Monday, April 1, 2024

Test Preparation Tips to Help Students Succeed on Tests

This blog post offers some resources to help students do well on tests.  First, I'll explain what got me interested in this topic and then I'll list some free and paid materials.

Black title on pale yellow background at top, photo of pencil on standardized test answer sheet underneath
Get a set of test prep posters & flash cards HERE; graphic by The ESL Nexus

My Test Preparation Revelation

A few decades ago, I spent a summer studying French at a university in Quebec, Canada.  Before the program started, we had to take a language test to determine which level we'd be placed in for our classes. 
Although I had taken French for 6 years in junior and senior high school, and a semester in college, it'd been a long time since I'd actually used it.  So I spent the night before the test reading the French textbook I'd brought with me. 
To my great surprise, I placed into the 3rd highest level when I got my result; the 2 highest levels being for people who were teachers of French.  My review cramming had paid off!

Teaching Test Preparation Strategies

After I'd been teaching a while and saw that my students didn't have great study habits when preparing for tests, I did some research into test preparation strategies.  Then, when the standardized testing season began, I explicitly taught the strategies to them.
When I say "strategies," I don't mean how to read and understand a text, or how to figure out what a math problem is asking.  What I mean is how to mentally and physically prepare yourself to do well when taking a test.  As well as how to study effectively to learn the content that might be on the test.
Even if your standardized testing season has ended, I think you'll still find the info below useful because it's also applicable to classroom tests.  And if your standardized testing window hasn't yet begun, please check out the info as I think your students will benefit.

Websites with Test Preparation Tips

These 3 websites give info about taking tests.  I haven't explored all the links in all of them but what I did see looked very helpful.  The websites are aimed at older learners but I think the material is also appropriate for middle school students, too.  The first 2 websites offer suggestions for how to study and prepare for a test; the last website also offers tips for how to respond to various types of test questions.
* Test-Taking Techniques and Strategies, from Wichita State University
* How to Study for a Test: 17 Expert Tips, from Prep Scholar
* Best Test-Taking Strategies and Tips for Students, We Are Teachers

Printable TPT Test Prep Resource

I turned the material I discovered when researching test prep strategies into a resource for students.  It consists of posters and flash cards with the 10 tips I discussed with my students.  The posters make a nice bulletin board display and the flashcards can be photocopied and distributed to students to help them remember how to prepare well when they have upcoming tests.  You can grab it HERE.

Books about Test-Taking Strategies

The following 3 books are part of a series published by Thomson Heinle.  I used all of them with my students in Grades 4 - 8.  The strategies were clearly explained and there was lots of practice opportunities.  All the books are well-suited for use with Multilingual Learners of English as well as other students.  (The links for the books are affiliate links.  That means that I make a small commission if you purchase the books but it's at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for your support!)
Strategies for Test-Taking Success: Reading
* Strategies for Test-Taking Success: Writing
* Strategies for Test-Taking Success: Math

Good luck with all your testing!


Monday, March 18, 2024

How to Create Appropriate Science Assessments for English Language Learners

Teaching Science to English Language Learners is easier, in my opinion, than teaching Social Studies because it is less language-dependent and more hands-on.  Nevertheless, there is a lot of science terminology that Multilingual Learners of English must learn as well as certain text structures that are commonly used in science textbooks.  To ensure that they're assessed on their knowledge of science and not on their knowledge of English, I'm going to share 4 tips for creating appropriate science assessments for ELLs and then give examples for students at different levels of language proficiency.

Title text in black overlaid at top of photo, which shows a green blackboard with a chemical symbol on it and a desk with text tubes and books underneath and a partially hidden container with pens and pencils off to the left.
Find Science resources HERE; graphic created by The ESL Nexus

Tips for Creating Appropriate Science Assessments for English Learners

1) Use Visuals

Some Multilingual Learners of English may understand the concepts but not yet be able to use all the science vocabulary needed to explain those ideas.  Giving a photo or diagram to students and asking them to label, caption, or list info instead of writing sentences lets students demonstrate their understanding without testing their knowledge of English.  Visuals also help ELLs determine what is actually being assessed because, assuming they know the material, they are more likely to recognize the images than the words, especially if they are at lower levels of language proficiency.

