ESL · oral presentations · taking a risk


This will be a short post.

I just wanted to share how proud I am of my two newest ESL students.

They spent several periods over the last week researching about a “person of interest” in social studies.
The task was to find out their person’s contribution and why it’s still important to us today.
Then, they had to prepare a brief PPT presentation – three to four slides long – to share with their classmates.

My students researched Aesop and King Leonidas, respectively.

We practiced in class and then they were ready. In fact, they were more than ready. They were fantastic! They were both calm and very self-assured. I think their classmates were pleasantly surprised.

This was a milestone for both of them; they took a risk and were successful.

Did I already say how proud I am of them?

Cross posted to Tuesday Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers.

Daily5 · ESL · one-on-one conferences · one-on-one conferring format · read to self

Read to Self

In my ESL pull-out class my students come in and find a comfortable spot for read to self, which lasts for 20 minutes. For the most part, and this is always interesting to me, they choose the same place day in and day out: sitting on a table, crouched under the sink, sprawled between two tables, sitting at tables or sitting in a chair near the window.

Read to self is a perfect time for one-on-one conferences. But I am often conflicted because I don’t want to interrupt my students’ reading. After all, I don’t like being interrupted when I’m reading a good book. Yet, I understand that time is precious, especially the one hour I have with my students, four days/week. Still, I wonder if I should let my students read without interrupting them? Or should I use this time to touch bases with them about their reading? For some of my students, this may be the only time that anyone talks to them about what they’re reading. So, I need to take advantage of this opportunity.

Today, I started conferring again, without any second guessing. I had two conferences during the 20 minutes, which actually became 25 minutes because I lost track of the time. Although that translates to two long conferences, it’s OK for now. I need to find my rhythm again. I hadn’t touched bases with any of my students for a few weeks, at least not in one-on-one conferences, and I needed to feel comfortable again. Find my groove, so to speak. I will create a format for these conferences that will give me the information I need to better teach my ESL students. I’m working on that now.

One possible format might look like this:

First, the student reads a little bit of his/her book aloud.
Then, we talk about what’s happening in the book, who the characters are, and what may happen next. Other topics will come up naturally depending on the book and the student.
Next, I may ask what kind of help s/he needs to read this book.
Finally, we make a plan for finishing the book (my students are non-finishers and reluctant readers, for the most part), and think about what s/he could read next.
What we discuss at the next conference will be determined, in part, by how the previous one went.

So, there you have it! A tentative plan for one-on-one conferences. I will come back to this topic at a later date to reflect on how it’s going.

co-teaching · ESL · pull-out · push-in · team teaching

Team Teaching?

This year, the ESL team has decided that we need to provide more push-in rather than pull-out support for our ESL students. In my case, this means that I will be pushing-in to grades 6 and 8 during their language arts, math and social studies times, and pulling-out some grade six beginner students for an extra hour of language arts, four times a week. Last year we gave our beginner students an average of two hours of pull-out support every day; they never attended their regular language arts class.

Yesterday was our first day under this new regime and I loved it!

I can’t say we’ll be team teaching for sure because that requires close planning time, which we’ve had some of, but we’re definitely moving to a co-teaching situation where I’m not an observer but rather another teacher in the class. For some students, who don’t know me, this is not what they signed up for but I think it will be a win-win for all involved. My biggest dilemma will be how to work with my co-teachers so that we all improve our teaching in the long run. We are all in a position to offer constructive criticism and suggestions for change to each other.

I spent most of yesterday’s classroom time observing and interacting with small groups and individuals. I am treading lightly as I have high regard for the teachers I work with. I know they want to be more effective teachers and are willing to try something new if it will help students learn better. So, we are talking and trying out different strategies. At our weekly meetings I am hoping that we can address some of these issues as well as the curriculum content.

If you have had any experience team teaching of any kind, but especially if you worked with a specialist teacher as a classroom teacher or vice versa, I hope you will chime in with how it went, especially with tips for making these kinds of relationships successful.

