Monday, November 14, 2022

What are Land Acknowledgments and Why They Matter

The first time I encountered a land acknowledgment was in the closing credits of Mystery Road, an Australian TV show.  It said the show was filmed on the lands of three Indigenous Australian communities and the producers thanked the traditional owners.  The next time I heard of this practice was when my cousin mentioned it was part of her California college’s orientation for first-year students. 
So what is a land acknowledgment and why is it important?  Since November is Native American Heritage Month, I decided to write a blog post about it.  I’ll also add a note about terminology at the end of this post.

Photo of Navajo rug with blog post title overlaid on it
Source: The ESL Nexus

Definition of a Land Acknowledgment

In its simplest form, a land acknowledgment is a sentence recognizing that an area was originally settled or used by a particular Indigenous community.  It’s a statement that expresses respect for the people who were there before the current users of the land.
A land acknowledgment can also go beyond a factual statement of who used to live on the land.  It is one way of showing that Indigenous people are still present and active in society.  It can honor Indigenous people who work in the same field as the person making the land acknowledgment.  It can also provide a starting point for addressing the wrongs that were committed against Indigenous people.

When is a Land Acknowledgment Made?

Historically, many Indigenous community activities began with a prayer that acknowledged the land they lived on.  This practice was adopted and adapted by New Zealanders, Australians and Canadians and is now becoming more common in the U.S.
A land acknowledgment is made when someone wants to express gratitude to the Indigenous people who took care of the land before it was colonized by Europeans.  Frequently used at the start of an event or activity, it’s intended to show appreciation of the Indigenous people whose land is currently being used by other people.  A land acknowledgment can be made at the beginning of a meeting or class, when a government building or school or museum is constructed on Indigenous land, and at the start of a religious service or sports event.

How to Find Out which Indigenous Community to Acknowledge

If you don’t know on whose traditional land you reside, work, or participate in activities, the easiest way to find out is to search online for the information.  Native Land is a website displaying a land acknowledgement map you can use to get started.  You can also contact your local library and ask the reference section, which is what I did when the online info wasn’t clear to me.  Another source may be a local college – you can call and ask if there is an Indigenous Studies program or office that can help you.

Appropriate Ways to Do a Land Acknowledgment

Stating that your home or activity or building is on Indigenous land is a beginning.  You might want to consider who is an appropriate person to make the land acknowledgment: Inviting a local person from the Indigenous community would make the acknowledgment more meaningful.
But a land acknowledgment can go a lot further than mere words.  It can and perhaps should suggest concrete ways that the current users of the land will support the Indigenous people who came before you and who still live in the area.  A good land acknowledgment demonstrates realization that the present occupiers of the land were not the first users of it, that an Indigenous community stewarded the land before it was taken from them, and that Indigenous people have not disappeared from the land and have much to offer the current users of it.

Quotation by Plenty Coups, Crow Nation leader, about the land
Source: The ESL Nexus
Where to Find Land Acknowledgment Examples

* The Native Governance Center provides a list of tips and questions for crafting a land acknowledgment.
* The National Environmental Education Foundation has a 3-step guide on its website for how to create a respectful land acknowledgment.
* The American Indians In Children’s Literature website has helpful suggestions.
* The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (which is not a Federal Government agency) offers free virtual backgrounds that include land acknowledgments.

A Note about Terminology

A couple of my TpT resources are about the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.  One of them is a set of task cards about a traditional Thanksgiving meal with word problems whose answers are fractions. 
The other is a set of word search and crossword puzzles about Thanksgiving with 20 vocabulary words about the holiday.  It also includes a reading passage about the Wampanoag people and English settlers; the text discusses the origins of the holiday and why some people no longer celebrate it. 
One of the vocab words is Indian.  Although I know that that word is no longer considered the best way to identify Indigenous people, I included it for a couple reasons.  First, the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Institution, says it is acceptable although of course the best thing to do is ask someone what they prefer to be called.  The other reason I included it is because English Learners will most likely hear or read the word in school so consequently I think they should be aware of it, especially if they are reading primary source documents where it is often used.
But another of my TpT resources is about words in English that are derived from Indigenous North American words.  There are 18 words from Algonquian languages and 12 words from Nahuatl.  The words are presented as task cards and 8.5” x 11” posters and come in color and black-and-white.  This resource also includes maps showing where the languages were/are spoken.  If you prefer not to teach explicitly about the Thanksgiving holiday during Native American Heritage Month, you might prefer this resource instead.

