Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Effective Word Walls: How to use word walls in your classroom

Today at my school, some of us specialists were invited to participate in a "learning walk" of our school. A learning walk is where we wander through classrooms (unobtrusively) and look at non-negotiables like classroom libraries, reading/writing folders, objectives, word walls, and then observe instruction for a short time. This is a chance for us to not only do a sort of peer feedback for our colleagues, but a chance for us to see what our school needs to work on, and for us to get to see some "what works, what doesn't work" examples.

I noticed a lot of great teaching and some great classroom organization. One thing that I noticed though, was that while almost every teacher had a word wall (our principal requires them) they weren't being used effectively. Some word walls were there, but had no words on them, some word walls looked as if a few words had been added in September, and then they hadn't been touched since. Other word walls were hard to find because they were covered up with other stuff. A few classrooms had no word wall at all.

That got me to thinking- maybe some teachers aren't sure how to effectively use a word wall to benefit their students. Maybe you do know how to use your word wall, but you just want some new suggestions. Either way- you've come to the right place to find out about word walls according to Mrs. J.

Word walls should be relevant and up-to-date.
Word walls should only include words that your students are currently learning, or words that they have to know throughout the year. When you take words off of the word wall, you can place them in another area of the classroom labeled "words we've learned" so that they are still available for a time for students to refer to. I used to use my door as a word wall graveyard. You must take off the old words to add new ones so that your word wall doesn't get too cluttered. Also, I think it goes without saying, but- you should NOT end the year with the same words on the word wall that you started with.

Word walls should be interactive. 
Word walls are particularly beneficial for students (especially ELLs), but ONLY if the students USE them! For students to use them, they should be interactive. You can achieve this in several ways. Add a picture to the word if possible. Even better, instead of just putting the word on the word wall, you can fold over a sheet of paper, write the word on the outside, and the definition on the inside, then place it on your word wall. That way when the student forgets the meaning of the word, he or she can go to the word wall and find it. Another strategy for using your word wall is to put a sentence with the word to show how it the word is used in context. 
During certain times, you may want to allow students to add words, pictures, or definitions to your word wall. They will love seeing their own work on your word wall, and it can be a GREAT vocabulary practice activity. Remind students frequently to make use of the word wall for spelling, writing and reading activities. This way it will become a habit!

Word walls should be highly visible.
Word walls don't help anyone if the students can't see them. Many of the classrooms that I was in today had word walls that were covered up with posters or other things. Ideally, a word wall should be on a bulletin board or wall a the front of the classroom, next to your whiteboard, smartboard, or wherever students most frequently focus their attention.

I hope this tips will help you to take a fresh look at your word wall! Is it time for a renovation?

Friday, April 20, 2012

How to Make a Paper Flower Bouquet for Mother's Day!

Since today is Friday, I won't load you down with theory or even having to read a bunch of text! Today, I'm providing you with a video on how to make a beautiful paper flower bouquet that your students can take home for Mother's Day. This craft is so easy, but looks like it took a lot of time to create. I hope you enjoy!

Here's what the final product looks like!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring Fling Giveaway Membership Drive!

Hello dear friends in blog world! I have been so happy to see my blog, Facebook, TpT, and newsletter grow over the last year! I thank and value each one of you who stop by to see what I have to say and share! I hope the experience is as valuable to you as it is to me!

But, we all know that Spring is the time for new growth. With that in mind, I'm holding a Spring Fling Giveaway Membership Drive. I will have 1 K-2 winner and 1 3-6 winner.

Entering is SO EASY! To ENTER, just use the Rafflecopter Widget below!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Teacher Feature

Welcome to The ESOL Odyssey's Teacher Feature! Once a month, I will be featuring one amazing teacher who works with English Language Learners in the classroom. If you are interested in becoming a featured teacher, please fill in this form!

Meet Jill Ball!

