Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Five Day Vocabulary: A Vocabulary Learning Protocol

This year, I've been providing monthly after-school PD "Spark Sessions". These are 25-minute PDs about various strategies for supporting ELLs. When I conduct PD, I like to give teachers solid strategies that are easy to implement. I want them to be able to walk into the classroom the next day and use what they've learned.

One of the most recent sessions I did was on Vocabulary Instruction for ELLs, where I introduced several strategies for teaching and practicing vocabulary. One of the strategies I introduced was a Five-Day Vocabulary Protocol that I developed.

Today, a 2nd grade teacher at that school told me how she'd been regularly using the protocol with her students over the last several weeks as part of center time, and she was noticing a measurable increase in their ability to retain and use new vocabulary words. I also have used it with great success, so I decided to share the protocol with you in hopes that it can help your students expand their vocabulary as well. I've seen this strategy used successfully from grade 2- grade 12!

Research Basis
Research shows that students need to interact with a word multiple times and in multiple ways in order to master that word in incorporate it into their vocabulary. Additionally, ELLs need more explicit instruction in vocabulary- especially academic vocabulary- through predictable routines and activities (Brown University).

It's important to give students the opportunity to explore vocabulary words in depth by:
  • stating the meaning of the word in their own words*
  • using the word correctly in context
  • exploring synonyms or examples
  • exploring antonyms or non-examples
  • associating the word with a non-linguistic representation (usually an image or movement)
*When students write the definition for the word, it is particularly important that they do so in their own words rather than copying a definition.

Other ways to "dig into" a word:
  • identifying homophones/homonyms
  • identifying prefixes, suffixes and roots
  • multiple meanings 
This vocabulary protocol gives your students the opportunity to do the first five on the list over the five day period, with a bonus spot for your particular focus (see "other ways to dig into a word" above). 

There's a FREE set of printable cards for Five-Day Vocabulary in my TpT store. I recommend that you choose no more than 4-5 words for each unit/topic/story. Give students a card for each word (print double sided to save paper). If desired, punch a hole and put them on a ring (you can build a growing vocabulary reference throughout the year). As a warm up or part of your center time, have students complete the daily task for each word. Click below to get your copy!

If you use this with your students, please let me know how it goes!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Wait Time for ELLs: Practical Strategies to Increase Wait Time in Your Classroom

As teachers, I think one of the hardest things for us to do is slow down and wait. Providing adequate wait time for students- especially ELLs- requires conscious effort. We have so much to get through in so little time that the temptation is to keep the pace moving quickly.

Often times when observing teachers, I notice that they will ask a question and then call on the first child to raise his or her hand. If that child doesn't have an answer, they'll quickly move on to the next child with their hand up. This is a mistake!

As teachers, it can be hard to provide adequate wait time, because we wrongly feel that if the child "gets it" they'll be able to answer quickly. This isn't the case. Like good coffee needs time to percolate, our students also need time to “percolate” the information they take in. They need extra time to internalize information, process questions, and formulate responses.

Unfortunately, research tells us that even the best teachers often fail to provide enough wait time for students- the average in most studies is 1 second (Stahl, 1994). Wait time is important for all students- the average student will be able to formulate a response in about 10 seconds. Wait time is particularly important for our English learners, who not only have to internalize what they’ve learned, they often have to process and produce new language to show their understanding as well- these students will need closer to 20-30 seconds, depending on their English proficiency level.

When students have enough wait time, they are able to answer questions with more confidence, which in turn increases their motivation to learn more and answer more! So, how can we ensure that we're providing enough wait time? Here are a few strategies to try.

1. Wait Time is Egg-cellent
Go to the dollar store closest to you and grab a cheap egg timer. When you ask a question, set the egg timer to at least 20 seconds (30 or 45 is better for lower proficiency ELLs). Tell students to think quietly without raising their hands for the time you set. When the timer goes off, if they feel they know the answer, they can raise their hands.
Image result for egg timer
2. Give Me a Hand
Another simple (and free!) way to ensure wait time is to hold up 5 fingers and slooooowly count down. This gives you and students a visual indicator of think time, and can help keep you from rushing forward too quickly. Use 10 fingers with lower proficiency students. 
Related image

3. Get  Back to Me
I love the way that the teacher in this video from The Teaching Channel, upon realizing that the child isn't ready to answer, gives him more time and then does circle back around to allow him to answer. You can tell the additional wait time really gave the student time to process a response. Even better, you can tell this is a habit for this teacher- the student himself says "you should get back to me".

