Monday, August 13, 2018

Return of the #ELLEdTech Chat: Using Tech Tools for Creation

"True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done,
the zest of creating things new."
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This past July, I was in Washington D.C. and met my co-host Laurah, from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J, in person for the first time!  Up until then, we'd collaborated (a 4C skill that we'll be discussing soon) only remotely.  We got together for a lovely dinner at a Japanese restaurant and spent a few hours, um, chatting.  It was great to finally communicate (the first 4C skill we discussed back in June!) face-to-face.  Below is a photo Laurah took of the two of us in the DC Metro afterwards.

The #ELLEdTech Twitter chats resume on August 19th to discuss the 4C topic of Creativity: Join us! | The ESL Nexus
That's Laurah on the left, me on the right; photo by Laurah
So I am happy to let you know now that the 2018 - 2019 #ELLEdTech series kicks off this Sunday, August 19th, for another school year's worth of Twitter chats!  Laurah and I look forward to discussing with you all manner of using technology with English Language Learners over the next several months.  The chats start at 4:00pm Pacific, 7:00pm Eastern, and 11:00pm UTC time on the third Sunday of each month.

Our August chat will be about Using Tech Tools for Creation.  This is Part 2 of our series exploring how to use education technology within the 4C Framework with ELLs.  To read more about Creativity, please click HERE.

The #ELLEdTech Twitter chats resume on August 19th to discuss the 4C topic of Creativity: Join us! | The ESL Nexus
Join us -- All educators are welcome!  Source: The ESL Nexus
Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introduction:  Tell us your name, location, level/grade and subject taught. #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1:  Which tech tools do you use to help your students engage in Creation?    #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2:  How does providing opportunities to Create support ELLs in language growth?  #ELLEdTech
7:21 =  Q3:  What are the advantages & benefits of using your favorite Creation tools? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4:  Are there any cons or drawbacks teachers or students might have when using these tools?  #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers who want to use technology to support Creation with 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, July 23, 2018

20 Resources ESL Teachers Need at the Beginning of the New School Year

"Know English, twinkle as a star of the world."
-- Videsh Vijay

Going back to school after summer vacation is always exciting but for ESL teachers it cans also be exhausting.  As the only ESL teacher in my school for students in Grades 4 – 8, and also Grade 3 in my last year as a classroom teacher, I taught multiple subjects in both pull-out and push-in classes, worked with students at varying levels of language proficiency in the same class, liaised with mainstream teachers, administered ESL assessments and filled out reams of ELL-related paperwork.

That is typical for ESL teachers.  As I became more experienced, I realized there were some things I always wanted to have available at the beginning of the school year, both for myself and for my students to help us get through the year.  I’d like to share my list of essential ELL resources with you because I think they'll help you have a smooth start to your school year.  They’re organized into 4 categories: Classroom Resources for ESL Teachers, Reference Books for ESL Teachers, Classroom Resources for ESL Students, and Self-Care Resources for ESL Teachers.  Click on the images for more info about each resource (or on the text links where indicated).

20 essential items to help ESL teachers have a great school year | The ESL Nexus
20 items to help ESL teachers have a great year; source: The ESL Nexus
(This post contains Amazon 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!)


Wipe-Off Charts

If there was just one item I would have chosen for my classroom, it might very well have been this.  I had one flipchart for each grade level I taught.  On the top half, I wrote the content objectives and then the language objectives (I liked to separate them out) for the day’s lesson and on the bottom half, I wrote the agenda for the class and the homework assignment.  I had additional flipcharts that students used when working in small groups or pairs to brainstorm ideas and write up information during activities they did.

Flipchart Pads

This would be tied with or a close second to the wipe-off charts.  With all the grade levels I taught, it wasn’t always feasible to leave written stuff on my whiteboard for a long time so I used flipcharts instead.  In the top right corner of each page, I wrote the grade level so it was easy to find which page I needed for a particular class.  I didn’t usually tear out the pages because it was easier to just flip through to find the page I wanted.

Expo Markers

These I used to write on the wipe-off charts as well as on my whiteboard.  I liked this package with lots of colors because I could color-code things on the whiteboard by grade level, which made it easier for ELLs to know what was relevant for them.  I also used the different colors when explaining grammar points or teaching types of writing.

