Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Why It's Important To Get Names Right

My name can't be that tough to pronounce!
-- Keanu Reeves

Transliterating a word from a language that doesn't use the Roman alphabet can be tricky, especially when there is no equivalent letter in English for the sound in the original language.  Such is the case with the Festival of Lights, the Jewish holiday more commonly known as Hanukkah, which began last night.

Why it's important to get names right | The ESL Nexus
And Happy Hanukkah! source: The ESL Nexus
Or Chanukah.  Which is how I prefer to spell it.  That's because the initial letter in Hebrew, ח, is a sound comprised of two letters in English: CH.  In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the sound is shown as /x/.  It's pronounced like the ending sound in the word loch, as in Loch Lomond. 

It’s not real important if you pronounce the name of this Jewish holiday with a CH sound or with an H and say Hanukkah instead.  However, when it comes to pronouncing students’ names, it’s important to get that right.  When teachers mangle an ELL’s name – or any student’s name – it sends the impression that the teacher can’t be bothered to learn how to say the name.  The message is that the teacher doesn’t care about the student.  That the teacher prioritizes convenience over cultural sensitivity.  And that can have a deleterious effect on a student's motivation and ability to learn in that classroom.

When I taught in China, the custom among university graduate students was to adopt an English name.  They did this because they liked the idea of having a Western name and they thought it would be easier for Westerners to remember an English name.  At the time, I blithely accepted that and used the English names my students had chosen for themselves.

But now, looking back, I cringe at the thought.  I am in accord with how Claire Fraser, on the TV show Outlander, addressed the Chinese man she meets in Season 3.  Her husband, Jamie, refers to him as Mr. Willoughby but she calls him by his Chinese name, Yi Tien Cho.  She does this to show him respect.  Using his given name also shows that she honors his culture.  Teachers should do the same with their students.

On another note, Laurah and I are postponing December’s #ELLEdTech Twitter chat.  December is always a crazy month for educators so we will take a break and return in January.

The #ELLEdTech Twitter chat is taking a break in December and will return on Janury 21, 2018. | The ESL Nexus
Join us in January for the next Twitter chat! source: The ESL Nexus
The next chat will be on January 21st at 7pm Eastern / 4pm Pacific time.  See you then!


Monday, December 4, 2017

14 Tips to Help ELLs Understand Their Textbooks

"Science is cool!  But it's easy for that to get lost in textbooks sometimes."
-- Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

Students have to comprehend what they are reading in order to understand the new ideas and concepts presented in their texts.  When they don't understand the material, it's easy for them to lose interest in the subject and that has a negative impact on their learning.

Ideally, you are using texts that are written with ELLs in mind and address their particular learning needs.  However, that is not always possible, especially when you are a mainstream teacher teaching a core content subject to a class full of native English speakers, ELLs, and special education students.  And even if you are an ESL teacher, it isn't always possible because you likely have a class of students with a range of reading levels.

If you find yourself in one of these situations, there are several things you can do to make it easier for your ELLs to comprehend the material in the textbooks (and even websites) that you use.
How to help English Language Learners understand the information in their textbooks: 14 tips that will facilitate their comprehension | The ESL Nexus
These tips will also help students who are native speakers of English; source: The ESL Nexus
1) Build background knowledge
How: Use activators, videos, and other activities to provide ELLs basic information that is essential to understanding the text
Why: When ELLs have a foundation for learning new concepts, which is especially important in social studies, science and math, they will be better able to understand the new information given in those texts

2) Do a mini-lesson or pre-teach grammar structures found in the text
Such as: The passive voice or the present progressive
Why: These verb tenses are often used in social studies and science texts
How to help English Language Learners understand the information in their textbooks: 14 tips that will facilitate their comprehension | The ESL Nexus
The passive voice is tricky to understand but common in texts; source: The ESL Nexus
3) Do a mini-lesson or pre-teach academic vocabulary found in the text
Such as: Transition words like although, however, meanwhile
Why: Understanding how phrases connect to each  other is crucial for understanding the main points of texts; understanding the meaning of common transitions will help ELLs comprehend texts in all their subjects, not just one particular subject

