the things they have learned this year and to showcase the knowledge they have gained. The last month of school in my ESL class is devoted to developing portfolios. Portfolios need to be planned from the beginning with the end in mind. As I am planning for the each week, I always have in the back of mind "how will this skill/lesson be showcased in the portfolio"?

The purpose of the portfolio is to recap the learning of the student and give the teacher for next year a good baseline of the student's knowledge and skills. During the year I do four units with my students: fiction, non fiction, book clubs and poetry. In each unit there are standards that the students are held accountable for. For example in the book clubs unit, students need to have completed one book review and wrote an essay comparing and contrasting their book with someonelse's book in their group. These two things will go in their poetry section of the portfolio.

The portfolio is put together by the student. For each piece of work the student places in the portfolio the student also does a review of that work. This can be a short answer response, a checklist or an essay. The students highlight things they enjoyed, strengths, and weaknesses about the piece. This is a time for students to reflect on the things they learned during the unit.

Students also choose one piece that they want to improve (this is usually something from the beginning of the year). The student will they rework the piece they choose and write a rationale for why they chose that piece and how they improved it.

This is a good way to end the year because students get to see all the work they have done and how they have improved from the beginning of the year. However, it is best to plan do make a portfolio from the beginning of the year, so that students save their work to showcase it in their portfolio.

Recent Update: Testing Time

As you all can see I haven't written a blog in about a week. I have been crazy busy at school with testing. This is the time in NY when we have the NYSESLAT exam, the ESL exam. There are four parts: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. The exam is given over the course of three to five days. Personally, I think it is a pretty fair exam.

I have been inundated this week with testing the students at my school and tomorrow, I should be finished with testing. I plan to share more of my thoughts on the exam and how to prepare students in my upcoming blog tomorrow.

And again, thank you to all my readers who have read my students blogs and commented. They are very happy to be receiving comments on their writing from people they do not know. If you would like to keep tabs on their blogs I will spotlight them on my page soon.

Blogs with my ESL Students After School

I teach a supplemental ESL program after school. I have 8 students and my goal is to teach them English through relevant, cutting edge ways. I started them off with email accounts. I email them two to three times a week and they email me back. We have conversations about what they are interested in. Then we did a project on, a website where you can create your own comic and then publish it on the site for other people to see. And now we are moving onto to creating our own blogs.

Five of them have setup their blog and written their first entry. Hopefully by next week the other 3 students will have theirs started as well. All of my students are beginner level ESL in 6th and 7th grade (12 - 13 yrs old). Stay tuned I will be notating based on my experience with my students best practices for using blogs with ESL students.

Take a look at their blogs and comment if you would like to they would love to know that someone is reading their blog.


So What is Web 2.0 Anways?

Web 2.0 is the cutting edge is the technological world. Most websites as we know them are Web 1.0, this means that they are informational. Web 2.0 includes websites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Basecamp, Buddy School, Schoopy, and many more. Web 2.0 is about delivering the information people need while creating a community. For example, I really enjoy cooking, so I can go to and find, create and share recipes with other people on the site.

We need to start taking advantage of this new wave of technology in our classroom. You can go to the Web 2.0 Index and you will be able to find all the Web 2.0 sites available. I encourage you to explore and find ways to incorporate these new sites into your classroom. Try out, it is a social network where you can communicate with your students and parents. You can have discussions, post homework, give assignments, etc.

In the next few blogs, I will be writing about how you can incorporate Web 2.0 websites into your classroom.

Review on Using Web 2.0 for Teaching

I ran across this blog a little while ago about using Twitter to teach. For those of you not familiar with Twitter, it is a website that you can update your status of things you are thinking or doing. You can follow people and get updated on their status as well. You can also receive and update Twitter on the website or through text messaging.

This is a very interesting blog on ways that you can incorporate Twitter into your classroom. I think it would be most successful with students who are in high school, college or adults.

Check out this blog and let me know your thoughts. Web 2.0 Teaching Tools: Twitter
1) Do you use Twitter?
2) Do you think it would be easy to incorporate into your classroom?
3) How could you use Twitter with your students?

Technology in the ESL Classroom ... what do you think?

