Monday, October 3, 2022

5 Suggestions For What To Do When You Know Students Will Miss School

Probably the most common reason students are absent from school is illness.  For English Learners, observing religious holidays, going on family vacations, and visiting sick relatives also rank high on the list of why students are absent.  There are other reasons students miss school, such as difficult family circumstances, but in this blog post I’d like to discuss what you can do when you know in advance that your students are going to be absent.

Image of elderly Asian woman in hospital bed with mother, father, and son standing next to her
Source: The ESL Nexus

Reason #1: Holidays

Some school districts in the U.S. give students time off to celebrate religious holidays and others don’t.  Some districts incorporate some religions’ holidays in their calendar but not holidays for other religions.  
When I was growing up, I always stayed home for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  But when I started teaching in Massachusetts, the Jewish High Holy Day weren’t days off for everyone in the district I taught in.  (If you want to teach your students about these holidays, check out my newest resource.)  My district had a large population of Muslim and Hindu students but major holidays from those religions weren’t official days off, either.
English Learners come from many backgrounds.  Many of the religions they follow are not widely observed in the U.S.  So when a holiday occurs, those students miss school in order to celebrate it.  And because it isn’t an officially sanctioned day off, the students have work they need to make up when they return.

Reason #2: Traveling to Foreign Countries

English Learners are sometimes pulled out of school for extended periods of time so they can visit family in other countries.  It could be for vacation or a family emergency.  One of my elementary students was absent for several weeks because her mother took her out of school to visit their sick father/grandfather.  One of my middle school students was absent because his family went to a relative’s wedding in another country.  Some of my students missed the last week of school to go visit their relatives in Latin America or they returned late from winter vacations because they were still overseas.
It's not just English Learners who are pulled out of school, though.  When I was a kid, my family went on a week-long vacation in early December, before the regular winter vacation.  Lots of students in the Massachusetts school district where I taught missed school for week-long periods in order to participate in sports competitions or just to go to Disney World.

What Not To Do About Student Absences

When I went on that December vacation, my teachers loaded me up with work.  I spent the plane flight home doing it but I didn’t finish everything.  I do not recommend handing a pile of work to students without any instructions and saying: Here, do this.  I was a good student but not that good.
Before my elementary student left for several weeks, I make up a packet of work for her and explained to her mother what to do with it.  There was a small assignment for every day.  At the time, I thought it was important my English Learner student be exposed to English daily so she wouldn’t lose the progress she’d been making.  I was surprised when the student returned and had done none of the work.  In hindsight and with more experience, I realized I had given both mother and child an impossible task.  So I don’t recommend trying to simulate a regular school day, either.
I really thought I’d hit on the right mix of rigor and enjoyment with my assignment for the boy who was going to his relative’s wedding.  I asked him to do a project: Create a multimedia description of his time away.  I gave him criteria to fulfill that included language and content objectives and explicitly spelled out what to do.  It was supposed to be something fun that wouldn’t be onerous to complete; all he had to do was take photos of his surroundings and write about them.  But this student didn’t do any of the work, either -- he said he hadn’t had the time.  And that may very have been true.  Clearly, a project that requires a fair amount of independent initiative and time is not going to produce the kind of work many students will want to do or are able to do while away from school for an extended period of time.

What To Do About Student Absences

So what can teachers do to help their students keep up with their schoolwork while they are gone?  Well, here’s the thing: What all of these types of absences have in common is that they are known in advance.  The families know when a student will miss school due to a religious holiday.  Families also usually know, unless it’s an emergency, when they’ll be traveling out of the country.  Students definitely know if they’ll be missing school because they’ll be playing in an athletic tournament or visiting a theme park.
In all these cases, students are going to be too busy to spend time doing schoolwork.  They need something quick and easy to do.  And if it’s something fun, that’s a bonus.  What it doesn’t need to be is something that requires a great deal of thought and effort.


