Teaching Tips

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Write & Wipe Pockets Should Be in Your Classroom

Language Learners need many opportunities to practice expressing themselves in writing.  These pockets are excellent tools for students to practice, erase, and try again.  They allow for students to get their ideas down without fear of getting it wrong.  They work for math, science, interacting with reading, and writing.  The possibilities are endless.  And you get to make less copies because you can reuse the document you slide into the pocket!

Learning Logs for Language Learners

"So, honey, what did you learn today?"  "¿Amor, qué aprendiste hoy?" is a question children hear every day and most often, their answer is, "Nothing." or "Cosas." "Stuff."  Why not create a assign a notebook to each student, a "Learning Log."  Every day or once a week, they write, draw, or make a chart of what they learned that day.  You can make it open-ended or specific.  For example, "What did you learn in math today?" Or, "Give an example of a metaphor in your learning log."  The possibilities are infinite.  Have parents sign after each entry.  Students can write in English or their home language or draw pictures and disgraces depending on their language level.

How DO we keep our students from falling behind?: Easier Assessement Every Day

We need to be sure we keep tabs on our students--but we often fail at this.  This scenario is familiar: you teach a lesson, explain the new concept, and set the students to work independently.  Some get started right away, after a few minutes of rustling around and a couple of questions, the room is quiet (mostly) and students seem to be working on this new information.  You answer questions for students who raise their hand or come to you.  However, when you grade their finished work, there are at least 3 groups: those who mostly mastered the concept, those who have a couple of misunderstandings, and a few who missed the mark completely.  But now it’s too late to reteach, as you’ve moved on to new concepts…

I have a quick and simple solution for you!

+ Teach your lesson.
+ Give students 5 minutes to start their independent work.
+ Place a card on each student’s desk indicating students who’ve got it, students who are getting there, and students who cannot do the work.  (For young children it could be a caterpillar, a chrysalis, and a butterfly card.  For older children, say 5th grade, use 3 cards that are the three branches of government.) Place the card their desk.
+ Pull each of the separate groups to a table and work with them to either reteach, clarify, or challenge them.

All students are different and you need an efficient way to assess where they are and then either reteach, clarify, or challenge them.

This is an easy way to differentiate instruction every lesson so fewer students slip through the cracks!

If you want pre-made cards, I have some for sale in my store:



Upper Grade Sort It! Games CCSS Aligned CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9


One of the most popular games I use is the most simple: grab 3 medium bins or boxes, grab a pile of word or picture cards, line up your class and have them take turns sorting them into the correct bin (for example, amphibians, mammals, or reptiles OR prefix, suffix, word root etc.)  Make your own games to fit your curriculum or try this one: This set of Sort It! Games is specifically designed to make something that’s really hard for upper elementary kids and adults (!) - determining the strength of evidence to support statements - more fun.

Students will enjoy playing Sort It! games.  It's an engaging hands-on way for students to practice working with content and language.  Language Learners of all levels are supported because the games are self-pacing, can be played in pairs, are hands-on and include visuals to assist comprehension.  Teachers can quickly visually assess student comprehension by checking the bins for accuracy and re-teach as needed on the spot. 


I provide you with a statement card, for example, “Soccer equipment is made to protect players.”  Students then sort the 16 evidence cards into three categories: strong evidence (for statements that strongly support the statement), weak evidence (for statements that somewhat support the statement), and not evidence (for statements that do nothing to support the statement).  The key is to carefully read and re-read the statement in order to understand what it really means.



WHAT? Play Sort It! Games once or twice a week whole class, in pairs, and/or individually.

WHY? All students need practice understanding what counts as evidence for statements so they they can both write and read critically.  However, this skill is often not explicitly taught with materials that help students to compare evidence related to a statement.  Language learners will benefit from repeated practice with support from higher proficiency and bilingual peers in ranking evidence for an analytic statement.


Determine if you want students to work in pairs (recommended) and photocopy as many card sets as you will need (a set includes 1 statement card and 12 evidence cards).  Cut out the cards (or have students do this) and shuffle them.  Photocopy a blank game card for each pair (or small group or individual).  You may want to slide them into a plastic sleeve or laminate them for durability.  Or you can make paper boxes with card stock (see master at the end of this unit) or use sets of small boxes you have and label them with post-it notes.