The Peace Corps International Calendar
I love this calendar!  It lists secular and religious holidays for what seems like every country in the world as well as all the world’s major religions.  Each monthly photo is from a country where Peace Corps Volunteers have served and there is info about the country along with a smaller photo from the same country in the date section.  I submitted photos for many years in hopes of having one accepted but, sadly, that never happened.  Nevertheless, it’s a great teaching tool and one year, my school’s Cultural Committee (of which I was a member), bought one calendar for every teacher in the building and it got rave reviews.

Cuisinaire Rods

I learned about cuisinaire rods in my TESL graduate program and had no idea they were also used for math instruction!  They are very useful with lower proficiency level ELLs when teaching English Language Development.  I’ve used them for teaching grammar, for descriptive speaking and writing tasks, and for listening practice by telling stories.  This Busy Teacher article presents 15 ways of using cuisinaire rods in the language classroom. 

Binder Clips

These large clips fit perfectly over the top of the cabinets in my classroom.  I used them to hold posters and flipcharts when I needed to display things temporarily, such as unit objectives and posters about a particular civilization students were learning about.  Being responsible for several grades, these clips made it easier for me to have a print-rich classroom environment.


Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary

Every ESL teacher needs this book!  Regardless of the type of ESL class you have, your students will thank you for having this dictionary.  It is comprehensive and thorough and explains academic concepts in ways that ELLs can comprehend.  It also helped me define some Science and Math concepts to my students that I had a hard time explaining.

Longman Basic Dictionary of American English

What’s great about this dictionary is that it is aimed at ELLs at the lower end of language proficiency.  Each entry gives a definition is simple English, tells how to pronounce the word, and offers an example sentence.  The dictionary also explains how to use a dictionary and includes some brief notes on irregular verbs.

Webster’s New World Spanish Dictionary

I found this Spanish-English/English-Spanish dictionary invaluable.  Not only did I use it to help me communicate with my students’ families, I used it when my students just didn’t understand my explanation of something in English or when they didn’t know the English word for something.

Learner English -- A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems

Most ESL teachers do not speak all the languages of their students.  So sometimes it’s hard to know why an ELL is making a mistake when speaking or writing.  This book provides information about 22 different language groups and the types of errors speakers of those languages typically make when learning English.  It’s a great resource to consult when you’re wondering why a student makes a particular mistake.

Teaching American English Pronunciation

This book is similar to the one above and discusses 14 languages, all of which are included in the other book except Vietnamese, which is only in this one.  However, this book also includes information about the sound system of English and offers classroom activities for teaching pronunciation to ELLs, which the other book doesn’t have.  I found that these 2 books complement each other and both are excellent resources.


Mechanical Pencils

I think mechanical pencils last longer than wooden ones and I like this brand because it comes with refills.  For the first class of the year, I put one pencil on each student's desk (along with other materials -- see below) but kids could trade if they wanted a different color.

File Folders

Each student got one folder to organize their in-class work and homework.  I let them pick which color they wanted.  I also used folders for students' writing assignments – each grade had a specific color – and to organize my ESL paperwork.  I bought a large amount at the beginning of the year from Staples so I had a supply on hand for new students who came during the year and for my own needs.  These folders on Amazon are essentially the same thing but possibly more expensive.

Spiral Bound Notebooks

I gave one notebook to each 5th – 8th student to use in my ESL Social Studies classes for taking notes in class and for doing homework assignments.  This size always lasted the entire year.  I usually got mine from Staples because they had good discounts for teachers at the end of summer.  But shopping from home with Amazon is certainly more convenient.  I preferred to give my students notebooks, pencils, and folders because I knew some of their families couldn't afford to buy materials and, also, having the same styles of notebooks and folders made it easier for me to keep students' work organized.

Composition Notebooks

I gave one of these notebooks to each 5th – 8th grader to use as a vocabulary notebook.  I wanted a separate notebook from the one they used for note-taking and homework so it’d be easier for students to see all their vocab words in one place.  As with the other notebooks, I usually bought them at Staples but Amazon is also an option.

Colored Pencils

These are especially helpful  for ELLs at the beginning and lower intermediate levels of language proficiency because they can draw pictures instead of write about what they are learning.  More proficient ELLs can use colored pencils for projects they may have.  I liked having individual boxes to reduce the chance of students arguing about using particular colors.


Tea (click on the images or green links below for info about each variety of tea)
I brought a thermos of tea with me to school every day.  Even though I didn’t lecture in my classes, I still needed something to soothe my throat throughout the day.  Drinking tea also helped me avoid eating junk food snacks.  And it warmed me up after doing lunch recess duty in the cold winter months.  My favorite blends were Irish Breakfast Tea and Peppermint Tea.

