Sunday, January 29, 2012

Valentine's Day Blog Hop!

Can you believe it's almost February? January has just flown by, and I've been so busy. I'm sure you all know the feeling!

To celebrate February, in which many wonderful things happen (among them, my mother's birthday, and Valentine's Day), I'm participating in a blog hop. Each blogger participating in the blog hop is offering two amazing things:
  1. One FREE VALENTINE'S DAY PRODUCT on each blogger's TpT store!
  2. A contest where you can enter to WIN even more FREE PRODUCTS.
The blog hop will last until February 14th! Winners will be announced on February 15th. 

To Enter with The ESOL Odyssey:
I am offering THREE lucky winners up to $20 in PRODUCTS OF YOUR CHOICE from MY TpT Store. You can get up to three entries. Here's what you need to do:
  1. Click the image to the right to get a FREE Valentine's Day Word Fun Activity from my TpT Store, Tools for Teachers by Laurah Jurca. This activity is for grades 2-4 and includes two fun Valentine's Themed activities.
  2. Become a follower of my blog and my TpT store. If you have a blog or Facebook page, tell others about this Valentine Blog Hop. Each one of these is worth 1 entry.
  3. Fill out this entry form.

How to "Do the HOP":
  1. Visit each blog to find your free Valentine's Day teaching resource. Visit our blog hop host and other participants by clicking on the blog hop emblem to the right, or the linky party below.
  2. Enter each blog's giveaway for a chance to win fabulous teaching resources from TPT.
  3. Help promote the Valentine Blog Hop to your colleagues and teacher friends through word of mouth and social networking.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Can you spare a minute to vote for me?

 I'm so excited that I just had to share this right away! I have been nominated for the Most Fascinating Teaching Blog of 2011. It is such an honor just to be nominated and I am super excited! If you have a spare moment, please take the time to vote for me! Thanks to all my followers who have made this possible! Voting starts Saturday, January 21 and ends on January 27. Thanks again!

Why should I incorporate ESL strategies into my class plan?

This is a question that I have heard from many teachers in my career. "It's not my job to teach English- why should I incorporate ESL strategies into my lesson plans?" There are several things wrong with this statement. First and foremost, I want to say that while the ESL specialist's job is to provide language support and to help students master English, the responsibility is not theirs alone. In fact, the responsibility for helping an ESL student master English is the responsibility of each teacher that works with the student.

This means that at the elementary level, the responsibility (in most cases) is shared between a single classroom teacher and the ESL teacher. A reading specialist can also be a powerful resource, and most schools have at least one in bigger districts. At levels where teaching is departmentalized, usually at the secondary levels, the responsibility is shared by a team of teachers that includes the ESL specialist, and each of the content teachers that the student sees throughout the day or week. In some cases, grades 3-5 are also departmentalized, and share the responsibility with the ESL specialist for the student's language development.

Now, with that being said, I feel that we can move on. Here are some primary reasons you should incorporate ESL strategies:

The use of ESL strategies can benefit more than just the ESL students.
No matter how many ESL students you have in your classroom, using ESL strategies can benefit every student you teach. In recent years, the ESL world has made a move from a Social language model to more of a focus on academic language. This is not to say that Newcomers do not still receive the benefit of learning Social and Instructional language as well as American culture in an ESL setting; but that students at the intermediate and advanced levels now receive more focused and explicit instruction in academic language. Most of the students who struggle with reading and school struggle because they cannot grasp academic language. The majority of the ESL strategies that are popular today are designed to make content comprehensible and accessible to English language learners (ELLs). What educator can't see the value of comprehensible and accessible content? Making the content accessible to your ELLs can also make it more accessible to your other struggling students as well.

Using ESL strategies does not mean "dumbing down" the curriculum.
One common misconception that I have found in many teachers is that if they make content comprehensible or accessible, then they are "dumbing it down". This is simply not true. Making content comprehensible to your students not only means finding (or creating) material at their level, but also explicitly teaching them the skills they need to understand and use the language of the content area. As an ESL teacher myself, I often have difficulty finding grade-level appropriate material that is comprehensible to my students. As a result, I often create my own readings and resources. There are many ways to adjust a grade-level text to make it comprehensible to an ELL, and none of them involve "dumbing down" the text. You can expound the text by adding additional information to further explain difficult ideas or terms. You can simplify the language while leaving the content in tact. There are many other ways, but suffice it to say that ESL strategies can be incorporated without compromising the curriculum or the rigor of your classroom.