Model reading a statement and then choosing and reading a 1 or 2 evidence cards and thinking aloud where to put them (strong, weak, or not evidence).  A document camera or LCD projector can help make the sorting process visually clear.

Direct students to take turns drawing an evidence card and talking about why they choose to place it as either strong, weak, or not evidence for the statement.

Colorful Writing

Tip: Colorful Writing

How do I do it?
When students are doing writing projects (e.g. narratives, spelling sentences, journal entries, etc.), encourage them to use “colorful” words.  Model this by showing the students a simple sentence such as “The nice boy let me use his toy.”  Help them brainstorm different ways to say this or to add more detail, such as “The generous boy shared his new Star Wars toy with me.”  Ask them, which sentence sounds more interesting? Which one creates a better image in your head?

If you want them to use this strategy in story telling, have them rewrite the sentence “‘Nice to meet you,’ she said.”  Is there a more interesting way to say this?  What about “‘It’s a pleasure to meet you!’ she exclaimed.”

Post this list of colorful adjectives and verbs somewhere in the classroom (or make your own) for them to refer to if they get stuck, or encourage them to use a thesaurus.  

Try this list for younger students.

Variations & Extensions:
Have students create their own “colorful” thesaurus with a variety of different verbs and adjectives they can use to make their writing more interesting.  Have them start the entry with “Instead of saying nice, I can use….. kind, generous, giving, pleasant” etc.  Remind them to leave room on the page for when they find new colorful words to add to each entry!

Common Core ELA Language Standard 3
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Build A Character


Tip: Build a Character

How do I do it?
Language learners can benefit from monitoring their reading with visualization to help them comprehend a text.  Visualizing a character and then constructing one from different faces, body parts, and props (with evidence for their choices) is a good way for students to describe characters in a story and make sure they are comprehending the text.  Download our handy build a character worksheet for students to utilize.  As students read the narrative, direct them to choose a character and build a picture of them as they read (or afterwards).  As they read or following reading, students choose body parts and props to build their character.  They must include words with page numbers to support their choices.  For example, if choosing “sad” eyes they can write, “The timid mouse cried a lot.” (pg. 3) next to their choice.

Variations & Extensions
In pairs or triads, students compare and contrast their 2 or 3 characters with a double or triple Venn diagram explaining what traits the characters have in common and how they differ.  The can use place words, phrases, or sentences on slips of paper on Venn diagrams.  Use a “build a character” program online such as on PBS Kids and have students build and print the same character with different eyes, expressions and props etc. and then write words or sentences to compare the characters in a Venn diagram.

Common Core ELA Reading Standard 3
Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

10 Steps to the Main Idea


Tip: Ten Steps to The Main Idea

How do I do it?
Finding the theme or main idea of a story can be a challenge for language learners and can require significant support.  The following process will help language learners determine the theme or main idea of a piece of literature and identify the details that support that theme or main idea.
    Step 1: Preview the text. Look at the cover and any pictures.  Read the title.  What are key words?  What do you think the text will be about?  What will happen?
    Step 2: Preview key vocabulary.  Choose 5-10 words you don’t know.  What do they mean?  Write them down or talk about them.
    Step 3: Read the text.  (With the teacher, a partner, or in a literature circle.)  
    Step 4: Reread the text.  
    Step 5. Look for repetition.  What words are repeated?
    Step 6. What was the problem?
    Step 7. What was the solution?
    Step 8. Finish these sentences about the story: “First,...”  “In the middle,...” “Finally,...”
    Step 9. Finish one of these sentences: “This story reminds me...” “This story is about...”
    Step 10. Look over your answers to steps 1-9.  What is the story mostly about?  Finish this sentence: “The main idea is...”

Continue around the circle until ideas are exhausted or time is up.

Variations & Extensions
For students who may not need as much support, shorten the process by omitting steps or exempting particular students from steps.  Students can work in pairs.  After students finish their steps have them compare with a partner or in a triad to refine and support their statements with evidence.

Download the 10 Steps Worksheet with space for writing answers and recording details from the text.

Common Core ELA Reading Standard 2
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

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