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7 Signs You Are Teaching Your English Learners Well


The U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse examines programs and practices intended to support English Learner achievement.  The following classroom practices have been shown to have a positive or potentially positive effect on educational outcomes.  For more details on the practices visit the What Works Clearinghouse.

1) My students often work in pairs or small groups discussing and interacting to complete academic tasks.

2) My students frequently engage in teacher-facilitated small group discussions about key concepts from readings.

3) My students often respond in writing in a literature log to a prompt about readings.

4) I teach students how to use reading comprehension strategies.

5) I teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes.

6) I provide high quality vocabulary instruction throughout the day.

7) I provide focused and intensive small group instruction for readers who are struggling.

Websites Offering Learning Activities for Young ELs


The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition has published a list of websites with younger ELs in mind.

Websites Offering Learning Activities for Young ELs

  • language games, songs, and stories

  • activities to learn numbers, colors, shapes, reading and writing letters and words

  • reading instruction and reading games

  • language-related activities and stories

  • stories and language-learning activities

  • a variety of reading, writing, and learning activities

  • learning activities to prepare children for school

  • stories read by actors from the ScreenActors' Guild.

  • reading and writing activities

  • science content from Houghton Mifflin Science Series 


    (Source:, Winter 2012 Issue of AccELLerate!)

Tactile Review


Tactile Review - For K-2ND GRADE, have them trace letters, numbers or key vocabulary words listed on the board, on their partner's washed hand and the partner guesses the letter or word.  A list of possible words can be listed on the board or on a chart.  Switch roles.

Poll Says Half of Americans Support Immigration Reform and More Support English as a Requirement


A new poll by HuffPost/YouGov found that about 60 percent of Americans support immigration reform and even more - 81 percent - support a policy that requires immigrants learn English to become citizens.  This brings up a lot of questions.  What does it mean to learn English?  What to Americans think about the first language(s) of immigrants?  Resource or not? How might this effect policies and funding for English as a Second Language compared with Bilingual Education?  Are our goals as a nation to be monolingual or bilingual?  What does this mean for parents and children that we serve in our schools?

(Reference: Huffington Post, Emily Swanson, Feb. 1, 2013)

California Proposed New State Tests with Accomodations for English Learners


California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will be sharing proposals for new state tests that will be more aligned with the Common Core State Standards which require more critical thinking and elaborated responses and fewer multiple choice questions.  The committee recommended that "students starting to learn English, for example, should be tested in their primary language, have tests with simplified instructions and glossaries, and even have exams delivered by audio. With computerized testing, that can all be done easily" (Hoag, 2013).  How is your school preparing students for the heavy linguistic load of the Common Core State Standards?


(Reference: CHRISTINA HOAG/Associated Press; Created:   01/08/2013 07:37:41 AM PST)

Building Language with the PWIM (Picture Word Inductive Model)


PWIM (Calhoun, 1999) is an oft-used and well-cited strategy for students to develop their reading and writing from a picture.  I like it because it engages so many research-based strategies for language acquisition.  Students develop background knowledge, study and play with words, engage in repeated exposures to vocabulary, and all within the context of a single picture. The basic steps are the following:

  1. Choose a picture from a newspaper, magazine or picture cards and display it.
  2. Ask students, "What do you see?"
  3. The teacher labels the objects in the picture, repeating each word and directing students to spell and say the word aloud. (See photo example above.)
  4. Ask, "What do these words have in common?" Next, read and group the words by commonalities in a chart.
  5. Review the chart by reading it and saying the words and their spelling aloud.
  6. Ask, "Can you think of more words to describe the picture?"  Chart any additional words.
  7. Ask, "What would be a good title for the picture?" Discuss and record the title.
  8. Ask students, "What can we say about this picture?  What sentences can we write?"  Record (sentence strips and a pocket chart are great for recording and moving sentences around) and work together to group alike sentences.  Rearrange the sentences into a paragraph, describing aloud why you are putting sentences in a particular position in the paragraph.
  9. Read together a few times.

Looking for Picture Cards?  Buy Now.

Looking for Sentence Strips? Buy Now.

Looking for a Pocket Chart? Buy Now.

Common Core Reading Anchor Standard, 7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. Common Core Writing Anchor Standard, 2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Basic Rule #1: Make Sure You Make Sense to Your Students

I was recently in a classroom of language learners who were learning a language that I also did not know.  I was again reminded how difficult it is to understand a language for which you have no background knowledge or experience.  As I sat behind the group of students seated at the rug taking notes, I could only understand about 10% of what the teacher was saying, doing, and asking the students to do.  Luckily, any frustration I might have felt was tempered by my interest in identifying what the teacher was doing that was making sense. Admittedly, I was not required nor expected to understand; if I were a student my frustration level likely would have been through the roof. The students were mostly off-task and needed individual reteaching to complete the independent task after the whole group instruction.  After the lesson, the teacher clarified what she had been doing and saying.  The teacher had forgotten basic rule #1, you have to make sure you are making sense to your students.

I have been teaching language learners or teachers of language learners for nearly 20 years now.  If I were to give the simplest and single most powerful piece of advice for teaching another language to students, it would be this: Make sure you make sense to your students.  I know this seems so incredibly obvious, but in all of my years observing teachers teach language learners, this is the easiest idea to forget.  Why do we forget to make sure we are making sense?  Oh, let me count the reasons - there are many:
rushing to “get through” the lesson;
1) not being familiar with the content and strategies so we are learning as we teach;
2) no time to prepare the lesson (let alone take a bathroom break!);
3) unfamiliar with sheltering strategies;
4) our students that are struggling to understand us do not tell us so;
5) it takes more effort to shelter instruction (make it make sense);
6) no time;
7) oh, and did I mention no time?

Despite the many reasons that contribute to our forgetting to make sure we make sense to our students, this is something that we must do to the best of our ability every day and every lesson.  Let me give you 5 ways that you can efficiently and effectively make sure you are making sense more often:

1) Sketch as you talk and write (use a small whiteboard, the large whiteboard, a sketchpad when you are moving among desks) using draw stick figures and symbols to help students understand your speech and writing.  This might be awkward at first, but you will become surprisingly good at this with practice.  A great resource for sketching ideas is: Chalk Talks (it has simple sketches and over 500 easy to copy symbols organized by content area);
2) Gesture!  Use body language.  For some of us, gesturing as we talk does not come naturally, but it is a MUST if you want your students to understand you.  The more meaningfully you can gesture for all of your speech, the better!  A great resource for gesturing ideas is: TPR Is More Than Commands which will show you how to use Total Physical Response (TPR) to teach language.
3) Constantly check in with students!  Otherwise known as constant assessment.  There are so many ways to check in every couple of minutes to see if students are comprehending you.  Have them write a word, sketch, do a problem, or answer a question on individual whiteboards and hold them up so you can see if they are with you; circulate as you teach, looking at student work or notes and stop to reteach; ask students to give you a thumbs-up/down throughout the lesson; direct students to share the most important thing they are learning/understanding with a partner and listen in to what they say.  The idea is that you are checking in so that “no child is left behind”.  We all know how that feels, and more importantly, we know the results of being left behind long-term.

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Everyday ELL is now Every Language Learner.