Ideally, the work will relate to whatever units of study the student will miss.  Here are a few ideas:
* Tell students to create a 1-pager about the topic(s) you’ll be covering during the absence.  If you’re not familiar with 1-pagers, this article explains what they are.  It doesn’t actually have to actually be accurate since they won’t have learned the material yet.  Just have students write and draw whatever they already know.  Then, you can use it as a formative assessment when they return and fill in the gaps at some point.
* Have students create word search puzzles about the topics they’d be learning if they weren’t absent.  You can give students a list of words to use or just give them the topic and tell students to come up 10 or 15 words themselves.  You can also give students a template for creating word search puzzles or tell them to make their own. 
* If you teach about holidays around the world and/or in the U.S., you can give students one of the puzzles from my print and digital word search and crossword puzzles resource.  They’re targeted to U.S. American holidays so you can use whichever ones are for the months your students miss school.  Although they are not explicitly focused on subject-are vocabulary, they do help students learn about the holidays.  They’re also differentiated for students at different levels of language proficiency so you can choose which version makes the most sense for each student who’ll be absent.
* Give students a list of vocabulary words about the topic(s) you’ll be teaching and tell them to draw pictures that illustrate the vocab words they already know.  If they students will be absent for more than a few days, you could also ask them to write a sentence about their pictures.
* Write up a 1-page summary outline of information about the topics the students will miss.  Tell the students to read the info and write down 3-5 questions about it.  When they return, you can show them where to find the answers to their questions, have other students answer their questions (which has the added benefit of seeing how much the rest of the class has learned) or give them the answers yourself.

Display of several word search and corssword puzzles for US holidays and a hand with a pencil in the bottom right corner doing a puzzle
Click HERE for info about these puzzles

It's always difficult to catch students up after being absent, especially if it’s for an extended period of time.  I hope these suggestions give you some ideas on how you can prevent your students from falling too far behind when this happens.


Monday, August 15, 2022

40 of the Top Words and Phrases about Teaching ELLs

There are loads of acronyms about ESL and ELLs and teaching English to students.  So as most American students head back to school over the next several weeks, I’d like to offer a list of 40 common acronyms in English language teaching used in the United States.  It’ll be particularly useful for educators who don’t work primarily with English Language Learners and who, therefore, may not be familiar with many of these terms.
The list is in A-B-C format with, for the most part, one phrase for each letter.  But in some cases, when several acronyms are frequently used, more than one term is presented.  And for a couple letters, a word is given instead because there isn’t an abbreviation for those letters.  Also, for the letter X, it’s the second letter in the phrase since that letter doesn’t have an ESL acronym for it, either.

If you'd like to download a copy of the list, you can find a link at the end of this blog post.

Word cloud in the shape of an apple that shows many acronyms used in the field of English Language Learning.
ESL acronyms word cloud created by The ESL Nexus with


(By the way, I'm using ESL just because it's a common term that teachers in the U.S. use both for students learning English and the programs that teach them.  However, there are several other ways to describe people who are learning English, as you'll see below.)

The Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners is a test for assessing students’ language proficiency

Basic Interpersonal Communications Skills refers to social and interpersonal language used by students

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency refers to content-area language used in school subjects, in contrast to BICS 

Content-Based Instruction means teaching English through teaching academic subjects to students and incorporating English language skills into lessons

D = DL
Dual Language refers to programs that teach academic content in 2 languages; typically the home language of students and the target language 

English as an Additional Language is one way of referring to the teaching of the English Language to people for whom it is not their first language

English as a Foreign Language is the term used to describe teaching English in places where English is not the majority, dominant language

English Language Development refers to teaching the English language to students who are learning to speak, read, write, and listen to English

E = ELL or EL
English (Language) Learner is a term commonly used to describe someone who is in the process of learning English because it is not their first language

English as a Second Language describes a person learning English or the program used to teach the language; the term ELL is often used instead now