There are many different uses for technology in the classroom. I have talked to teachers who use facebook, myspace, blogs, youtube, twitter, tumblr, achieve3000, email and the list goes on. What do you think?
I want to pose two questions today.

1) Should we use technology or is it too distracting?

2) What technology do you use in your class?

Let me know what you think I would love to hear your thoughts!

Creating an Atmopshere for Independent Reading

I have struggled with independent reading for the past few weeks. My students are loud, talkative and not interested in reading. During Independent Reading, I expect to see all my students reading a book that is on their level. I want to see them taking notes about important things, new words and questions they have. I want to see them engaged in their book and not talking to the person sitting next to them. These are my expectations, and for the last 3 weeks, this has not been the case. So yesterday I tried something new ... and it worked!!! I did the same thing today and it worked again, so I am going to share my new strategy with you.

First, I spoke briefly with my class about Independent Reading and what I expect to see and hear. Then I gave my students a few minutes to find a book and get back to their seats. This took about 10 minutes to get everyone a book and quietly in their seats. I turned off the lights and everyone started reading. The lights off created a more calm and relaxing atmosphere. I started looking around I had about 6 students who were reading books that were not on their level or not reading at all. I spoke with these students one on one and together we found book that they could read that looked interesting to them. Once I had all students reading quietly with their books, I got a book and starting reading as well (I think this is what made the difference).

Whenever, anyone started to talk or be disruptive I would stop reading and look at them (not say anything( and let them know that they were distracting me from reading. They got back to reading immediately.

I think yesterday and today were successful because of three things:
1) Each students had a book that they were interested in.
2) The atmosphere was calm and relaxed.
3) They saw me reading and knew that they should be doing what I was doing.

Effective Speaking Instruction in ESL

Speaking instruction can be incorporated into every aspect of your class. Speaking is a function that our students desperately need to survive in this world. Speaking is taught through example. The way you talk is the way your students are learning to talk. We have to treat this area of our teaching very carefully, if we try to push students too hard when they are not ready, it could be detrimental to their learning.

A few ways to consciously incorporate speaking in your class:

1) Share Out - After students read have them share out with the class what happened in their book.

2) Think~Pair~Share - You give the students a question to think about. They take 2 minutes to think about their answer. Then they have 2 minutes to get into pairs. Last they each have 1 minute to share with their partner their answer. This technique gives them time to think about their answer and then share it out, this will reduce their anxiety about talking in front of a large group.

3) Turn and Talk - During the read aloud students turn to the person next to them and talk about what is happening in the book. Or you can ask them a question (ie: what do you think will happen next? why did the main character just do that?) to keep the talking more structured.

4) Conference - Meet with the students one on one and pratice speaking with them. Talk about what they did on the weekend, who their favorite singer is and why, what they are going to do after school. Make conferencing a time that you and the student can practice speaking while building your relationship.

Effective Listening Instruction in ESL

It is very difficult to teach and assess listening because listening is demonstrated through speaking and writing. Listening is a skill that needs to be taught and not expected. "Listen to the story" is not sufficient. We need to explain how to listen and how to demonstrate that we have listened.

What does listening look like?
Sitting up straight with your eyes focused on the speaker.
What does listening sound like?
When you are listening you are quietly comprehending what the speaker is saying.

How can we demonstrate that we have listened?
When the speaker is finished, you can demonstrate that you have listened by restating what the speaker said and asking your own question. "I heard you say that you like to baseball afterschool, why do you like playing baseball." This shows that you heard what the speaker was talking about and you are trying to understand more.
Another way to demonstrate you have listened is by writing a response. After the speaker is finished, write a response that retells what you heard and gives your opinions on the topic.

This is a simple way to teach your ESL students to listen and to teach them how they can show you that they are practicing listening. So next time you ask your students to "listen" explain to them how you want them to listen (looks like, sounds like) and how you want them to demonstrate (speaking or writing) that they have listened.

Effective Writing Instruction in ESL

Writing is an integral part any student's learning. Often students are too concerned with their spelling and that gets in the way of actually producing writing. When ESL students write we are looking for meaning, voice, tone, etc. Spelling and grammar will come with practice and focused mini-lessons. When teaching writing I tend to focus on getting thoughts onto paper. During editing and revising is the time to fix grammar and spelling issues.