4) Point out ways new words can be defined
Such as: In parentheses, using a comma and then or, using dashes to offset the definition, glossed in the margin, in a glossary at the end of the textbook, as a footnote at the bottom of a page
Why: When ELLs understand how these structures work and where to find them, they’ll be able to identify the definitions of new words presented in texts
How to help English Language Learners understand the information in their textbooks: 14 tips that will facilitate their comprehension | The ESL Nexus
Explaining how words are defined is helpful; source: The ESL Nexus
5) Point out text structures and what they mean
Such as: How a timeline shows when things happened or an image with a caption supports ideas explained in the text or gives additional information about an idea in the text
Why: Text structures support the ideas and concepts presented by words and using images to explain things is another way ELLs can access information

6) Teach reading strategies and have ELLs use them when reading on their own
How: Before students read a text, briefly explain a particular reading strategy and how to use it, then after students have finished reading, discuss how things went when they used that reading strategy; see this resource about using reading strategies in content classes
Why: Telling students which reading strategy to use gives ELLs practice with strategies they may otherwise not use or know about; using reading strategies gives students ways to read the text that help them better comprehend it; hearing how classmates used the same reading strategy they did can offer different ideas on how and why that strategy is helpful
How to help English Language Learners understand the information in their textbooks: 14 tips that will facilitate their comprehension | The ESL Nexus
Click HERE for more info about this resource; source: The ESL Nexus
7) Have students read and discuss the text in heterogeneous small groups
How: Students take turns reading sections of the text and ELLs read short parts
Why: Reading aloud in a small group of peers is much less nerve-wracking than reading aloud in front of the whole class and teacher; it’s easier to hear and follow along with a text that is read in a small group

8) Use the reciprocal teaching method or a literature circle approach
How: Every student has a specific role and they work cooperatively to help each understand the text
Why: Sharing responsibility for comprehending the text makes it easier for ELLs; they can be given the easier tasks and then rely on the other group members to explain what the text means; discussing the text in multiple ways with a small group of peers enhances comprehension

9) Provide an outline of the most important or main ideas before reading the text
How: For each section of the text, write the main idea or an important point but leave out the details
Why: This will help ELLs focus on what is important for them to know in the text; if you wish, you can leave space for students to fill in details about each section on the outline

10) Give a summary of the text, either written or oral, prior to reading the text
How: Explain in general terms what the text is about
Why: Giving students an idea of what to expect helps them focus on what they will be reading

11) Rewrite the text in simpler language
How: Take a long sentence with several clauses and turn it into several sentences; take a sentence or section that jumps around in time and put it in chronological order; take a sentence with lots of pronouns and reword it so it’s more clear who is doing what
Why: Convoluted sentences are hard for ELLs to understand because by the time they reach the end, they’ve forgotten what the beginning of the sentence was about; if an ELL misses a time marker, they can get confused about what is happening when
How to help English Language Learners understand the information in their textbooks: 14 tips that will facilitate their comprehension | The ESL Nexus
Rewrite texts in straightforward, simple language; source: The ESL Nexus
12) Record the text
How: There are lots of apps and websites (such as VoiceThread) that let you do this
Why: It’s often easier for ELLs to comprehend something orally than to read it because, while they may not recognize words in print, they understand them when they hear them; students can go at their own pace and pause the recording to process what they hear; students can access the material outside the class period, if they are unable to take the text home

13) Create word walls of both general academic and content specific words
How: Choose words that are essential for understanding the text and are used in more than one content subject (Tier 2) as well as words that are specific to understanding the ideas or concepts in the text (Tier 3); see this resource for essential core academic subject words for Grades 5 - 8
Why: Using word walls gives students multiple exposures to words they need to know to be successful in school
Click HERE for more info about this resource; source: The ESL Nexus
14) Frequently check if ELLs are understanding the text they are reading
How: Have them do some sort of summary activity for each section or chapter -- lower prof ELLs can draw and higher prof level ELLs can write
Why: Frequent check-ins will spot students who don’t understand the material or are confused about it and will prevent them from getting completely lost with the text; by checking often, misunderstandings can be addressed sooner and more easily than by waiting until the end of a chapter or unit, at which point much more time might be needed to unravel the lack of understanding or confusion.