English as a Second Language is an umbrella term that encompasses ESL and EFL

Former Limited English Proficient describes a student who used to be an English Learner but was reclassified because they are now more or less fluent in English

G = GE
General Education is not an ESL-specific term; it refers to regular education ads mainstream classes, in contrast to special education or ESL classes

A Home Language Survey is filled out by families when registering new students for school; it is used to help determine if a student might need ESL support

The International Phonetic Alphabet uses letters and symbols to teach pronunciation and is not dependent on people already knowing how to speak English

J = Jargon
Not an acronym but educators can see that the field of English Language Teaching is filled with specialized terms that are important and useful to know

K = K-12
Not specific to English Language Teaching, but Kindergarten to 12th grade is frequently used by educators

L = L1 and L2
Refers to the first language (L1) and the second language (L2) of students; i.e. the L1 may be Spanish and the L2 is English

Linguistically and Culturally Diverse students may or may not be English Learners; the term includes all students from a variety of backgrounds

A Long-Term English Learner is a student who has been in an ESL program or has been learning English for at least 6 years but still is not considered proficient

M = ML
Multilingual Learner is a phrase that is starting to supersede ESL and ELL to describe people learning English since it is more additive than the other terms

Developed by WIDA, a Model Performance Indicator is an example of how English can be used in a language domain for a grade level and a proficiency level

The National Association for Bilingual Education is a professional organization working to promote bilingual and multilingual learners and education

N = Newcomer
Not an acronym; a Newcomer is a student who has recently arrived in the U.S. and is at a beginning level of English language proficiency

N = NNS and NS
These terms distinguish between a Non-Native Speaker of English and a Native Speaker of English

The Office of Civil Rights investigates problems and issues related to the teaching of English Learners and makes sure that the relevant laws are followed

Part of the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of English Language Education is responsible for policy matters regarding the teaching of English Learners

A Parent Advisory Council, which should include EL families, is a group that meets and offers suggestions for improving education in the school district

Q = Quality
Not an acronym nor an education-specific term, but educators should keep in mind that English Learners are entitled by law to an quality education

The Regional Education Laboratory Program includes 10 organizations around the U.S. that offers materials on various aspects of education, including ELL teaching

A Reclassified Fluent English Speaker, this is another phrase used to describe an FLEP (Former Limited English Proficient) student

S = SI
Sheltered Instruction is an approach to teaching a class of English speakers and EL that incorporates strategies for making the content more comprehensible to ELLs

Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education have never been to school or have big gaps in their education and need special programs to help them

The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol® is an approach to teaching students in regular ed classes that combines language and content in lessons

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages refers to educating ELLs; it also refers to the professional organization TESOL International Association

U = UbD
Not an ELL-specific term, Understanding by Design is a way of teaching that starts by deciding what to assess and then figuring out the lessons to teach that material

Vocational English as a Second Language refers to teaching the English used in specific jobs, such as the tourism industry or medical field

Now known as the WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment) Consortium, it creates K-12 standards and materials for teaching English Learners

An Extended School year program operates throughout the calendar year, rather than just the more typical August-September to May-June school year

The Zone of Proximal Development refers to how much a student can do on their own and how much they can do with support; it is useful for scaffolding learning
If you’d like a copy of this list of acronyms used in the ESL/ELL field, you can download it HERE.  Feel free to share it with your colleagues!


Monday, June 27, 2022

8 Entertaining TV Shows for Teachers on Vacation

After another year of teaching during the Covid pandemic, it’s understandable that teachers are tired.  Combined with the economic downturn, school shootings, and political polarization, it’s no wonder teachers need a break this summer more than ever. 
This blog post offers recommendations for some TV shows for summer that are entertaining and escapist yet also have an educational connection, if you truly can’t stop thinking about school while on vacation (or if you are still teaching or not located in the U.S.).  There are many more shows I could recommend but the ones below either released new seasons in the past 12 months or became available to U.S. viewers within the past year.