ESL students are legally required to receive modified teaching and curriculum- and you can balance student needs with district pacing and testing demands.
"I don't have the time or energy to incorporate new strategies- I have curriculum to cover and a test that my students have to pass." This is an excuse I often hear. And it is just that- an excuse.
Regardless of anyone's personal feeling on standardized testing, it is a reality of our school systems for now, and something that all teachers must contend with. If your job or pay depends on your standardized test scores, you have my deepest sympathies. But, we all must take a minute to remember why we got into teaching- for the students. Whatever we do in our classrooms must be about them and in their best interest. This means we must do whatever it takes to help them be successful, even if it means taking time to learn and incorporate or teach our students new strategies. These strategies can ultimately help students acquire the necessary skills and language to make better test scores, if that is your ultimate goal. I realize that, especially for my ESL students, these standardized tests are not always a true measure of their abilities, so I make it my goal to help them become better readers, writers and speakers rather than better test takers. As far as curriculum pacing, sometimes we as teachers know our students better and need to make sound decisions about our own pacing, as long as they can be supported with anecdotal evidence and data. One way I balance district pacing demands with student needs is that I have chosen 5 power standards that I spend a lot of time on throughout the year. I still cover the other standards in between, but we cover our power standards for at least one week each when I initially teach them and practice them all year long by continually coming back to them. These 5 power standards that I have chosen are based on knowledge of my student's needs, research into best practices, and they are designed to help my students become better readers while developing those skills that are most heavily tested.

You can't build a house without the foundation.
That is exactly what you're trying to do when you're teaching students without making the content accessible and comprehensible. Students must master the basic skills of your content area- the language and the vocabulary- before they can access and learn the content. Just as builders use scaffolding to erect the walls of a house or building, we must use scaffolding to build our students' learning. Incorporating ESL strategies into your lesson plans provides the necessary scaffolding to make the learning comprehensible, accessible, and most importantly, meaningful.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Strategy of the Week

This strategy is designed to help students synthesize and retell what they've read about a topic, with a little assistance if needed.

While you are planning to read a selection with your class, go through it and determine which keywords most contribute to helping students understand the story. Before beginning to read together as a class or in smaller groups, have students jot down the key words on their paper or a piece of scratch paper. If possible, have them locate and underline these key words in the story. Read the story, then have students put the reading where they can't see it and use their list of keywords to retell the story to a partner. 

For higher level students, or for a topic that you are reviewing, you may wish to have students choose their own keywords after reading the story through once. If this is the case, then have them re-read the story after they've chosen the key words, then retell it to a partner using their keywords.

After students have retold the story to a partner, I like to have them use the same keywords to summarize. 

In case you're a little iffy on exactly how this strategy works, check out my FREE Chinese New Year Read-and-Retell Activity. Just click below to download from my TpT store!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Paul Felischman's Seedfolks

In today's world, and especially today's America, where our population is becoming ever more diverse, it is important to include multi-cultural literature in the classroom. Multi-cultural literature can serve to educate students about the cultures in their own community and around the world, as well as promote appreciation for cultural diversity in the school and classroom. This is especially true in an ESL classroom, where students from all over the world come together to learn English.

During my first year of teaching, I was given a copy of Seedfolks by the ESL department at my school. It was only a single copy, but I read it and decided that I wanted to use it in my classroom, so I put in a project on for a classroom set of Seedfolks and a few other titles. That first year, my students so loved the story, that I have used it every year since, even using it with 5th graders.

Seedfolks is a unique story, written as a collection of 13 short stories each told by a different narrator with a unique perspective on the world.  The story begins when a young girl from Vietnam plants seeds in an abandoned lot.  Others see her planting the seeds, and each, for his or her own reasons, also decides to plant in the garden.  A message of hope emerges against a backdrop of a neighborhood and neighbors who began with little hope.