Classical Music
After students went home, I listened to classical music while I was prepping for the following day.  Classical music helped me focus because there were no words to sing along with.  I kept a stash of CDs near my desk but nowadays, of course, you can easily find music on Spotify or YouTube as well as Amazon Prime Music.

Escapist Novels (click on the images or green links below for info about the novels)
After eating dinner and checking my email, I needed to decompress.  My favorite way of relaxing was to read historical fiction and mysteries.  Both of the books recommended below are the first in multi-volume series.  They are both also major TV shows, which you probably already know.

Outlander, Book 1, by Diana Gabaldon: About a time-traveling English nurse who inexplicably suddenly finds herself in 18th century Scotland.  

You can also get a signed copy of Outlander from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore and they’ll ship it anywhere in the world.  Note this blurb on the bookstore’s website: “If you want your new books to be signed by Diana, be sure that the “signed” option is indicated during the Pen’s online check-out procedure, or specify you would like it signed if ordering by telephone or email.”

Poldark, by Winston Graham: About an Englishman from Cornwall who returns home from fighting in the American Revolutionary War, only to find he can’t resume the life he thought was waiting for him.

If you’d like to support PBS, which broadcasts the TV show, you can buy the book on the PBS website.  You can also buy DVD and Blue-ray versions of the TV show there.  (The link is a little wonky and does not always work so just do a search for "PBS Poldark" if that happens to you.)

Getting ready for a new school year is always hectic but I hope these suggestions for stocking your classroom and taking care of yourself will make the back to school experience a little easier for you.  Have a great year!


Monday, June 25, 2018

8 Things You Need to Know When Teaching Culturally Diverse Students

 "Whether they hail from different cultures, countries or faiths, children are children."
-- Kimberly Quinn

English Language Learners are culturally as well as linguistically diverse.  Understanding how cultural differences impact the conduct of your ELLs in your classroom will make you a more empathetic and effective teacher.  In this blog post, I’m going to discuss 8 features that all teachers need to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students.  For tips about teaching linguistically diverse students, please read this blog post.

8 Features to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students | The ESL Nexus
Cultural features that all teachers should know about when teaching ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
Concept of Time
Being on time is important in the U.S. but not as important in some other cultures, in particular Southern European, Middle Eastern, and Latin American countries.  This is good to remember when making appointments with parents and guardians of ELLs.  Family members might show up after the scheduled time and not think they’re late because they arrived within 10-15 minutes of the appointment.   If that happens, you can politely explain that next time they should come as close to the actual time as possible, especially if you have a tight schedule, like for parent-teacher conferences or if it’s during the school day.  In fact, when you make an appointment, you could let the family members know that you’d appreciate it if they’d come at their designated time so everyone has plenty of time for discussion.

8 Features to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students | The ESL Nexus
The concept of time varies around the world; source: The ESL Nexus
Body Language
Eye contact is one type of non-verbal communication that varies among cultures.  I had so many ELLs from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico who didn’t make eye contact with me when I was talking to them.  I knew they were showing me respect by keeping their eyes focused on the ground but other teachers didn’t understand that.  They’d get angry or impatient, especially if they were disciplining a student for something, and say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”  This is one of the most common cultural misunderstandings in schools.  In other Latin American as well as Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, making eye contact is frowned on also.

This refers to the physical distance between people.  In some South American and East European countries, people typically stand closer to each other than U.S. Americans do; this is also true of people in Arab and Middle Eastern countries.  This may make some teachers or students uneasy because they’re not used to it.  I had a Turkish student who would stand very close to me and his other teachers when he was talking to us and they were uncomfortable when he did that.  That was during his first year in the U.S. when he wasn’t familiar with American culture and his teachers didn’t know anything about Turkish ways of behavior.  The opposite is also true – people from some other countries normally stand father away from U.S. Americans when talking to them.

8 Features to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students | The ESL Nexus
Ideas about distance between people also vary from culture to culture; source: The ESL Nexus
In many cultures, especially East Asian ones, students are expected to sit quietly and listen to what their teacher says.  The teacher is considered the expert and it would be disrespectful for students to question what the teachers says.  That contrasts with the expectation in American classrooms that students will actively ask and answer questions.  If an ELL is sitting quietly and paying attention, it could be a sign of respect rather than a lack of interest.