2) Offer Sentence Frames and Word Banks

Providing this type of scaffolding lessens the language load on students.  Sentence frames aid students when writing responses to questions and help MLEs organize what to say.  Word banks give students the target vocabulary needed to answer questions or do tasks, which also lets them focus more on getting the answers right than on trying to decide which words to use.

3) Let Students Draw Pictures, Create Models, and Do Experiments

Creating 2-D and 3-D examples of scientific concepts allows students at all levels of language proficiency to demonstrate what they've learned while minimizing the amount of English needed to explain concepts.  Giving students the chance to show their learning through hands-on activities and projects often mirrors the way scientific concepts were taught so it makes sense to assess them that way, too.

4) Use Oral Assessments

For many English Learners, it is easier to express themselves orally than in writing.  Even if their grammar is not completely accurate, they can get their ideas across more effectively when speaking than when writing.  So letting MLEs orally explain concepts instead of responding in writing can be a more accurate way of determining how well they have learned the materials.

Examples of Appropriate Science Assessments for Multilingual Learners of English

For Beginning ELLs


The assessment is to label the parts of a plant.  At the top of a page, include a word bank with the target terms students have been taught; for example, roots, stem, leaves, and flower.  Underneath, display pictures of the different parts of a plant.  Students use the word bank words to correctly label the individual parts of the plant.

Middle School

The assessment is to identify things that are in different states of matter.  At the top of a page, type the words solid, liquid, and gas.  Underneath, show 2 photographs for each state of matter; for example, an ice cube and hail, a glass of water and a stream, a teapot of boiling water and a railroad engine with steam coming out of it.  Students label each photo with the correct state of matter it represents.

For Intermediate ELLs


The assessment is to demonstrate knowledge of the parts of a plant.  In the top half of a page, show a plant with each part – roots, stem, leaves, flowers – already labeled.  Underneath, give sentence frames that describe the functions of each plant part.  Students complete the sentence frames with their own words.  For example:
Roots help plants because they __________.
Plants use stems to __________ and __________.
Leaves are important because they  __________.
Plants have flowers because __________.

Middle School

The assessment is to describe the 3 states of matter.  On a page, create a table with 4 columns and 4 rows and title it States of Matter.  In the first column, leave the first cell blank and in the cells below write Solid, Liquid, Gas.  In the second column, write Properties in the top cell, in the third column, write Examples in the top cell, and in the 4th column, write Changes.  Tell students to complete the table by writing information about each criteria; for the Changes column, tell them to describe what happens when each state of matter changes to a different state.

For Advanced ELLs


The assessment is for students to orally describe the characteristics and functions of the parts of a plant.  Create a list of guided prompts and questions, such as: Where are the roots of a plant located?  What are the purposes of plant roots?  What else can you tell me about roots?  Use similar questions for the other parts of a plant.  You can tell students to include target vocab words in their answers as well, if you wish.  You can ask students individually face-to-face or you can have them record responses on devices if they all have access to them.

Middle School

The assessment is to do an experiment that lets students show they understand what the 3 states of matter are and that they can use relevant scientific terms correctly.  Put students in small groups and give each group something that is a solid, a liquid, and a gas.  Tell students to take a few minutes to observe each thing, then record their observations, write how they collected their data and their analysis of the data, and what their conclusions are.  You can give students target vocabulary words to use when writing, if you wish.  Then tell students to write a description of the activity and summarize their findings.

Wrap Up

If you need a textbook that is accessible to ELLs, I used Access Science, published by Great Source, with my middle school students and thought it explained concepts clearly.  The first chapter is about the scientific method, then there are 7 units for Earth Science, 8 units for Life Science, and 8 units for Physical Science.  Each unit contains 3 or 4 chapters.  Chapters are filled with color pictures, tasks to develop language skills, and vocabulary terms that are explained at the bottom of pages as well as in a glossary at the end of the book.  (This is an affiliate link.  That means that I make a small commission if you purchase the book but it's at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for your support!)