What are some other ways to help ELLs understand the texts they read?  Please leave your ideas in the Comments section below.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

10 Gift Ideas for the Middle School Social Studies Teacher

"Verily, great grace may go with a little gift;
and precious are all things that come from a friend."
-- Theocritus

My family stopped exchanging Chanukah gifts because after so many years of giving presents to each other, we ran out of ideas.  That wasn't my choice and I was kind of disappointed because I always enjoyed looking for fun presents and seeing people's reactions when they opened them.  Fortunately, we still do birthdays!

If you know teachers who teach Social Studies to middle school students and you would like to give them a gift -- for Christmas or Chanukah, for their birthday, for Valentine's Day, or just because -- I've put together a gift guide with items they may like.  Or, you might like to get something for yourself.  Each item is either something I have used with my students or is something I would have liked to have.  I hope this gift guide lets you avoid the problem of not knowing what to get for that special Social Studies teacher in your life!

Find 10 great ideas for your favorite middle school social studies teacher in this gift guide | The ESL Nexus
Find some great ideas in this gift guide! Source: The ESL Nexus
(This post contains affiliate links. That means that I make a small commission if you make a purchase but it's at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!)

I’ve organized the items into 4 categories: Maps, Books & DVDs, Teaching Supplies, and Cultural Items.  Below each image, I explain why I’ve chosen it item for this gift guide.

World Map

I had a Peters Projection world map in my classroom but it was very large and took up a lot of space.  This map is just 24" x 36" in size and besides the country names, it includes the names of major cities (not just capitals) as well.  Plus, it's also a relief map, which lets you show the difference between political and relief maps to your students.


I had a boring old map of the United States that had lots of highways and cities on it.  This map is easier to read because it just shows the state capitals.  I also like the fun font and the images that are in most of the states.  They would be great sentence starters for your ELLs; for example: Why is there a picture of a car in Michigan?  This dry-erase map measures 24" x 36" and comes with a marker.

The History Book Box: Step Into the Ancient World

I love this series!  It contains 8 books about the following ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Japan, the Aztec & Maya, the Inca, and the Celtic World.  I wish it also included China but you can't have everything.  :-)  This collection is great because each book contains historical information, including timelines, that you can use as a reference for yourself and it also has crafts/projects that students can make.  And the instructions are clear enough that even ELLs at intermediate levels of language proficiency can follow them.  I especially like the project for making a Mesopotamian ziggurat -- my students had lots of fun with that.

Liberty's Kids -- the Complete Series -- Education Edition

If, on the other hand, you are teaching American history, you won't go wrong with these DVDs.  Liberty's Kids was an animated TV show about the Revolutionary War and I videotaped as many episodes as I could when it was broadcast.  Yes, it's old, but it's timeless!  I used the episodes as activators with my students.  What's great about this boxed set is that it has the extra features from the TV show; you can find the episodes online for free but they don't include the fun educational segments such as comparing life then and now, or the vocabulary games.

Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary

I wish I'd had this book when I was still a classroom teacher!  Learning academic vocabulary was one of the biggest needs of my students and my repertoire of techniques to teach it was not very large.  Then I read this book and was amazed at all the different ways there are to teach vocabulary.  There are about 20 different techniques presented in this book, which also includes background info about vocabulary instruction.  The only thing I don't like is that it's a flip book and spiral bound on top, which took me a bit of time to get used to.

Big Book of Social Studies (Elementary)

Don't let the title fool you -- I used the materials in this book with my 7th and 8th graders without any problem.  If you are already familiar with Dina Zike's materials, this book has 150+ pages of background info and her folded paper templates that students can use to demonstrate their Social Studies learning.  They are a great way to integrate art with an academic subject as students can draw and color their work.  What's also nice about this book is that it's cross-referenced in all sorts of ways so it's easy to find a template that's appropriate for whatever you are teaching.