The book is a wonderful piece of adolescent iterature, but also lends itself easily to be a way to teach content in science, social studies, and math.  Through the social and personal problems that these characters experience, we can examine societal problems that will give the students a more profound understanding of how social studies applies to their own lives and the lives of others. 

In addition, the various racial and ethnic backgrounds of these characters provide a means of examining other countries, their cultures and social institutions.  The history of Immigration to the United States can be addressed; the ways in which immigrants color and shape American society can also be taught. Another social studies theme that can be easily addressed is community. A study of plant life and growth can be incorporated, bringing science into the mix. 

If you're interested in incorporating this Novel Study into your classroom, you can increase the richness of your classroom reading program exponentially. My students always enjoy reading the book and find it easy to connect to the various characters and ideas. 

I have a complete, 138 page Seedfolks Novel Study Unit available at my TpT store, which will have everything that you need to help you use this wonderful piece of literature to its full potential in your classroom. This unit is aligned with the 6-12 ELA Common Core Standards in Reading and Writing. Head on over and check it out today!

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Year Giveaway Winners

I have been so excited to have so many new blog, TpT and Facebook followers! I hope you find the ideas, tips, and strategies I share useful for your ESOL students. It has made my week to watch my follower numbers go up all the way around! THANK YOU!!

Now for the part you've all been waiting for! The question everyone wants answered.....WHO WON??

Third Place Winners: (choose one item from any of the 12 stores listed below)
  • Ali Giese
  • Alissa Strauss
  • Rachel Muniz
Second Place Winners: (choose two items from any of the 12 stores listed below)
  • Janine at
  • Kim Kish
First Place Winner: (choose one item from EACH of the 12 stores listed below)
  • Denise Becker 


 Winners have been notified by e-mail on how to collect your winnings!
Winners, here are the stores to choose from below!

Today is the big day!

Hello bloggers! Welcome to all my newest followers....I'm so happy you've joined me on my ESOL Odyssey.

So, today is the big day....the New Year Giveaway winners will be announced tonight at 8 pm. Stay tuned to see if you've won the big prize!!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Strategy of the Week

One of my resolutions this year is to get my strategy of the week back to being a weekly thing instead of a monthly thing. I'm sure you all understand how the demands of teaching are, so we'll see how long this lasts :)

It is that time of year when administrators want you to begin focusing more heavily on test prep. This week's strategy does not have a fancy name (except the one I'm about to give it!), and it is really common sense- and it goes along with that test prep that your administrator wants you to use.

Where did you find it?
When my students are taking reading practice tests in preparation for the big one at the end of the year, I like to slowly teach them little tricks and methods to help them. Each time we take a practice test, I introduce one or two new strategies. By the time we get around to testing, I hope that these strategies are second nature for my students since we do it so much. 

When I first began teaching, I often found myself frustrated that my students did not always go back to the reading that the questions were based on to look for the answers. When I would go over the test with them, and say "Where did you find it?" they would go back and look, say "Oh" and then give me the correct answer. I realized that they really do not look on their own. I don't know if it is because they forget, or if my ELLs are so overwhelmed that they feel they can only guess, but I knew I had to do something to change it.

When I first started this, I was working with 6th-8th graders, but I now use this same strategy with my 4th graders. When they have a reading passage, with multiple choice test questions, I require them to write the number of the paragraph where they found the answer next to the question. They use the paragraph symbol and the number. It seems so simple, but it has truly helped them to remember to go back and look, and their scores have improved.

I also use this with chapter or comprehension questions when we are reading a novel or using their leveled readers. They simply write the page or paragraph number that helped them to answer the question. The other great thing about this strategy is, that if they missed it, I am often able to use the information about which paragraph or page they were looking in to help me understand where they went wrong.

Just before Christmas, I was plugging into a 4th grade language arts classroom where they were doing a practice test on non-fiction text. I reminded my students to use this strategy, and the mainstream teacher thought it was such a good idea, she asked her students to do the same. She told me later that she noticed that the students took more time with the activity, and overall had better scores than previously. I know this is not an extensive or definitive study, but it certainly helped these kids!

I hope this helps you and your students as much as it has helped mine!