Helping Other Students Do Their Work
When teachers assign homework in U.S. classrooms, the usual expectation is that students will do it on their own unless it’s specifically and intentionally meant to be done with other students or family members.  But in other cultures, the concept of the group is more important than the concept of the individual, and helping others to complete an assignment is an acceptable practice.  Many of my Caribbean students who came to my before-school homework club shared their homework and let their friends copy their answers.  A couple students who were new to the U.S. didn’t know that that was not acceptable until I told them.  You may also find this happening with students from other Latin American, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern cultures.

Writing Styles
In the 1960s, the linguist Robert Kaplan published an article describing 5 styles of writing and grouped them according to which culture the writer came from.  He differentiated between English, Semitic, Oriental (sic), Romance, and Russian rhetorical styles.  And although his notion has been challenged over the years, the key point that people from different cultures use different rhetorical styles in their writing is still valid.  What this means in the classroom is that not only will some students, for example, write quotation and punctuation marks differently (angled quotations are used in French; the period is put outside the quotation mark in British English), but how they organize a piece of writing may also be different from the way students are taught in the U.S.

8 Features to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students | The ESL Nexus
Plagiarism is viewed differently in some other cultures; source: The ESL Nexus
In Ancient China, obtaining a high score on the civil service examination to become a government official meant being able to write down verbatim what Chinese scholars and philosophers had written in previous centuries.  That legacy of being rewarded for copying means that in some Asian, as well as other cultures, the concept of plagiarism is very different.  Unless it’s clearly explained, some ELLs may not understand why copying from other works is unacceptable in American schools.  When teaching students from other countries, explicitly defining and giving examples of how to cite other's work correctly will help your students understand how to avoid committing plagiarism.

Students' Use of Their Native Language
Using English all day long in school is tiring for ELLs, particularly those who are less proficient in English.  When ELLs use their native language with their friends, it is usually just because it’s easier and more comfortable for them to communicate that way.  Other students often think ELLs are talking about them when they hear their classmates speaking in another language but that is rarely the case.  Unfortunately, it’s not unknown for some teachers or staff members to chastise ELLs and tell them to speak English.  But as a matter of fact, in a 2015 “Dear Colleague” letter from the Departments of Justice and Education, schools were reminded that they “(m)ust not prohibit national origin-minority group students from speaking in their primary language during the school day without an educational justification.”  Culturally diverse students are often (but not always) linguistically diverse as well and being able to use their native language should be celebrated, not criticized.  For more reasons why students should be allowed to use their native language in school, please read my blog post here.

One way to celebrate students’ native languages is to display greetings in other languages in your classroom or in a hallway in your school.  These bundles of resources give you 3 ways to greet your students, their caregivers, and community members in 26 languages commonly spoken in US schools.
Find the polka dot-themed bundle HERE and the other bundle HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
If you have a classroom with students from many cultures, it would be difficult to become familiar with the intricacies of every culture represented.  However, knowing what some of the major differences are between your students’ cultures and your own culture will help you be a better teacher for your ELLs.  And when you’re teaching in a culturally sensitive manner, your culturally diverse students will be more successful in your classroom.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Happy Memorial Day and Summer Announcements

"I always try to have a vacation."
-- Sophia Loren

Memorial Day, now celebrated on the last Monday in May, marks the unofficial start of summer in the U.S.  You can read about the history and origins of Memorial Day in this blog post I wrote.

Learn about Memorial Day, discover summer reading recommendations for educators & find out the summer publishing schedule in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
Memorial Day: To Respect & Remember; source: The ESL Nexus
Some students are already on their summer vacation – schools here in Arizona just finished – but many others, especially those in the Northeast, still have a month to go.  In recognition of the fact that educators need to decompress just as much, if not more, than their students, I have a couple announcements to make:

For the past couple years, I’ve written a series of book reviews about books that are useful for educators working with English Language Learners.  You can read them HERE.  But this year, I’ve decided to give myself a break as well.  Instead of publishing new posts every other week during June and July, I’ll most likely just publish one post in each of those months.

Also, the #ELLEdTech Twitter chats are on hiatus until August.  When we resume on August 20th, we’ll continue with our series about the Four Cs.  Last week we discussed Critical Thinking so future chats will be about Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and Innovation, though I’m not sure if that will be the order we do them.  You can read this article about these concepts if you are looking for some background information.

The #ELLEdTech chat is taking a vacation & will resume on August 20th | The ESL Nexus
See you in August! source: The ESL Nexus
Have a wonderful summer!  (Unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case I wish you a great rest of the school year!)