4. Sit With It
I often had students who would pop up a hand before I even finished asking a question, regardless of whether they had an answer prepared or not. With younger students, one way I successfully increased wait time was to have students sit on their hands when I asked a question. After about 20 seconds, I would say, "If you think you have an answer, please raise your hand". Then I would wait a few more seconds, if necessary, until most students had their hands raised.

Research also shows that increasing the amount of time between the student's answer and your response has a better effect because it allows the student to process longer give a more complex response, if they have anything to add to their initial response. The teacher can then ask additional questions, or even better, invite additional student response by saying something like "Hmm...let's think about that answer."

I hope these practical strategies will help you improve wait times in your classroom.

Stahl, R J 1994, ‘Using “Think-Time” and “Wait-Time” Skillfully in the Classroom. ERIC Digest.’ Viewed on 15 April 2015,

TeacherVision 2015, Your Secret Weapon: Wait Time, Teaching Methods and Strategies, TeacherVision, viewed on 15 April 2015,

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sketchnoting with ELLs

You may have noticed a recent trend in education toward visual notetaking, also called Sketchnoting. This practice has many benefits and applications in education, but I can see this tool as especially beneficial for our English language learners.

What are sketchnotes?
Sketchnotes are rich, visual notes created with a combination of drawings, handwritten notes, and other visual elements such as shapes and arrows. There is no set "format"- your imagination is the limit. Here's an example I created about the elements of fiction:

What are the benefits? 
The value of sketchnoting is supported by several theories, such as the dual coding theory. The dual coding theory (Paivio, 1971), states that both verbal and nonverbal processing are essential for learning. According to the theory, our minds have two separate stores of information (verbal representations and mental images) and learners require both to adequately retain and retrieve knowledge.

By drawing pictures of what they are hearing, students’ minds are engaging multiple modalities which leads to increased retention of information. According to author Wendy Pillars (Visual Notetaking for Educators), sketchnoting or ’edusketching’ can improve retention by up to 55%. This is especially important for students who are learning the content alongside the language. 

The visuals that they create during Sketchnoting can help them make important linguistic connections and support their language growth while helping them retain important content concepts. Since sketchnoting requires students to use both receptive and productive skills, along with higher-order thinking to synthesize information into a sketchnotes, students are being stretched linguistically and thinking critically. 

Sketchnotes also allow lower proficiency beginners to make notes they can understand, while connecting essential vocabulary to rich drawings and visuals, with the opportunity to incorporate their native language as needed for additional support. 

How do I get started?
This video reviews the basics of creating visual notes:

Which tools should I use? 
While there are many tools out there, I like the idea of sketchnoting by hand with paper and pens. According to Muller & Oppenheimer (2014), students who took notes by hand outperformed those who were using laptops for notetaking in conceptual understanding and long-term recall. If you must use technology for sketchnoting, I'd recommend using a tool like Adobe Draw- Sylvia Duckworth has a great presentation on using this tool for sketchnoting.

I prefer to use my RocketBook Wave for sketchnoting (mine was gifted to me at the Google Innovator Academy). I can easily digitize the notes as an image or pdf and send them off to any number of destinations (Drive, email, etc.). When my notebook is full, I can throw it in the microwave with a glass of water and erase it all so that I can reuse the notebook. Super cool!

Are you already using sketchnoting with your ELLs? Tell me how in the comments!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

When History Should NOT Be Gamified or Simulated in the Classroom

I love finding new and interesting ways to get students engaged in and excited about what we're learning in class. Gamification is a great way to to do that.  Gamification can be powerful for learning and classroom management. Classroom challenges, escape rooms, earning badges for mastering skills  and leveling up are all great ways to incorporate gamification into learning. Game-like simulations or roleplays are also popular teaching tools.

Research shows that gamification can help students build confidence, support critical thinking, improve collaboration and encourage creativity. These are all great benefits! I agree that gamification can be a powerful tool to change learning in your classroom. Gamification can spice up boring history and get students excited about the past.

But y'all, we need to get real here for a minute. There are some things that should never ever ever be made into a game. For any reason. Full stop.

