Monday, April 23, 2018

3 Ways for Teaching with National Parks Websites

"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."
-- Wallace Stegner

To celebrate Earth Day, this past Saturday I visited Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  Located in southern Arizona, it is an archeological site with ruins from the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People culture.  Also known as the Hohokam, although their descendants today prefer the former designation, you can see parts of the structures they built and learn how they survived in a harsh desert climate around 700 years ago.

Since this is National Parks Week, I thought I’d share a few of my photos and suggest a couple ways to use them with your students.  Not every U.S. state has an actual national park but there are 417 sites that fall under the National Park Service system, such as national monuments, national battlefields, and national scenic trails.  So there should be something in your state!
3 ideas for using National Parks websites with ELLs: Writing, reading, speaking, vocabulary & grammar activities for ELLs at a range of proficiency levels. | The ESL Nexus
Views of Casa Grande Ruins in Arizona; source: The ESL Nexus
To see 5 of my photographs of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument that you can use in the activities described below, just click HERE.    You’ll be prompted to make a copy for yourself, then you’ll be able to see each photo individually and project it on a whiteboard if you wish.  Besides the 4 photos shown in the image above, there's another view from the front of the monument.

Below are 3 activities you can do with your students that involve using National Parks websites.  To find a park (or national monument, river, trail, battleground, etc.) by state, use the National Park Service website.  To find a location by type of site, use the National Park Foundation website.

Idea #1: Writing, Vocabulary
Write a sentences or a paragraph that compares and contrasts your selected site with Casa Grande.  Show my photos of Casa Grande and elicit details about what students see in each picture.  Then tell students to look at photos of a place in their state and write about what they see in the photos. They can write about details such as:
    * The flora and fauna
    * If the sites are still in use, or if they are ruins
    * If they are in a rural or urban area
    * Anything else they notice that can be compared or contrasted
You can choose some photos from one place in advance and project them on a whiteboard so everyone sees the same images, if you are limited in the number of devices you have that connect to the Internet.  Students can work in individually, in small groups, or you can do this as a whole class activity and model how to write a good paragraph.  To help your students do this kind of writing, check out my Beyond the Venn Diagram resource, which offers 2 formats for compare and contrast writing.  This would work well for ELLs at lower language proficiency levels. Students at beginning proficiency levels can make lists of words in a T-chart instead of writing sentences.

Idea #2: Reading, Writing
First, go to the website for Casa Grande and with the whole class, read about it out loud.  I recommend reading about its history and culture if such a section is available.  Then, tell your students to select a site, read about it, and write a description of it.  Students can work in small groups if there aren’t enough devices for each student.  This activity is more appropriate for students at intermediate and higher levels of language proficiency.  Descriptions can be 3 paragraphs if students are at an intermediate level of proficiency, longer if they are at more advanced levels. 

Idea #3: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Grammar, Vocabulary
Write 5 questions about things you see in the photos of Casa Grande.  They can be very simple, such as What color are the walls of the buildings? or more difficult like What are the walls made of?  Also write answers to your questions.  Ask the class the questions and elicit answers from student volunteers.  After that, tell your students to select a site in their state and read about it, then write 5 questions, with answers, about the place.  Students can work in pairs or small groups.  When they’ve finished devising their questions and answers, they can ask and answer them for speaking practice.
Option 1: For beginning and low-intermediate proficiency level students, you can give sentence frames to students; for example:
     When was _____ built?
     Where is _____ located?
     Who used _____?
     What was _____ used for?
     Why is _____ a national _____?
Option 2: For fun, you can assign just one site to everyone.  Collect the questions and answers when students have finished writing them.  Then play a game by dividing the class into 2 teams and alternate asking questions to each team.  Give a point for each correct answer -- the team with the most points wins.

If you’re not able to visit a national park in person this week, I hope you can use these ideas to visit one virtually! 

And please check out my Gift Guide for Environmentally Aware Teachers, where you can find some great ideas for how you can protect and preserve our Earth.