I will be blogging about this often during this year as I am anxious for this model to succeed.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers A Slice of Life.

Day #8 · ESL

Day #8

Day #8

No students, yet.
As an ESL teacher I spend the first two weeks of school testing and testing some more, meeting and meeting again, setting up lists, and organizing schedules, until finally I can start servicing students.
This is my second year as an ESL teacher though I have been in this position a couple of times previously in my career. Last year was tough as I was new to my school and I didn’t know what to do for the first couple of weeks. Everything was new and confusing. This year feels a little more familiar and I haven’t stopped to take a break since I started.
Still, I miss the first few days of school from when I had a class list on Day #1.
I miss the smell of new supplies.
I miss the eager faces of students.
I miss building a community of learners.
I greet familiar faces.
I welcome new students.
I can’t wait to get started teaching for real.
content area literacy · ESL · partner reading · The Reading Teacher · vocabulary

Partner Reading and Content, Too Routine (PRC2)

I’m a hoarder.

There, I’ve said it.
I try to deny that I’m a hoarder but it comes back to haunt me every time I move houses, or pack up my classroom at the end of the school year.
I have old articles, lesson plans, handouts, folders brimming with teaching ideas, past issues of profesional journals. I hardly throw anything out though I’ve learned to be more selective over the years. My one rule of thumb, and I really try to stick to this, is that if I haven’t used or referred to something in a year, then it’s time to toss it into the recycle bin. One exception to this rule (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) is past issues of journals from professional organizations. However, with the ability to locate articles online through my professional memberships, even this exception is becoming less and less useful, which brings me to the topic of this blog post.
I am currently reading a copy of The Reading Teacher from 2010. I’ve clipped a couple of informative and useful articles from this issue and other issues, as well as from other professional journals that I will be writing blog posts about over the coming weeks. Today I want to talk about Supporting English Language Learners and Struggling Readers in Content Literacy with the ‘Partner Reading and Content, too’ Routine by Donna Ogle and Amy Correa-Kovtun. Donna Ogle is the originator of the K-W-L strategy that many of us have used during content area instruction over the years. This more recent strategy, or routine, helps ESL students focus on content area strategies for enhancing comprehension and improving vocabulary in math, science, and social studies. 
The PRC2 is based on the following well-documented premises from research:
  • Students need to read text every day that is at their instructional or independent level and that is of interest to them. Of course, what is “instructional” or “independent” can be determined in many different ways from formal testing or teacher observations through conferring with students.
  • Students need many opportunities to use academic vocabulary so that they feel comfortable enough to use it independently.
  • When students formulate and then respond to their own questions, they learn more.
  • Facts are important in content learning but knowing just facts is not enough. Students must have multiple opportunities to apply what they know using critical thinking strategies, as well.
  • Teachers need to teach non fiction structures that will allow students to enhance their comprehension and increase their facility with content area vocabulary.

The PRC2 routine is fairly simple to implement in the classroom. In fact, if you are familiar with the Daily 5, PRC2 is similar to Read to Someone, except that in PRC2 students with similar reading levels and interests pair up to read an informational book. In Read to Someone, children have many more choices than in PRC2, including with whom to read and what to read (fiction vs. non fiction). That is why it’s critical for students to understand why they are engaging in PRC2: so they can gain better understanding of their content area units of study and to increase related vocabulary.

In PRC2, pairs of students take turns reading two pages in a row to each other after previewing the text. This conversation before reading is critical to help build background knowledge and anticipation of what will be read. Before one of the partners reads two pages out loud, they both read the text silently. The child doing the reading at any given time needs to prepare a question to ask his or her partner that will hopefully start a conversation about what was read. The question is either created on the spot or from a list of questions that the class has created together. Then, it’s the other child’s turn. Partners move back and forth taking turns until the book is finished. Last, but not least, both students add new words from their reading to a vocabulary notebook.
This routine provides many opportunities to teach children not only non fiction text structures but also how to take turns, ask questions, how to respectfully disagree, ask follow up questions, and find evidence in the text. I am planning to use this routine with my ESL students this coming school year.
What do you think? Is this a routine you might try with your students? I’d love to read your comments.
Ogle, D. and Correa-Kovtun, A. (2010), Supporting English-Language Learners and Struggling Readers in Content Literacy With the “Partner Reading and Content, Too” Routine. The Reading Teacher, 63: 532–542. doi: 10.1598/RT.63.7.1
Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers SOL.
collaborative story writing · ESL · writing