When you teach writing in an ESL class or with ESL students you need to think 3 steps ahead. For example, if I want my students to write a paragraph comparing and contrasting McDonalds and Burger King there are a few things that I need to teach before they can successfully write their paragraph. First, I would teach how to use a T-chart to record information. A mini-lesson would be appropriate for teaching how to use a T-chart. With the class on chart paper, fill out the T-chart on the right side write down things about McDonalds and on the left write down things about Burger King. Second, use a Venn Diagram to identify the similarities and differences between the two topics. Lastly, have students write sentences, "McDonalds and Burger King are different because ...". "McDonalds and Burger King are the same because ..."

Now, my students are ready to write. They can take their sentences, add details and their opinion to make a complete paragraph. When we teach we need to think 3 steps ahead (especially in writing) and give our ESL students what they need to succeed in our classroom and in their lives!

Create an Accepting Environment in your ESL Class

Often in ESL classrooms, there is a constant struggle to create an environment where all students feel comfortable to experiment with their new language. Teachers are constantly trying new ways to get students to interact with the language they are learning.

As teachers, we need to create an environment where experimentation with English is common and anticipated. This is something that needs to be established from the first day of school. It is easier to create this type of environment than to try and fix your classroom environment mid-year. In the beginning of the year/semester sit down and think “what does my perfect classroom look like”. Some of you might be thinking … I see all my students reading independently, I see all my students practicing their English without restrictions, I see a class that works together, etc. So if these are your goals they you need to take steps to get your class to this point. For example, if I want my students to work cooperatively when in groups, but I never assign group projects until the third quarter, am I going to see a class that knows how to work together … NO. They have not had time to practice and develop the necessary skills to work together, so my expectations are unrealistic.

In the same way we need to establish routines and practices that that will render us a classroom environment where our students feel accepted, comfortable, and free to experiment their language skills. I always strive to make this type of environment in my classroom and I always face difficulty. Naturally, students do not want to make mistakes especially in front of their peers, they do not want to be embarrassed. I do a few things to help my students overcome their fear of making a mistake. When I ask them to practice talking or sharing out in class, I give them a starter phrase. “Today I read about …”, “I think …”, “I like …. Because ….”. These starter phrases help them because they already know how to start talking and the rest is typically their opinion. The majority of the students I teach are Spanish speaking, so I try to talk with them in Spanish and of course I make mistakes all the time. This shows them that even adults make mistakes when they are learning a new language. These few things usually give my students the confidence they need to experiment and practice their English. But for those shy students who don’t want to try, you have to establish a relationship with them and show them that they are safe in your class.

Effective Reading Instruction in ESL

Reading Instruction in the ESL classroom can be daunting. How do we know the students are actually reading, how do we know they are improving? We need to have a way to monitor our students reading and their comprehension when they are reading.

I use two things in my classroom to monitor my student's reading, Reading Logs and Conferencing. My reading logs look like this:

My students are required to fill out their Reading Logs every time they read, which is twice a day, I tell them that this is their way to keep track of their reading. Each day they need to be read between 45 - 60 minutes each day. Every week I check their reading logs and make sure that they are reading, but that is not enough.

During conferencing is when I get to see if my students are truly reading and if they really understand what they are reading? Everyday I give my students time to read independently in class, they read between 15 - 20 minutes each day. During Independent Reading, I conference with 8 to 12 students each day. By the end of the week I have conferenced with each student at least 2 times.

During the conferences, I look at my student's reading logs and ask them questions about the books they are reading. I am also looking to see if my students are reading and if they understand what they are reading. If I ask a students what did you read about last night and they cannot tell me, there are only two possibilities ... 1) they did not read or 2) they did not understand. It is my job to determine which possibility is applicable to that student. Also during conferences, this is a good time to adjust your students reading levels and give them new books to try.

Take advantage of the time when your students are reading independently, conference with your students and make sure they are using their reading logs. This will help you monitor their reading frequency and comprehension.

Fun Fridays

So today is the the last day before Spring Break and I am thinking of what to do with my ESL class that will keep them engaged. Last might I was thinking of differetn activities to do, but one thing that I usually do is put on a movie. At first this seems like free time, but if structured right it can be a a fun and engaging teaching moment.