Friday, April 13, 2018

How to Use Digital Photography with ELLs

"You don't take a photograph, you make it."
-- Ansel Adams

You know the saying A picture's worth a thousand words?  It may be even more true when teaching English Language Learners.  For students who don't yet have a strong grasp of English vocabulary, using pictures greatly aids comprehension.

But digital photography can be used by and with ELLs at all levels of language proficiency.  Photos can be used when teaching all four language skills and grammar and, of course, for teaching vocabulary.  You can also use photos when teaching academic content.  And you can teach students how to use cameras to document their lives and what goes on in their communities.

There's loads of ways to use digital cameras and photography with ELLs so please join Laurah from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J and me when we discuss Using Digital Photography in our next #ELLEdTech chat.  It's on Sunday, April 15, 2018, at 7pm Eastern/4pm Pacific time.  We'll be sharing our favorite ways to use photos as well as resources to help you and your students incorporate photos into your teaching.  We'd love for you to contribute your ideas and resources, too!  Details are below.

Share your ideas about using digital photography with ELLs in the April #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on 4/15/18 | The ESL Nexus
Come share your ideas about using digital photography with ELLs! source: The ESL Nexus
Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introduction: Tell us your name, location, level/grade and subject taught. #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1: Do you use digital photography with your ELLs? If so, how? #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2: How can using digital photography in the classroom facilitate ELLs’ learning? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: What are the advantages & benefits of using digital photography in the classroom? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: Are there any cons or drawbacks teachers or students might have when using digital photography in learning? #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers who want to start using digital photography with their ELLS? #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.

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!


Monday, April 9, 2018

Celebrate Earth Day with this Environmentally Aware Gift Guide

This land is your land, this land is my land...
This land was made for you and me.
-- Woody Guthrie

I’ve been an environmentalist since, well, almost since birth.

Celebrate Earth Day with a gift guide for environmentally aware educators | The ESL Nexus
The author camping at various places in the Adirondacks; source: The ESL Nexus
Perhaps the reason I’ve always been interested in environmental issues stems from the fact that my parents took me camping when I was a baby.  That early exposure must have imprinted the joys of nature on me.  I’ve been involved with and supported various ecological, environmental, and nature organizations and efforts ever since.

I vaguely remember going outside with my Science class to celebrate the first Earth Day in 1970.  We stood on the grass on the field next to the playground and the teacher talked about…something.  I don’t remember what he said, just that it was an important day.

When I was in 7th grade, I entered a local photography contest and won 3rd prize.  (I think 3rd – it was a while ago!)  The contest was to photograph something about the environment and I took a picture of some foam substance that was polluting the creek near my house.

Right after college, I went to Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps Volunteer to work as an agricultural extension agent.  I’d focused on Africa and development work as an anthropology major because I wanted to help people learn sustainable methods of food production.

In my first teaching job in China, photocopying was rationed and I got coupons that limited the amount of copies I could make each month.  I quickly learned to teach without using lots of worksheets.  When I returned to the U.S., that mentality stayed with me and I was careful about how much paper I passed out to my students because I didn’t want to waste any of it.

So in honor of Earth Day, I’ve created a gift guide for teachers who care about the environment.  Please read on to find out how you can raise awareness, save resources, conserve energy, and treat the world around you with respect.

Celebrate Earth Day with this gift guide for environmentally aware educators | The ESL Nexus
Find great gift ideas for yourself, colleagues, friends & family! source: The ESL Nexus
(This post contains some 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!)


This is a great movie!  I watched it several years ago and really enjoyed it.  If I could have fit it into my curriculum, I would have shown it to my students because it lends itself to lots of discussion.  It’s a Japanese movie but this version is dubbed in English.  Hayao Miyazaki is a masterful director  and I highly recommend his Spirited Away, too.

Other movies I recommend are:
Food, Inc. – Just don’t watch it before mealtime because you’ll probably lose your appetite, at least for anything with meat in it.
An Inconvenient Truth – The movie that helped people understand climate change.
Soylent Green – Perhaps the first movie that got people thinking about overpopulation and food shortages.  I haven’t seen it in years but it’s stuck with me since I watched it in the 1970s.