AmazonBasics Ruled Index Cards

I prefer the colored index cards because I could separate them out by Social Studies topic or the purpose they'd be used for.  I often made vocabulary memory-matching games for students to play: Words go on cards of one color, definitions on cards of another color.  I like index cards with lines on them because that made it easier to write the definitions on them.  I also used colored index cards to write vocab words for playing Charades; each unit had the same colored cards.  I didn't use this specific brand of index cards but I'm including them in this gift guide because I think they're a good deal.

File Folders

I couldn't live without file folders! I bought them in bulk every year before school started and often had to buy more as the year progressed.  These aren't the exact folders I used because I bought mine at a brick-and-mortar store but they are the same style.  Students in each grade -- I taught at least 4 grade levels every year -- had the same color for writing assignments, so it was easy for me to identify and shelve the folders of my students.  They put finished work in one pocket and unfinished work in the other pocket.  I also gave each of my students a folder to keep their homework organized; I let them choose that color and they could decorate their folder however they wished.  And I used folders to organize my own stuff: administrative papers, handouts for each class, weekly progress forms I sent home to keep families informed, ESL paperwork, and so on.

ILANET Museum Reproductions

I have been fortunate enough to travel to several countries and wherever I go, I like to buy jewelry that is representative of those countries.  Then, when I taught about those cultures, I shared the jewelry (and other artifacts I bought) with my students.  Sometimes I used it as an activator and sometimes I used it as a writing task, where students had to write a description of the item or explain what they thought it was and what it was made of.  However, not everyone is able to go to the countries they are teaching about.  So I found this company that sells jewelry based on museum reproductions.  To be perfectly honest, I haven't bought anything from them so I can't personally vouch for the quality but the items look real nice and they come in a range of prices.  The item above shows a pair of Egyptian Scarab Engraved Carnelian Earrings.  There are 20 pages of items, including a collection of cuff links for your male teacher colleagues.

Talisman -- Single Evil Eye Protection

Last but definitely not least, you can hang this Evil Eye pendant in your classroom to ward off negative vibes.  I had an Evil Eye magnet of about the same size that I bought in Turkey and I put it on the white board at the front of my classroom.  I wouldn't say that nothing bad never happened...but who's to say things wouldn't have been worse if I hadn't had my Evil Eye magnet in my room!?

I hope this helps you find some gifts for your middle school Social Studies-teaching friends, colleagues, relatives, and of course, yourself.  Enjoy!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Using Technology to Teach Holidays in a Culturally Sensitive Way

"This is my wish for you: peace of mind, prosperity through the year, happiness that multiplies, health for you and yours, fun around every corner, energy to chase your dreams, joy to fill your holidays!"
-- David Dellinger

When you have students from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds in your classes, it is super important to be aware of the impact your teaching during the holiday season can have.  Many schools put up displays for Christmas and Chanukah in administrators' offices and many teachers like to decorate their classrooms for the holidays.

But what if your students are English Language Learners who are refugees fleeing religious persecution?  Or are immigrants who follow a little-known religion in the U.S. or other Western countries?  Or are students who don't believe in celebrating holidays at all?  How can teachers be culturally sensitive to these concerns while still acknowledging the desire to partake in the spirit of the holiday season?  Are there any technology tools that can help teachers navigate this fraught topic?

Please join Laurah from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J and me when we delve into this topic in our next #ELLEdTech chat on Sunday, November 19, 2017.  We'll be discussing Using Tech Tools to Teach Holidays in a Culturally Sensitive Way. We'd love to hear your ideas so please come and participate in the chat at 7pm Eastern, 4pm Pacific time.  Details are below.

Come & join the discussion about using tech tools to teach about holidays in a culturally sensitive way in the #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on 11/19/17 | The ESL Nexus
Join the #ELLEdTech chat on November 19, 2017; source: The ESL Nexus
Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introduction: Tell us your name, location, level/grade 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.
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.

Come & join the discussion about using tech tools to teach about holidays in a culturally sensitive way in the #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on 11/19/17 | The ESL Nexus
Your participation is welcome! Source: The ESL Nexus
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 tinyurl, bitly, 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. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, administrators--may see what you tweet.)

You are welcome to let your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us know about this Twitter chat. We look forward to chatting with you on Sunday!