Cover of TpT resource about English Words with Algonquian and Nahuatl Roots
For more info about this resource, please click HERE

More Information

If you are looking for additional activities and resources for Native American Heritage Month, you might find these blog posts helpful:
* 8 Thanksgiving Books That Even ELLs Can Read!
* Compare and Contrast the Pilgrim and Wampanoag Cultures with these Photos
* How to Teach about Thanksgiving in a Culturally Appropriate Way

This blog post was written in my home office, which is located on the ancestral lands of the Tohono O’Odham people in what is now Arizona.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Download a Free Halloween Trivia Activity for You and Your Students!

I was at a Halloween party this afternoon and we did a trivia game about the holiday.  I decided to adapt it into a fun Halloween activity you can do with your students.

This free resource includes 15 questions about Halloween in 2 versions.  The first version includes all the questions on 1 page.  You can use this version if you're displaying it on an interactive whiteboard or giving copies to small groups of students.  The second version has the questions on 3 pages, with space to write the answers.  You can use this version if you want your students to answer the questions on their own.  A 2-page student answer sheet is included.  The answer key not only provides answers to the questions but also, in some cases, a little more information about the topic in the question.  All the info in the answers was found in various websites and was double-checked to ensure it was correct.

Picture of candy corn with a pumpkin on a black background, with the words Halloween Trivia at the top and the words 15 Questions and Answers at the bottom

To get your free copy of this resource, please click HERE.  You'll be taken to a page where you can download a copy for yourself.

How To Do This Halloween Activity

* As a bell ringer: In the days leading up to Halloween, ask a few questions at the beginning of your class as students enter and get settled.
* As a filler: If you have extra time at the end of a period, you can ask these questions.
* As a whole class activity: Display the questions on an interactive whiteboard or read them out loud and tell students to write down their answers.  You can give them the student answer sheet to record their responses or they can write or type their answers on paper or a device.
* In small groups: Each member of the group can take turns reading a question and everyone in the group can answer it on their individual student answer sheets.  Then they can discuss their answers and try to reach a consensus on the correct response.  Alternatively, after a question is read out loud, they can start discussing the answer right away and then record their answer on the student answer sheet.  When all the small groups have answered all the questions, you can ask each group to share their answers with the whole class to find out which responses are correct.  Another way to do this in small groups is to have the groups write their answers on large flipchart paper or butcher paper, then post the sheets around the room and tell students to walk around and read what all the other groups wrote.  Then come back as a whole class to discuss the answers.
* In pairs: Students can alternate reading the questions and giving answers (or guesses).  Then they can use the answer key to check their work or you can have everyone regroup as a whole class and go over the answers together.
* Individually: Give each student a copy of the student answer sheet.  Either also make copies of the questions and distribute the questions to everyone, or display them so everyone can see them.  Give everyone time to finish answering the questions, then go over them together as a whole class.
* As a contest: Divide your class into 3 teams.  Rotate and ask each team a question.  Give them a minute or so to discuss the answer and then ask a team member for their final answer.  After each team gets 5 questions and all the questions have been asked and answered, see which team has answered the most correctly.  You can give a prize if you wish but perhaps candy isn’t the best thing!

Other Fun Halloween Activities

These TpT resources also teach your students Halloween vocabulary words and customs and traditions about the holiday.  Just click on the text links for more info about each resource:

Image of 4 covers of TpT Halloween resources by The ESL Nexus

* Halloween Word Search and Crossword Puzzles (3 differentiated word searches and 1 crossword puzzle with word bank, all using 20 Halloween-related words, in print and digital versions)

* Halloween Bundle with Task Cards and Puzzles (print and digital task cards, differentiated for English Learners at different proficiency levels, plus the puzzles resource)

* Halloween Vocabulary: Match Definitions with Words -- Boom Cards (using the same 20 vocab words as the puzzles resource, students match words with definitions; audio component included)

* Halloween Vocabulary Answer the Questions -- Boom Cards (similar to the task cards resources, students answer questions about Halloween vocabulary words; 3 levels of difficulty and audio component included)
These activities will surely get your students into the Halloween spirit!  

Happy Halloween!


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!