You can also also get these movies on Netflix if you have the DVD plan and you may also be able to find them at your local library.


My sister introduced me to this product several years ago and I’ve used it ever since.  I’d been using Palmolive to wash my dishes and this works just as well, plus it’s more environmentally friendly.

So many household cleaners have harsh chemicals and bleach in them but this one uses mostly plant-based ingredients.  I use it to clean my bathrooms.  Target carries this product and it’s probably cheaper there so unless you want home delivery, get it at Target or your local supermarket, which is where I buy mine.

I’m sure you know that using plastic bags for groceries isn’t a great idea since they take so long to decompose in landfills.  Sometimes I can’t help using them but I carry 3 washable cotton bags when I go shopping.  I got 2 of them as a thank-you gift when I joined my local PBS TV station in Massachusetts and bought the other from my local grocery store.  If you can find bags that promote a worthy cause, that’s doubly good.  I don’t think my Downton Abbey bags qualify on that count, but I use them, too!

After trying to build a solar oven in college, and doing a project with my 8th grade ESL Social Studies students in which they built their own solar ovens from pizza boxes, I really wanted one of these.  After I moved to Arizona, I bought one.  I used it last summer when it was too hot to cook indoors.  I love it!  My electric bill was way down last year because I rarely used my stove to cook dinner during June, July, and August.  (I haven’t used my solar oven in the winter since I actually want my house to be warm then.)  Solavore just started offering a cheaper solar oven that doesn't include the reflector. I have the version with the reflector but so far haven’t needed to use it. 


I just bought these really cool pens.  I love the fact that they’re made of recycled plastic bottles!  They look and feel like any other pen I’ve used.  They’ve got a rubber grip and they write really smoothly.  If you have to buy pens for yourself or you want to give some out to your students as a gift or prize for something, these would be great.  They’re refillable so you can even have a great class discussion about the disadvantages of other pens that have to be thrown away when their ink runs out.
I was lucky to work in a school where teachers were given a couple boxes of photocopy paper for the year.  I never ran out – the legacy of my teaching in China – but other teachers did.  If you have to buy your own paper, or need it at home, I recommend this brand from Target.  It’s not flimsy and it prints out fine.  What’s really nice is that it’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which means the paper comes from “responsibly managed forests,” as their website puts it.

One year, my union gave us teachers big plastic water bottles with straws.  It was a nice gesture but to be honest, the water bottle was too cumbersome.  I recently bought this product because it’s BPA free and when it’s empty, it folds up and doesn’t take up much space inside my handbag.  It'll also be great to use when traveling.
This is a free resource in my TpT store.  It’s a poster that spells out “Earth Day” and it teaches kids about the holiday.  Just print out the 3 pages and then tape or glue them together to make the poster.  Complete directions are in the resource.  Download your copy HERE.


Probably the quintessential book for anyone who considers her/himself a friend of nature is Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.  I visited Walden when I was in grade school and even though I didn’t know anything about Thoreau at the time, I was struck by the peacefulness and beauty of the place.  My parents gave me Reflections at Walden as a gift shortly afterwards.  It’s short and includes excerpts from other of Thoreau’s writings, including some poems that you can share with your students.  You can find various versions of the book on Amazon and also on Ebay, where it may be cheaper.  If you'd like to read Walden itself, it's available for free thanks to Project Gutenberg and you can find it in various formats HERE.

I’m a big Star Trek fan (the original TV series and movies, NOT the reboot!) and the idea of traveling in space has always interested me.  You might be asking yourself how it relates to the environment but think about it: Where else would you need to respect and conserve the limited resources available to you than on a spaceship?  I haven't actually made any of the recipes but if I ever want to make raktajino, plomeek soup, or gagh, now I know how.  Plus, it's fun to see photos from the shows and read what the actors have to say about food in their universes.