I hope these tips and examples for creating appropriate science assessments for English Learners give you some ideas you can use with your students.  This blog post is the last in my series about creating appropriate subject-area assessments for Multilingual Learners of English.  Previous posts in this series were about creating Math Assessments, Social Studies Assessments, and Assessments for Reading, Vocabulary, and Writing.


Monday, March 11, 2024

3 Reasons and 3 Resources Why You Should Teach Women's History

It’s March and that means it’s time for Women’s History Month!  But do your students know why it’s important to learn about Women’s History?  Here are 3 reasons you can share with your students that explain the importance of learning about women in history, followed by 3 resources you can use with your students during the Women’s History Month.

Square collage of clipart of faces of women from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, with the blog post title in black text of a white background in the center of the image
Find Women's History Month teaching resources at The ESL Nexus; background image from Depositphotos

Reasons for Teaching Women’s History

Offers Inspiration and Empowerment

When you incorporate Women’s History into your lessons, you offer role models for your students.  This is especially important for girls because it empowers them by showing them women who’ve overcome barriers and become successful and accomplished.

2) Challenges Stereotypes

Teaching Women’s History brings to light the stories of people who achieved great things but whose accomplishments were overlooked because they were women.  Making students aware of what women are capable of doing breaks down stereotypes about what they can or should do.

3) Creates a More Inclusive View of History

Teaching History should include the teaching of a wide variety of perspectives and experiences, which means including Women’s History. Discussing how women from a range of cultures, background, and time periods have contributed to society in the U.S. and around the world gives students a greater understanding of historical events. It makes clear that women have been and are active participants in society, they are an integral part of history, and it’s important to recognize that.

Women’s History Month Ideas

Below are 3 Women’s History Month activities for your students.   The first includes an overview of when the celebration of Women's History Month began, so you might want to start with that.  Otherwise, all the activities in these resources can be used throughout March.  Please click on the product titles for more info about each resource.

1) Women’s History Month Reading Passage, Puzzles & Poster

Title of resource in black text at top with images of word search puzzle, reading passage & crossword puzzle in middle, with more info about the resource in smaller black text underneath
Click HERE for more info
Part of my “Heritage Month” series, this is my newest resource. It includes a reading passage about 5 American women who were key figures in the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. It’s accompanied by different types of questions so your students get practice answering the kinds of questions often found on standardized tests. The reading passage begins with a brief explanation of the origins of Women’s History Month and then talks about 5 women who were active in the struggle to give women the vote in the U.S. The last names of these women are 5 of the 20 terms used in word search and crossword puzzles that are also included in this resource. There’s also a poster that you can use as part of a bulletin board display for Women’s History Month.

2) Biography Task Cards about American Women

Cover of TPT resource about 100 American women, with text in black at top, 4 task cards of women at different angles below the text, and more descriptive text in blue and purple at bottom of cover
Click HERE for more info
This resource includes task cards with short biographies about 100 women from a variety of racial and ethnic groups.  The task is for students to use the info to write paragraphs about them. Several more ways to use the task cards are provided.

3) Biography Task Card about International Women

Cover of TPT resource about international women, with title in black text at top, 3 task cards in center, and more descriptive text in green and purple at bottom
Click HERE for more info
 This resource is like the one above about American women but here, it showcases 68 notable women around the world in ancient and world history up through the present time.  It, too, includes many other ways to use the task cards. Women from every continent except Antarctica are included.

Also, these 2 task card resources are available in a bundle that is cheaper than if you were to buy each product separately.

cover of bundle of 2 TPT resources about US & international women, with 4 task cards in center and more explanation about the product at the bottom
Click HERE for more info

Of course, women’s history doesn’t have to be and actually shouldn’t only be taught during Women’s History Month. But if you're giving extra attention to the topic this month and your students ask you why, I hope this gives you some answers to that question and also gives you some ideas for teaching about women's contributions all over the world and throughout history.