Black woman pointing a remote control device at a TV
Source: The ESL Nexus
In alphabetical order by streaming service, below are the shows I especially enjoyed.  After describing each show, I include info about the number of seasons and episodes, what the connection is to teaching, and how to watch the show.  (This post contains some Amazon affiliate links.  That means that I make a small commission if you buy any of those products listed below but it's at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for your support!)

Dickinson, on Apple TV+

Synopsis: A coming-of-age story about Emily Dickinson in her 20s.  It’s a comedy-drama with touches of the surreal.  Uses anachronistic music.  Snippets of her poems flash across the screen in every episode.  Includes scenes of women kissing and implied lesbian sex. Dickinson’s poetry is central to most of the episode plots. 
Seasons & episodes: 3 seasons, 10 episodes each.  Episodes are around 30 minutes long. 
Education tie-in: Poetry by Emily Dickinson
How to Watch: Sign up for a free 7-day trial.

Ted Lasso, on Apple TV+

Synopsis: A fish out of water story as well as a sports story.  A comedy about an American football coach recruited to coach an English soccer team. 
Seasons & episodes: 2 seasons.  Episodes are around 30 minutes long (1 more season produced and will probably be broadcast later in 2022).
Education tie-in: Cross-cultural differences, how to adjust to different cultures.
How to Watch: Sign up for a free 7-day trial.

Bridgerton, on Netflix

Synopsis: Historical romance set in the Regency period of England.  Focuses primarily on 2 families of the "ton" and their lives and loves.  Uses clever casting to subvert assumptions about race and classical versions of contemporary music.  Some steamy looks and behavior but only a few actual sex scenes. 
Seasons & episodes: 2 seasons, 8 episodes each (2 more seasons have been greenlit).  Episodes are about 1 hour long. 
Education tie-in: English history, status of people of color in historical periods.
How to Watch: Subscribe here (free trial not offered).

The Last Kingdom, on Netflix

Synopsis: Historical fiction drama about the Anglo-Saxons versus the Danes and Norse and the creation of a united England.  Includes scenes that are quite violent and/or gory but they are never gratuitous.  Based on the book series by Bernard Cornwell. 
Seasons & episodes: 5 seasons, 46 episodes (1 feature-length movie in post-production).  Episodes are approximately 1 hour long. 
Education tie-in: History of England; biographies of Alfred the Great,his son Edward and daughter Æthelflæd, and grandson Athelstan.
How to Watch: Subscribe here (free trial not offered).  Or buy the DVD set on Amazon (affiliate link).

Queer Eye, on Netflix

Synopsis: A reality show about being the best person you can be, with a little help from 5 gay men and non-binary people.  Each uplifting episode focuses on 1 person who gets a home, fashion, food, attitude, and grooming makeover.  (A recent episode showcased a groups of high school students.)  A reboot of the 2002 - 2007 TV show.  
Seasons & episodes: 52 episodes, plus 4 episodes shot in Japan and 2 specials.  Episodes are around 1 hour long.
Education tie-in: LGBTQ+ issues, developing empathy and a growth mindset
How to Watch: Subscribe here (free trial not offered).

Servant of the People, on Netflix

Synopsis: The TV comedy that propelled Volodymyr Zelensky to the presidency of Ukraine.  It’s a hilarious satire that skewers politicians and politics.  Although set in Ukraine — and it’s fascinating to see what Kyiv and other parts of the country looked like before the war — the issues it addresses and its plots are relevant to other countries as well.  Although produced some years ago, it’s only just recently been made available on Netflix again. 
Seasons & episodes: 3 seasons, 23 episodes in the first 2 season and 3 episodes in the final season.  Episodes in Seasons 1 and 2 are 23 - 35 minutes long, except for the first episode of each season which is longer, and the episodes in Season 3 range from 42 - 65 minutes long.
Education tie-in: Current events.
How to Watch: Subscribe here (free trial not offered).  Or buy the Season 1 DVD on Amazon (affiliate link).