Location: Boise, Idaho

Tell us a little about your teaching career: I currently teach 7th, 8th, and 9th grade English plus a speech communications class. I have been teaching refugee children and ELL students for 25 years. I have taught adult ed at a community skills center for immigrants and refugees. I have also taught at the university level teaching English prep classes for ELL students: grammar, reading, and research writing.

What's your favorite thing about being a teacher? Watching students grow in their ability to communicate both orally and in writing. Having great conversations about themes from classic literature. Listening and learning from each other. Watching students from a variety of cultures working together. Making great literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet available to them. I am currently working on material for Charlotte's Web (7th graders) and The Diary of Anne Frank (8th grade). Students are understanding and learning great life skills from the themes.

What is your experience teaching English Language Learners? I have been teaching ELL students my whole teaching career. I feel very fortunate to be working with this groups of students. Their minds are eager to learn. So often other teachers feel like they cannot understand higher thinking levels. I find that if material is presented to them in a way that is comprehensible, they can take the next step to higher thinking levels. It's all on how it is presented.

Tell us about the English language learners you teach.   All my classes are English Language Learners. Class sizes vary as well as proficiency levels. We are a program that teaches newcomers to the U.S. They will be in our program for two years and then will be exited to their homeschools. Most of my students are level one or two based on our state standard for English Language Learners (IELA:Idaho English Language Standards) Oral language is usually higher and reading and writing are usually the skills students need the most help on.

How do you differentiate learning in your classroom to meet the needs of your English language learners? I am constantly assessing what each students' needs are and group accordingly. For example, in my seventh grade class of 13, though most are level one according to state testings, there are four different levels of language ability. We start the class together and then break into groups focusing maybe on characters in Charlotte's Web but they would be doing different activities to show they understand characters. The lowest group may be just identifying characters and learning to write the names while the highest group may be looking at text to describe character traits of the characters. I write different activities for the different levels based on where they are at. I usually have them share at the end of class what they have been doing as a way to bring them all together as a community of learners. I do rely on the higher levels students to encourage and help others when they can.

In the classroom I....love visuals and acting and get the students involved. I talk a lot about imagery in reading and writing to create pictures in our minds, a running movie! I teach to the whole child and know each of my students extremely well.

Outside the classroom I....have two children who are both in college. My oldest will be going to France this spring to study. Both my children are interested in other cultures and share my view that learning about other cultures will bring about more awareness and understanding. My husband works with at-risk youth. Both of us care deeply about our service. I love gardening and hiking in the foothills in Boise. And of course I love reading!

I bet you didn't know that I....protested by refusing to go to school when I saw that my second grade teacher was unfair to a classmate. I was seven years old when I started my activism for justice :) I explained to my principal what had happened and they placed me in a different class.

Share your links with us: 
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Thanks, Jill, for being part of the Teacher Feature! I hope to hear from and about many more of you!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tips for Producing Great Writers

I am sharing helpful hints for writing as a part of the Superb Writers’ Blogathon. In partnership with Grammarly grammar checker, this series is bringing helpful hints to aspiring superb writers all across the world wide web.

These days, it seems that we are so caught up in preparing students for statewide reading, math and science tests that writing has fallen by the wayside. I think that is a shame, because I love to write almost as much as I love to read! Today, I want to share a few tips with you on how to help your students become great writers.

Teach students the writing process, and then use the process consistently.
Most teachers teach students the writing process at the beginning of the year, or when they tackle the first writing assignment of the year. Then, they never review the writing process with students again. Sometimes, they don't even require students to use it when they have a writing assignment. We teach the writing process because it guides students to produce well thought-out writing. If we want them to do that consistently, then we need to not only teach the writing process, but be sure that students are using it.

To help keep my students on track with the writing process when they are working on a writing assignment, we use our Writing Process Folders. These are so helpful, and students can keep everything together with their papers for each step in the correct pocket. It not only helps to ensure that students are following and using the writing process, but it helps them to stay organized at the same time.

Here's an example of a Writing Process Folder:

Update: Here is a video on how to create writing process folders for your classroom! Enjoy!