Monday, February 19, 2024

How to Create Appropriate Math Assessments for Multilingual Learners of English

You might think that creating math assessments is easier than creating other types of assessments because math is a universal language.  But although there are many math symbols and figures that mean the same thing across languages, the way math problems are solved and the way numbers are written is not always the same.  A blog post I wrote a few years ago explains some of the differences.  Today, I'd like to zero in (pun intended!) on how to design well-crafted math assessments that take into account the different language proficiency levels of Multilingual Learners of English. 
First, I'll take about 5 important factors (another pun, sorry!) to consider when creating your math assessments and explain why they're important.  Then, I'll offer some examples of math assessments for students at different levels of language proficiency.  At the end of this blog post, I'll include links to a couple math books that I found really helpful when I was providing math support to ELLs.

Title in black text at top on teal background, a light wooden table with various math-themed objects and manipulates on it is below.
Keep reading for tips on how to design good math assessments; graphic created by The ESL Nexus

Guidelines to Keep in Mind

1) Use Clear Language

Make sure that text in the directions and in the problems is easy to understand.  Differentiate the language based on the proficiency of the English Learners in your class.  You want to be assessing your students' knowledge of math, not English, and if they don't understand what they are asked to do, you won't be evaluating their math understanding.
So, use very simple language.  Don't use sentences with complicated grammar structures.  Be sure to include examples and models to students to help students' comprehension.  Using visuals as much as possible will help with this.

2) Use Real-Life Situations

Connect problems and examples to students' lives.  Doing that helps make the concepts easier to understand because they will be relevant to students' personal experiences. 
Think of examples that relate to students' daily lives.  That will help them see the practical applications of the concepts being assessed.

3) Use Multiple Ways to Show Concepts

Show math ideas in more than just one way.  This helps students who have different ways of learning.  It also helps them better comprehend what they're being asked to do because multiple representations make it more likely the concepts will resonate.
You can do this by including visuals, manipulatives, and pictures in your math assessments.  Also, allow students to give their answers in multiple ways because that makes it easier for them to express themselves.  Students can use drawings, tables, and graphs as well as sentences to explain what they mean.  For beginning proficiency learners, orally providing answers is also helpful.

4) Use Culturally Responsive Material

Incorporating culturally appropriate and diverse examples in math assessments helps students connect to the concepts being tested.  It also helps create an inclusive classroom atmosphere that makes English Learners more comfortable and supports their learning.
You can do this when using names of people in word problems – include names commonly used in your students' native countries.  When talking about places or buildings, reference other cultures' or countries' well-known locations.  If you're using food in word problems, instead of talking about meat and potatoes, for example, talk about rice and beans instead.

5) Use Focused Feedback

When giving feedback about test results, make sure it is constructive and is in language that students can understand.  Focus on the math aspects, not language errors; if the math is correct but the language is not, count the problem as correct.
Tailor your feedback to students' language proficiency levels.  Use visuals and/or give oral feedback to students with lower levels of English language proficiency.  Be sure to include comments about what was done correctly because that provides encouragement.

Examples of Differentiated Math Assessments

This section gives 4 examples of assessments that ask students to demonstrate their understanding of various math concepts that you have already taught.  Each example states the concept being assessed and then offers ideas of what to write to assess that concept.  The first 2 examples are for elementary students and the last 2 are for middle school students. For each concept, examples are given for ELLs at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels of English language proficiency.

Elementary Concepts

1) Counting

Task: Look at a picture. Count the number of bananas in the picture.  Write how many bananas are in the picture.
Beginning: Show a picture of 3 bananas.  Answer is the number "3."
: Show a picture of 3 bananas.  Answer is the word "three."
: Show a picture of 3 bananas and 2 oranges.  Answer is "3 bananas" or "three bananas."