A Mighty Girl is a website that lists children’s books about the environment.  They’re organized by age groups and although girls are the protagonists in all the books, boys can read them as well.
When I was a kid, I had a subscription to this magazine and loved it.  Later on when I was teaching, I subscribed for a few years because I wanted my students to develop an appreciation of the natural world.  Growing up in a small city, they didn’t have the opportunity to go out and play in a forest or by a creek like I did and I wanted them to at least be able to read about the great outdoors.  You can find it on Amazon but if you subscribe through their website directly, it's cheaper.


After a long day at school, using a fragrant soap is a great way to relax.  I discovered The Body Shop company when in Hong Kong on my way to teach in China.  I’ve used their soaps since 1990.  The company made its name by being one of if not the first personal care company to not test its products on animals.  It also has fair trade deals with many of its suppliers of ingredients.  In addition to this scent, I also really like their pink grapefruit and shea butter soaps.
For a more luxurious soap, I recommend Mistral.  They use natural ingredients and don’t test on animals.   The soaps lather really nicely and have the most wonderful scents.  You can buy them on Amazon but they’re much cheaper if you purchase them directly from their website.  They have a large variety and I love their imperial jasmine, sandalwood hazelnut, almond milk, Balinese vanilla and coco lime.  But I don't recommend their lavender flower -- it has little twigs in it along with flowers and I didn't like how that felt.

You can also make a gift donation in someone’s name.  I've contributed to many of these organizations:
Audobon Society
National Resources Defense Council
National Wildlife Federation
Nature Conservancy 
Sierra Club
World Wildlife Fund

Lastly, the National Park Service celebrates Earth Day by conducting special events that week.  National Park Week runs from April 21 – 29.  Saturday the 21st is a fee-free day, which means you don't have to pay an admission fee that day.  Go outside and enjoy yourself in one of America’s treasures -- that's how I'll be celebrating Earth Day!


Monday, March 26, 2018

How to Start Using VR and AR in Your Classroom

"What is it like to walk in someone else's shoes?
Books allow us to imagine it, and movies allow us to see it,
but VR is the first medium that actually allows us to experience it."
-- Nick Mokey

So many great ideas and resources for using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality were discussed during Sunday’s #ELLEdTech Twitter chat that I decided to collate them into this blog post.  I’ve divided them into the following categories: Articles about Using Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality, Teaching Ideas, and Tools that were mentioned in the chat.  I hope this helps you get started with using this amazing technology!

Virtual Reality for Education

Larry Ferlazzo’s Website of the Day: A Beginning List Of The Best Resources On Virtual Reality In Education

The 10 Best VR Apps for Classrooms Using Merge VR’s New Merge Cube

Shelly Sanchez provided a link to a great chart about using Augmented Reality

How to Start Using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in Your Classroom: Articles, Teaching Ideas & Tools | The ESL Nexus
Resources for using VR & AR with ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
Laurah (The ESOL Odyssey) has used Augmented Reality “to create self-checking task cards, book reviews (Ss scan the book cover and get another student's video review), to add images or video clips to words/definitions, to create interactive word many uses!”

Shelly Sanchez uses Gabsee to have students “create their own 3D avatar then create AR videos of them exploring places.”

Michelle Makus Shory says, “I love to take a ‘trip’ to the setting of the novel/article we are reading. Instant relevance!”

Cheri Mann does something similar: “With VR stations students also took us to visit their homes in their native countries.”

Niko Lewman said, “Our Minecrafting students love to dig on MergeCube.”

Ms. Lacure said, “I’ve used Tellegami to get kids speaking. They can choose their own Avatar and background and it’s like an animated speaker. I haven’t used it in a few years, but my kids loved it last time we did.”

Finally, Laurah (The ESOL Odyssey) has a Smartphone and iPhone Donation Drive Flyer that you can send home with students to ask families to donate phones so you can use VR and AR in your classes.  You can find it HERE.

HP Reveal, formerly known as Aurasma

Merge Cube

Nearpod VR

Google Expeditions



To read about the benefits of using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality with ELLs as well as chat participants’ advice about getting started with using it, click HERE to read the complete #ELLEdTech discussion.