First pick a movie that all your students can enjoy (middle school - spiderman). A story that both the boys and girls in your class will enjoy. Before you start the movie have the students make a prediction about what they think is going to happen in the movie. Even if they have already seen the movie this will get them thinking.

Start the movie and instruct the students to take notes of important things that happen. Stop the movie every 10-15 minutes and question.
1) What has happened so far?
2) Who are the main characters?
3) If you were Spiderman what would have have done?
4) What do you think will happen next?
5) What is the main problem in the movie?

Ask the questions to the class and then continue with the movie. Before the period is over the studnets will write a summary of the movie. This makes for a good lesson right before any vacation. It is fun and it is a review a review of reading skills applied to a movie.

Things to Consider when Teaching Poetry for ESL

Poetry as I said before, is a good time to get your students to express themselves. If you plan your unit right, you can maximize the results from your students. Here is a sample unit plan.

Week 1:
Day 1 - Biography Poems
Day 2 - Color Poems
Day 3 - Acrostic Poems
Day 4 - Dictionary Poems
Day 5 - Concrete Poems
*homework - 2 poems a day

Week 2:
Day 1 - I Remember ... (every line starts with "I Remember")
Day 2 - Diamante (contrasting 2 opposite items)
Day 3 - Free Choice
Day 4 - Free Choice
Day 5 - Free Choice
*day 3 - 5 students read poems to find inspiration
*homework - 2 poems a day

Week 3: Create Anthology
Day 1 - Design Front Cover, Blurb on the back, Dedication
Day 2 - Table of Contents (students decide which poems to include and the order)
Day 3 - Write Poems and Draw Illustrations
Day 4 - Write Poems and Draw Illustrations
Day 5 - Publishing Party (students share out their poems and celebrate the work they have done)

Of course this time line can be altered to suit your classroom needs. There are a few things to remember when teaching poetry.

1.) Expression - Challenge students to dig deep. Instead of writing roses are red, lets make them think about a topic they are interested in (ie: sports, school, life, homework, etc.). We want to get them to express themselves with the English they have acquired throughout the year.

2.) Freedom - Give them the choice to write about what they want to write about. When your students are inspired to write about something let them run with it and experiment.

I hope you enjoyed the last couple posts about teaching poetry. If you need more suggestions feel free to email me.

Color and Dictionary Poems in ESL

Color poems are the next poems that I introduce to my students. This is another type of poem that is easy for the students to understand and reproduce one of their own. Color poems can be surface level or it can be very deep. When teaching color poems explain to the students that they can write about things that are the color, but what we are trying to do is describe colors in creative ways. Here are some examples of my students work.

Red is fire.
Red is love.
Red is passion.
Red is my love.
-by Wendy (age 11, living in the US for 2 years)

Black is like the night.
Black is like the dark.
Black is burned cookies.
Black is me.
-by Fernando (age 13, living in the US for 19 months)

Dictionary Poems are fun, but can often be challenging. Before class you need to copy a page from the dictionary. I use a dictionary that gives the word, the defintion, a sentence and a picture. Give each student a page of the dictionary and instruct them to write a poem using at least 7 of the words from that page. Do the first one together as a class, the teacher needs to guide the process. First make a list of the words you know and think you could use in the poem. Then think aloud with the students and write a poem with the whole class on chart paper. Then give the students another page from the dictionary and have them create their own.

Dictionary Poems:

I wish that in winter
I going to be a winner
with a wonderful smile.
-by Claudia (age 13, living in the US for almost 2 years)

I wish to be with my wolf
but one woman take my wonderful wolf.
-by Daniela (age 13, living in the US for almost 2 years)

Try to use these poems in you class, you will be surpried with how expressive your students can be!

Poetry Month in ESL

April is Poetry Month and this is a perfect time to take advantage of all the benefits that poetry has for our ESL students. Poetry is a very powerful tool for ESL because it provides the students with structure, rhythm and rhyme.

I start each unit with introducing my students to many different types of poems that they will be able to recreate with little difficulty, then we move into more complex issues.

Here is how I start the unit: Biography, Color, Acrostic, Dictionary and Concrete.
Biography Poems are about the author. In this blog I am going to focus on Biography Poems. I am going to give you a few examples of my students work.