2) Calculating the cost of something using multiplication

Task: When given the price of 1 item, calculate the total cost of 4 of those items when the price is the same for each one.
: Show a picture of flip flops with the price under each one.
: Write a simple word problem, such as the following and include pictures of flip flops: Solve this problem. If one shoe costs $5.00, how much do 4 shoes cost
Advanced: Write a word problem with more complex language and ask students to show how they got their answers.  For example: You are going to the store to buy shoes.  You see flip flops that you like.  Each flip flop costs five dollars.  How much will 4 flip flops cost?

Middle School Concepts

1) Calculating area

Task: Determine the area of a vegetable garden that measures 8 feet by 25 feet.
: Show a picture of a rectangular garden with the measurements on all sides.
: Write a word problem, such as: Mariama grows vegetables in a garden that measures 8 feet by 25 feet.  What is the area of her garden?
: Mariama grows vegetables in a garden that measures 8 feet by 25 feet.  She wants to know how big her garden is.  Explain the steps that Mariama has to do to find the area of her garden.

2) Comparing fractions

Task: Put the fractions 1/2, 2/3, and 3/4 in the correct order.
: On the assessment, show pictures of items that are cut into various pieces representing the fractions such as a pencil and a piece of fruit.  On the other side of the paper, write the three fractions.  In the directions, tell students to match the numbers with the correct pictures.
: Write a word problem that asks students to put the fractions in order from smallest to largest.  For example: Angela, Mehmet, and Guillermo are making food for their school's international night. Angela's recipe needs 1/2 a cup of rice, Mehmet's recipe needs 2/3 of a cup of yogurt, and Juan's recipe needs 3/4 of a cup of hot sauce. Which recipe uses the least food?  Which recipe uses the most food?  Put the fractions in order from smallest to largest.
: In art class, students are drawing patterns after looking at pictures of mosaics from around the world. Sara used 3 1/2 tiles in a Moroccan design.  Sayeed used 2 3/4 tiles for his Turkish design. Rana used 1 2/5 tiles in her Indian design.  Write how many tiles each student used as a proper fraction, then put them in order from least to greatest.  Explain or show how you got your answer.

Useful Math Books

I used both of these books and found them very helpful.  They're not newly published but they offer good support.  I think they're especially helpful for teachers who don't have real strong math backgrounds, which may the case if you teach more than one content subject.
(The links for the books are affiliate links.  That means that I make a small commission if you purchase the books but it's at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for your support!)

1) Access Math by Great Source is aimed at teaching math to multilingual learners of English in Grades 6-8.  However, 5th graders might also benefit from using it if they are learning the concepts covered in the book.  There are 12 chapters.  Topics begin with Number Concepts, and then proceed to Introduction to Algebra, Decimals, Number Theory, and Fractions and Mixed Numbers.  That's followed by Ratios, Proportions, and Percents.  Other topics include Data and Statistics, Geometry, Area and Volume, Probability, Integers, and finally More Algebra.  Access Math incorporates lots of language learning in each chapter and the book is visually appealing with lots of color photos.

2) Strategies for Test-Taking Success: Math, published by Thomson Heinle, is not aimed specifically at MLEs but I used it with my ELLs in Grades 5 -8.  What I really like about it is that it teaches students how to solve math problems.  It presents strategies for doing different types of math problems, explains the meaning of the vocabulary used in the problems, gives examples, and then has students practice using the strategies by doing practice tests.  The first chapter of Strategies for Test-Taking Success: Math discusses various types of questions and test-taking strategies.  The remaining chapters cover these topics: Whole Numbers and Number Sense; Fractions, Decimals, and Percents; Algebra; Probability, Data, and Statistics; and Geometry.
I hope all this information helps you more easily create math assessments for all the Multilingual Students of English, regardless of their language proficiency level.  Earlier blog posts in this series about creating appropriate assessments for ELLs include How to Create Appropriate Classroom Assessments for Different Levels of Language Proficiency and How to Create Appropriate Social Studies Assessments for English Language Learners.