I cannot believe some of the things I have seen turned into wildly inappropriate games! You may be wondering what types of things shouldn't be gamified if gamification has all the benefits I mentioned above. I don't have a complete list, I'm sure there are some things I've overlooked, but here is a starting point:

  • Slavery and related topics (example: Underground railroad, slave ships)
  • Genocide  (example: Holocaust)
  • Oppression of Minority Groups (example: Segregation)
  • The Plight of Native Peoples (example: Trail of Tears)
  • Immigration (example: Illegal Immigration, Ellis Island)
  • War (example: Vietnam, D-Day)
  • Mass Casualty Incidents (examples: 9/11, School Shootings)
  • Assassinations and murders (example: Martin Luther King)
As I said, this list is not exhaustive by any means, but it gives some food for thought on the types of historical events that should never be gamified. These topics shouldn't be gamified because no one's trauma or history should be reduced to a game. Say that again- one more time:

No one's trauma or history should be reduced to a game.

Doing so trivializes the experiences of those who endured (and possibly died during) these hardships, traumas, and injustices. Such games can also serve to alienate students of various racial or ethnic groups, while other students may find the "game" in itself traumatizing. What possible educational benefit can come from asking students to take on the roles of slaves or people living in concentration camps? If you answer is empathy- don't. There are far more appropriate and sensitive ways to teach empathy. 

When considering gamifying a topic in your classroom, please stop and think:
  1. What is the goal? What is the learning outcome for this game? 
  2. How does gamifying support the desired learning outcome? 
  3. Does the game have the potential to alienate, offend, or trivialize an event or group of people?
  4. Is there the potential for students be hurt or traumatized by the game? 
  5. Is this the most culturally/racially sensitive and inclusive way to approach this topic?
Certainly there are some great topics suited for gamification or simulations which students can participate in and learn from- but not every topic is appropriate to simulate or gamify. Carefully considering the purpose, goals, and potential pitfalls of gamifying a topic before you do it can help you avoid hurting, alienating, and offending students in your classroom. Please take the time to do some careful consideration and reflection before gamifying or simulating historical events in your classroom. 


Teachers and Gamers Agree: 'slave Tetris' Isn't How You Educate Kids About Slavery Liz Dwyer -

Don't Add Gamification Until You Answer These Five Questions

Benefits Of Gamification Learning and Instruction

Five Benefits Of Adding Gamification To Classrooms

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

BreakoutEdu + ELLs = Language Growth

I'm always on the lookout for innovative new ways to engage students, support language growth, and develop students into learners and thinkers. I was recently introduced to BreakoutEdu and the use of breakout and escape games in the classroom, and I think this can be a hugely beneficial tool for instructing our ELLs.

Back in October, I attended the Google Innovator Academy in Stockholm, Sweden (you can read about that here). Before I left for Stockholm, I received a BreakoutEdu Kit from the Innovator Program. We were supposed to create a short breakout game about our experience as educators for our fellow innovators to play when we all arrived at the academy.

Breakout games are great in the classroom for many reasons, but chiefly they develop several important skills (more on this later):

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Problem Solving
  • Perseverence
  • Growth Mindset

I immediately began wondering how I could apply this to what I do, and how we can leverage it for our ELLs. As a coach, I do a lot of professional development, so that was a natural place to start. Before I even went to Stockholm, I ran my first game for teachers during one of my workshops. I've since used it quite a bit in professional development.

Next, I began to think about how we can use it to support language growth for our students. I think this tool has enormous potential for use with ELLs to develop important social AND academic language skills, on top of the key life lessons that are learned through participation. 

Before we dive into WHY this method is great for use with ELLs, let's explore the benefits in general. This awesome graphic from Sylvia Duckworth details 10 reasons for using Breakout with students.

So how does it benefit ELLs?
Well, first off which of the skills above wouldn't we want to develop in our ELLs? But most critically, this is a very effective way to combine the use of content skills/knowledge with authentic reasons for using the very academic and social language we want them to acquire. Additionally, it's highly engaging, easy to differentiate, and gets all students participating and practicing the focus skills. 

Communication and Collaboration
Breakout and escape games require students to work together with their peers, which helps to develop key collaboration and communication skills that will benefit students throughout life. More importantly, it provides an authentic avenue for our ELLs to practice both social language skills and academic language skills such as agreeing, disagreeing, explaining ideas/procedures/methods, and discussing their thinking with a group of peers. 

Academic Language Development
Since breakout games are typically centered around a content concept or skill, it also requires students to use key academic vocabulary and language structures. Again, the awesome part about breakout games is that they provide authentic situations and reasons for using that language as students explore information, look for clues, and solve puzzles. 