I am a boy.
I am little.
I am beautiful.
I am intelligent.
I am smart.
I am from Ecuador
I am the best.
I want to be a great man.
-by Diego (age 12, been in the US for 9 months)

Beautiful, shine, smart
Sister of Sharon
Who is a good friend and a good student
Who loves her family and she love to help the people
Who fears monster, and some people
Who finished with her boyfriends
Who wants to be a doctor
Born in Puerto Rico and living in New York
-by Wendy (age 11, been in the US for 2 years)

Before my students wrote these poems, I gave them examples of each poem and they wrote their own version. The first biography poem, "I am", needs to have 7 sentences starting with I am, the last sentence starts with I want to be.

The next poem has a very specific format. It is very important to explain what each line means and what is required for each line. Some students will not understand what an adjective is but if you ask them to describe themselves they will understand. So we need to break it down for them.
Line 1 - First name
Line 2 - Three adjectives that describe the person
Line 3 - Important relationship (mother of ... son of)
Line 4 - Two or three things, people, or ideas that the person loves
Line 5 - Three feelings the person has experienced
Line 6 - Three fears the person has experienced
Line 7 - Accomplishments
Line 8 - Two or three things the person wants to see happen or wants to experience
Line 9 - Where the person lives
Line 10 - Last Name

Poetry can be done thorough out the year, and should be a time for your ESL students to express themselves. Stay tuned I will be posting more examples and student work.

A Balanced ESL Classroom

In your ESL classroom you need to have balance. There are four necessary areas that we need to be addressing everyday - reading, writing, listening and speaking. These four areas are essential components in the ESL students mastery of English. You can incorporate all four skills into one activity - the Read Aloud.

Every period there should be a Read Aloud. A Read Aloud is a piece of literature that is read out loud to the students. You can read picture books, comics, articles, poetry, etc. Choose something that will be interesting for your group of students and something that is a little higher than their reading level. Since you will be reading the story to them you can help them understand what is going on.

While reading, the teacher needs to model good reading strategies. For example, when you come to a difficult word stop and sound it out. During the read aloud the students are practicing listening. Stop in the middle of reading and ask students to turn and talk to the person sitting next to them, talk about what you think will happen next. This allows each student time to practice speaking in a non-threating environment. Read a few more pages stop and ask the students to write down what has happened in the story so far. This gives students a chance to practice writing.

Once you are finished with the read aloud you can send students back to their seats to read their own book and practice one of the skills you modeled during the read aloud (skills - retell, prediction, make a connection, compare and contrast). This time, of course, will give students practice reading.

As much as you can incorporate these four skills into your daily routine. Try to avoid spending a whole period on writing or a whole period on reading. Make the class an interactive approach to learning English through these four skills - reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Consistency and Creativity in ESL

Hi everyone, my name is Melissa. I am a middle school ESL teacher in New York. I have a my bachelors in Elementary Education and my Masters in ESL. I teach students from all over the world: Mexico, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Benin, Guinea and more. The school that I teach in is in a tough neighborhood and my students are faced everyday with the pressures of fitting in. So that is a little about me and my wonderful students.

What makes my job so great is that my students are so eager to learn. They come to the US for one specific reason ... a better life. They are reminded by their parents daily why they are here in the US. For this reason, they come to school with a thirst for knowledge and it is our responsibility to capture and quench that thirst. To keep your students engaged you need Consistency and Creativity!

Consistency is key! Take a good look at your schedule with your students whether you have your students for a 45 minute period or a 90 minute period there needs to be consistency in the structure of the class. Start the class with an agenda and warm up. Have students copy the agenda and do the warm up (4-6 minutes). This will allow them to get settled and ready for class. At the end of the period have a Share Out time (3-4minutes), where a few students can share what they have learned in the class.

Creativity ... make it fun! Don't be afraid to laugh and have fun with your class. Think about your class and where they are in their lives and plan appropriate lessons for them. For example, on Fridays I take one period and watch a movie with my students (the last two weeks we have been watching "Game Plan"). I stop the movie every 10-15 minutes and ask "what just happened" or "what do you think will happen next". These questions allow students to retell and make predictions; two necessary skills to becoming a good reader.

So when you are planning for your next class ask yourself "how can I add Consistency and Creativity to my class". Have a great week !