Author: Tracie Heskett-Guest Blogger

ESL – Another Perspective

I suppose one way to get a “crash course” in teaching English Language Learners is to go to them. I had just that opportunity last year, when I traveled to Slovakia to teach English for two weeks. Check out TEFL teaching in Thailand if you’re interested in a similar opportunity. In our classes we had students of all ages, at all stages in their process of learning English. I was privileged to work a week with the beginning class, and then a week with the advanced class. Our task, as much as teaching the students English, was to engage them, motivate them to come to class each day, and encourage them to speak only English in class – a tough challenge when we were in their country, and they could—and would—speak their native language as soon as they stepped outside the classroom. I was surprised to find the same basic principles of ELL instruction I had learned in an American class on how to teach ELL students put into practice in another country.

Build Background Knowledge

  • Get students talking with simple sentence frames:

I am _____.

I have _____.

I like _____.

Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Have students use pictures to help them describe themselves, their pets, families, favorite foods, places, etc.

  • Allow students to use translation resources, such as picture dictionaries, for introductory activities.
  • Students need to know how to say the letters in English to help them spell and learn new words – a spelling bee or a game of hangman is a great way to have students practice their pronunciation.
  • Teach students simple questions they can use to help in their process of learning English.

How do you say that?

What is that word?

Please speak more slowly.

Will you repeat that, please?

Use Comprehensible Instruction

  • Create word charts to help students distinguish between verb tenses.
  • Use different colors to add a new concept to something students already know, for example, to add contractions after students have learned a pronoun-verb structure.
  • Use gestures in a listening exercise to help students distinguish between sounds in two columns of a word chart.
  • Introduce new words or concepts before doing dictation.

Encourage Active Participation

  • Have students dramatize feeling words.
  • Have students learn the meaning of prepositions by using objects to act out each word.
  • Have students practice asking and answering questions: Place a variety of items in a small bag or backpack. Have students take turns selecting an item and hiding it from view. Classmates will ask questions to guess the hidden item. Vary the types of questions and answers required based on students’ English proficiency level (yes/no questions for beginners, questions that provide a word choice for intermediate students, etc.).
  • Invite students to teach words in their language – they will have to practice their English to teach others.

These classes were offered during the summer. One characteristic that stands out in my mind is that it didn’t feel like school, even though we were in classrooms from 9 to 3 every day (with a lunch break). We engaged the students in conversation, maintained the pace with games, activities, and movement, and spent most of the time working with students in small groups, a good summary to remember the next time I work with ELL students!

Tracie Heskett has taught multiple grades in public and private elementary schools in southwest Washington. She currently writes teacher resource materials and curriculum. She has authored many books for Teacher Created Resources including Blogging in the Classroom, Going Green, and Traits of Good Writing. Her most recent series Strategies to use with Your English Language Learners and Math Strategies to use with Your English Language Learners were released in May 2012.

Tips for Starting a Classroom Blog

I correspond on a regular basis with a group of writers who also teach at writers’ conferences. We attend other workshops as well, in which we hear how it is important to have an “online presence.” Is an online presence also important for us as classroom teachers? Is it important for our students? I’m fortunate to be able to visit a few classrooms each year, different grade levels, different school districts. I’ve not been in a classroom yet with an active blog, or even a classroom where students have much access to computers apart from scheduled time in the computer lab. It makes me wonder if education has not fully entered the online community.

On the other hand, in my research I visit a number of classroom blogs online. It’s exciting to see what teachers across the country are doing with technology in their classrooms. However, many of the blogs I’ve read are written by the teacher, as a way of giving information to parents and other members of the community about classroom events and students accomplishments; very little content is student-generated.

My recent experiences in education make me wonder if blogging really has a place yet in the classroom. Our teaching time seems limited, with mandates to “teach to the test.” Connecting students with computers is not always convenient. These issues, and more, raise questions in my mind about the relevance of blogging in the classroom.

Why should students blog?
Blogging helps students improve their writing skills with the promise of an authentic audience. Blogging provides the opportunity for interactive learning.

How can we set up a blog and maintain student privacy and safety?
Have students hand write blog posts or type on a word processor and enlist the help of volunteers to enter the posts on the blog. Display student posts in class to read and discuss comments. Always have your students use only their initials or a “user name” to protect their identity. Label photographs with the event, rather than the name of the school, teacher, or students.

How can I set up a blog and work around district firewalls?
Check with the network administrator to find out if the blog platform you want to use is blocked and ask if they will unblock the site or mark your blog URL as safe. Once the URL has been marked as safe, you can complete the initial set up of the blog from a home computer, if necessary.
Obtain permission to access, an education-friendly site specifically set up for teachers. Obtain permission to use, with the agreement that the navigation bar will be disabled. This limits the blog’s exposure on the Internet and prevents students from accidentally navigating away from the blog.

How can I make time for blogging?
Rotate groups of students through the blog so that each group posts once a week. Alternatively, assign one group of students to make one (or more) blog posts for a week and then have another group take the next week. Readers may appreciate the consistency more than the frequency.
Incorporate blog posts into routine class assignments, even if students initially write by hand. For example, student notes prior to conducting a classroom debate can be used to begin a conversation on a blog. Post student conclusions from science experiments to start discussions about new learning, how well the conclusions support the hypothesis, and what students would change the next time they performed the experiment.

Summer is a good time to take stock of changes and new ideas we want to incorporate in the new school year. Thinking about this with you has challenged me to consider once again the benefits of blogging – and how it can help me to do my job better – to provide resources for teachers.

Tracie Heskett has taught multiple grades in public and private elementary schools in southwest Washington. She currently writes teacher resource materials and curriculum. She has authored many books for Teacher Created Resources including Blogging in the Classroom, Going Green, and Traits of Good Writing.