Perseverance and "Failing Forward"
One of the things I like best about breakout and escape games is that you don't always win- AND THAT'S OK. This is an important life lesson in general, but it also applies in a very important way to language learning. Language learning benefits from making errors and learning from them. When students encounter difficulties with communication, they have to reassess and find a new way to communicate their thoughts. This is reflected in breakout games. For example, when students try the wrong combo, they have to go back, reassess and try again. If they don't breakout, then the experience is a learning experience and can help future endeavors. Learning that failure is ok, and using it as a learning tool is such an important lesson for everyone, but especially for our ELLs. 

Don't miss my next post- I'll be discussing how you can scaffold language and differentiate games for ELLs at various proficiency levels. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

#ELLEdTech Chat: November 2017

Our next #ELLEdTech Twitter Chat is this Sunday, November 19 at 7pm EST. This month's topic is Teaching Holidays in a Culturally Sensitive Way. Join us to share your favorite tech tools and learn about others!

Questions and Timeline
7:00 = Tell us your name, location, level and subject taught #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1: What does it mean to teach holidays in a "culturally sensitive" way? #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2: How do you make sure to address holidays in a culturally sensitive way with your students? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: How can tech tools help with a culturally sensitive approach to holidays? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: What tech tools would you recommend for teaching holidays in a culturally sensitive
way? #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers who want to use tech to teach holidays in a culturally sensitive manner? #ELLEdTech

Directions for Joining the Chat:
1. Log into Twitter on Sunday; the chat runs from 7:00 - 7:45pm Eastern Daylight Time.
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 tinyurlbitly, 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. When responding to someone, please be sure to "mention" them by including their Twitter handle.
7. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, teachers, school staff, administrators--may see what you tweet.) 

You are welcome to let any of your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us know about this Twitter chat. We can't wait to chat with you on Sunday evening!

Can't make it to the chat? Check out the archives to see what you missed! (The archive is not currently showing everything. I'm still working on a better solution for chat archives- if you have one- please let me know!!)


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Breaking Out of Boredom: Using BreakoutEDU in Professional Development

Today I want to talk about one of the things I'm really excited about right now- using BreakoutEdu with teachers during Professional Development Workshops.

Just before I attended the Google Innovator Academy in Stockholm, Sweden (you can read about that over on my tech blog), Google sent each person in my cohort a BreakoutEdu kit. I'd only just learned about using breakout and escape room type games in the classroom a few months earlier, and was just beginning to create digital breakout games for teachers to use with their students. I was thrilled to get an actual Breakout Box of my own!

Of course, since I spend most of my time working with teachers, and leading workshops and other professional development, I immediately wondered how I could begin using this with my teachers. I found some awesome games on the BreakoutEdu site, BUT most of those designed for adults were related to team-building.

That didn't really help me- most of my workshops involve teachers from all over the county, and we're there to learn about ELLs, not build teamwork. Since I'm an ESOL Coach, I wanted to do games with my teachers that involved content related to the workshops I was teaching. To make that happen, that meant I needed to jump in and start creating my own games.

I looked at lots of examples, visited an Escape Room, and did lots of research. Then, I created my first game about The ESOL Bus- it focused on learning about three essential elements that should always be included in instruction for ELLs:

  • Build Background
  • Use Comprehensible Input
  • Scaffolding and Support

My teachers had a great time, and they did manage to breakout with just a few minutes remaining. Encouraged by that success, I then created a co-teaching game for a presentation I had planned for one of my schools who is implementing co-teaching. The same skills that are needed for a team to be successful in breakout- communication, collaboration, and respect- are also essential to building a good relationship with a partner teacher. So, teachers were able to explore best co-teaching practices to find clues and "breakout". Inside the box, I had candy (for the next activity on the agenda) and a card reminding them of those three essential "keys" to building a solid co-teaching relationship:

Later this month, I have my second session with the teachers in my Technology for ELLs Focus Group, and I plan to do a Breakout that will require them to use the skills they've learned about GSuite. I can't wait to see how it goes! 

After each breakout, I lead a reflection discussion so that we have time to discuss what we learned and what they thought of the breakout. 

All in all, if you are someone who leads professional development, I encourage you to consider how you can incorporate BreakoutEdu into some of your workshops. It's a great opener to get teachers up and moving and engaged, then you can tie in they clues they explored and what they learned during the Breakout to the topic of your workshop.

If you're already doing this, tell me how in the comments!