Teach students to "use their tools". 
My students  know that we have several tools that they can use for writing. Those usually include the dictionary, the thesaurus, and because my students are English language learners, it often includes a bilingual dictionary. When my students get to high school or college, I won't be there to help them, so I want my students to be independent writers. In my classroom, this means teaching students how to use resources on their own. If they need to know how to correctly spell a word, they go to their dictionary. During the revision process, I like to have students find at least three "boring words" in their writing and use the thesaurus to spice up those boring words. I also encourage students to use each other as resources- they can discuss ideas, ask for assistance, and they always do some peer editing. One of our other rules is "ask three, then me". Again, this helps students to be less dependent on me, and gives those who are a little more advanced the opportunity to help "teach" their classmates.

Write often!
I firmly believe that one of the best ways for students to improve as writers is for them to do lots of writing. What's that old saying- practice makes perfect? If you want students to do well on formal writing assignments, then they need to have lots of time to practice. One great way to do this is through journaling! I believe that reading and writing need to be connected, so one great way to achieve this while giving your students writing practice is to have them respond to the literature that you read in class in their journal. I don't usually edit student's journals; in my classroom their journal is their space- I simply check to see that they completed the task. I find that journaling helps to dissolve those "writer's blocks" that seem to come when students are suddenly expected to write out of the blue. It gets students used to the process of putting their thoughts down on paper, and makes the idea of a writing assignment much less intimidating.

Don't bleed on the papers!
Few things can be more discouraging for aspiring writers than to get back a paper that they worked very hard on, only to find that it is covered in red corrections. While providing corrections to students is an important part of the learning process, we must also be sensitive! Instead of marking up every mistake you find in a paper, choose one or two things that you will look for to make corrections for each writing assignment, and focus on those items. For example, if your students struggle with remembering their punctuation and capitalization, you might focus on that particular skill while correcting papers. If a student consistently struggles with subject verb agreement, you might choose to focus on that skill when grading her paper.

I hope that these tips will help you to produce some amazing writers in your own classroom!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring break is but a lovely memory....

Spring break is over, and yesterday it was back to the grind for me. However, I had a great time on my Spring Break, and ended up with some fond memories and good laughs, even a bruise or two, but not much rest!

What did the rest of you out there in teacher-land do on your Spring Breaks? I'm curious, so I decided to join the Spring Break Linky Party over at Live, Love, Laugh in 2nd grade! You can find a bunch of links to posts about what teachers did on their spring breaks! I don't normally do "all about me" posts, but I do want to let you know a little about me every now and then!

As for my Spring Break, well....it's a little different than your typical Spring Break! My husband and I do living history, historical reenactment, and often participate in events held by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Every chance we get, we're off to one event or another where we spend our time living as and portraying Iron-Age Celts.

We camp in white canvas tents, dress as Celts, and participate in a variety of other activities based on the historical period. Most people choose a craft they are interested in, research how it was done in period, and learn how to do it using the same or similar methods. Some folks in our group are fiber artists and do things like spinning, dying, weaving, knitting or sewing. Other folks are metalsmiths and do casting, pouring, blacksmithing, or helmetsmithing. These are of course, just a few examples. Many of us also like to participate in armored combat!

We also research the area and specific time period which we are portraying, and develop a persona. Our persona is a developed story about the person we portray based on historical research. We even choose a name for our personas and usually go by that name at events.

Now that you think I'm COMPLETELY crazy, here are a few pictures you can check out! Note that not all of these photos were taken on Spring Break (I am waiting to get some from others), but at the same events in previous years, or some from similar events, so that you can get an idea of what we do!

Our encampment at one of the larger events we attend in the summer.
My armour for when we do armoured combat.

Here's a shot of some of the combat.

So, that's what I did on my Spring Break! What did you do on yours? Feel free to chime in by leaving a comment, or if you're a blogger, head on over to Live, Love, Laugh in 2nd grade to join in the linky party!

If you'd like to see more pictures, check out my friend's photo gallery. If you're interested in the SCA and would like to know more, check out SCADemo.