ESL Ruminations #3

OK. I’m on a roll. I have been energized by thinking and writing about what’s working and what isn’t going so well with my ESL classes. I have enjoyed trying out new routines and activities with my students. I’ve written about some of my ruminations and attempts to improve learning for my students here and here.

Today I want to share about an old but new-to-my-students activity: collaborative story writing.

My instructions were simple: start a story and pass your paper to the person on your right so they can continue it. We talked about making sure that there was a beginning, middle and end, and that the middle involved the problem and the solution. We talked about setting and characters and that ample details make a story more interesting. We talked about the importance of each subsequent section fitting in with the previous sections. In other words, the story had to make sense. We talked about printing legibly so that their group members would be able to read their writing.

I had two different groups engage in this activity. One group was composed of eight children in fourth and fifth grades, and the second group (two different classes) only had 3 students all of whom are in the sixth grade. The smaller group completed four rounds of exchanging papers and finished their stories. The larger group had a later start, more questions about the process, and was not able to exchange papers. They did, however, write the beginning of their stories and shared these orally with each other. All of the students in both groups are beginner ESL students.

As a result of these two experiences, I have decided to divide the larger group into two smaller groups. This will allow them to finish their stories in one sitting and hopefully result in fewer distractions.

I’m thinking that the next step will be to have students pair up to revise and edit their stories. They could also add illustrations and come up with a suitable title for their stories. We could publish them and share them with other classes, families, and friends.

Here’s a variation of the collaborative story writing we did yesterday.

Have you done anything similar to this with your students? How did it go? Any suggestions for improving this process with ESL students? Please share in the comments section below.

Cross posted to

assignments · ESL

ESL Class Ruminations

I have been using the Daily5 with my beginner to intermediate middle school students and have been fairly happy with the results: children who like to read and write. They are finding authors and series they enjoy and are discovering that writing can be a powerful way to communicate with others. I work with my students in a pull out situation.

Recently, though, I’ve been feeling pressure, mostly from myself and a little bit from observing my students, to change up some of what goes on in class so that there are authentic assignments that stretch my students as language learners. More specifically, I’m trying to determine which tasks are useful because they extend and enrich students’ English language development, and which are just busy work and students are finding a chore to complete. The four standard weekly assignments are:

  1. Dialogue Journals – running conversation twice/week between my students and myself.
  2. Storytelling – about a personally significant event. This also involves listening to other students’ stories, taking notes, and choosing one interesting story to write about.
  3. Filling out a graphic organizer about a story the child listened to on the computer.
  4. T-chart for read to self which includes writing from the reflection side of the chart.
I try to confer with students about their work immediately or as soon as possible the next day. I do a lot of teaching during these one-on-one conferences but I’m beginning to wonder if all four activities are equally valuable. Which ones can I cut or tweak to make them more authentic or more meaningful to students?
As a result of writing up this blog post, I have decided to ask students about the value of each activity to their growth as a language learner. I know which two assignments I find valuable and which one may not be as useful right now and may need some tweaking to make it worthwhile. Dialogue Journals are valuable in any setting and I may need to make some changes to the procedure in order to make them more accessible to students..
I will ask my students to write down what they like and what they don’t like about each assignment, and to give a suggestion for how each can be improved. I will compile their responses and report back next time. In the meantime, do you think these assignments are valuable for beginning to intermediate ESL students? Why or why not?

Cross posted at A Slice of Life.