All Creatures Great and Small, on PBS

Synopsis: Heartwarming story about a veterinarian in Yorkshire, England, in the interwar period of the 20th century.  A drama about animals and the people who care for them.  Based on the books by James Herriot.  PBS made an earlier TV show based on the books in the 1970s. 
Seasons & episodes: 2 seasons, 6 episodes each plus 2 Christmas specials.  Regular episodes are 53 minutes long, specials are longer. 
Education tie-in: The changing roles of women, socio-economic class issues, England between World War I and World War II, treatment of animals.
How to Watch: Watch both seasons for free with a PBS Passport subscription.  Or buy the Season 1 DVD on Amazon (affiliate link).  Alternatively, you can get a 7-day free trial to PBS Masterpiece on Amazon and stream both seasons (affiliate link).

Outlander, on STARZ

Synopsis: A hard to classify story of time travel and romance about a 20th century English nurse and 18th century Scottish rebel.  Based on the books by Diana Gabaldon.  Episodes in the first 4 seasons switch back and forth between the centuries but the last 2 seasons are set in 18th century pre-Revolutionary War America.
Seasons & episodes: 6 seasons, 75 episodes (1 more season has been greenlit so far). Episodes are around 60 minutes, give or take a few minutes, except for the last episode of Season 2 which is 90 minutes.
Education tie-in: The Jacobite rebellions in Scotland; the Southern Colonies in America before the Revolutionary War; the changing role of U.S. women.
How to Watch: On Amazon, stream Season 1, Episode 1 for free, then watch the rest with a 7-day free trial to STARZ through Amazon and/or pay to stream individual episodes through Amazon (affiliate link).

Quotation  by Aja Naomi King about watching TV
Source: The ESL Nexus

Happy Viewing!


Monday, April 25, 2022

Resource Round Up for Teacher Appreciation Week: Deals for Teachers

My annual blog post with discounts for Teacher Appreciation Week is a little different this year.  Instead of highlighting specific offers for teachers in various categories such as restaurants, stores, and museums, I’m doing a round up of websites that have collated deals from all over.

Find links to special deals for teachers in this resource round up of websites that are celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week
Source: The ESL Nexus
The reason is that this year, Teacher Appreciation Week goes from May 2nd through May 6th and many sites that I listed in previous years have not announced their special deals for teachers yet.  However, I want to publish my blog post before the week starts, to give you time to read through and see which offers you’d like to take advantage of.   
So I’m sharing these meta lists with you, and they say they will be updated for Teacher Appreciation Week as the places announce their deals.  These lists also include year-round offers so hopefully you will find them useful longer than for just the week designated for teachers.  (Because, of course, teachers should be celebrated all year long, not just 1 week!) Unfortunately, though, it also means that you'll have to click on the links that appeal to you to see which offers are valid, although in some cases that is noted in their blurbs.  I know your time is limited so sorry about that.

Websites Listing 2022 Teacher Appreciation Week Deals

* From dontpayfull: Teacher Discounts 2022: The Complete List of Offers for Educators

* From Parade: 160+ Well-Deserved Freebies and Discounts for Teachers, Including Teacher Appreciation Week Deals Offered Now
* From dealhack: Teacher Discounts Guide: The Ultimate List of Stores
* From Edmentum: The Best Deals of Teacher Appreciation Week 2022

* And from PTOToday: Teacher Appreciation Week 2022 Resources
The first 4 websites overlap each other and include many of the same resources.  The last one is more about ways families, friends, and colleagues can honor the teachers in their lives.  I haven’t verified all the links so it’s possible that some of them won’t lead to special offers for 2022.
Considering how difficult teaching has been this year and throughout the pandemic years, I hope you find at least 1 thing on 1 of these sites that will make your week a little nicer.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!