10 Classroom Accommodations for ESL Students

21 Mar

English Language Learners (ELL’s) need support adjusting to an English classroom.  As teachers, it’s our responsibility (and passion)Image to differentiate instruction and provide appropriate accommodations so these ESL students can experience success and feel good about themselves and their learning.

Your first priority is to make sure the student feels a sense of belonging to the classroom community you’ve created, and is not afraid.  Learning will happen if the student feels welcomed, and then if lessons are differentiated to allow them to participate according to their abilities.

Here is a quick checklist of ways to accommodate an ELL in the classroom:

  • Represent their culture in the classroom
  • Give them time just to get familiar and comfortable with the class, school, and new peers.
  • Print clearly and simply – avoid cursive writing and  small text.
  • Support words and instructions – use images and visuals such as graphic organizers, pictures, and flow charts.
  • Monitor your own talking – speak clearly, avoid slang and idiomatic expressions.
  • Cue the student – create specific cues and rhythms for the classroom so they know what to expect during transitions.
  • Check for comprehension – use gestures, smiles, props, and one-word answers.  Avoid “do you understand?”
  • Give extra time for tasks and assignments
  • Diversify assessment strategies – write, say, and do.
  • Word Walls with key vocabulary they need across all subjects

Teaching ESL students is an enriching experience and really helps us develop as teachers.  Embrace the opportunity and challenge and enjoy the trip~!

Listening to Stories While You Read Them: Supporting ELL’s

17 Mar

Supporting English Language Learners through their comprehension and engagement in a text is vital if they are to come to a love of reading in English.betty white

In preparing for a presentation on Supporting the ELL’s in our Ontario Classrooms, I was looking for current Canadian resources teachers can easily incorporate into their language arts curriculum for ESL students.  One such resource I wanted to share right away was StorylineOnline.   Storyline Online is a fabulous website that has popular English children’s picture books being read aloud by celebrities!  How interesting.  Not only can children experience a range of pronunciations by listening to books read aloud, they can increase their engagement in a text either in the class on the computer or at home.

I recommend choosing a text with a student and doing a “picture walk” with them through the book.  Discussing the pictures helps students to make predictions, and it activates the schema they already have for the topic making learning more meaningful.  You may want to ask them to share any experiences they have with the topic either orally or in writing.  Go over any challenging or new vocabulary, idioms, slang, and cultural references in the book.  Next, read it along with the student and let them have some time alone to read through it at their own pace if they’re able to do this.  You can then pull up this resource Storyline Online and have them listen to the book alongside reading it.  They may wish to do this a few times.  Finally, choose a consolidation activity you feel will best match their learning goals and needs.  This could be drawing pictures and describing their favourite part.  Identifying parts of the story such as the main characters, plot, setting, etc.  And one of my favourites is to have them change one of these parts and re-tell the story aloud.

Definitely check out this free online resource and let me know your thoughts! 🙂

One of my favourites?  Harry the Dirty Dog ready by Betty White


Take Time

17 Mar

“When you take the time to talk to students, remember: the first moments are sacred; they involve the honouring of the dignity of each life that you meet. Take the time to listen with your heart.”

– Aboriginal teacher

This quote resonated with me greatly.  It is from the Our Words, Our Ways: Teaching First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Learners document prepared by the Alberta Ministry of Education.  Find a free pdf copy here: http://education.alberta.ca/media/307199/words.pdf 


Visual Arts Exemplar – Picasso-style Portrait

9 Nov

Visual Arts Exemplar - Picasso-style Portrait

I’m sad to say that my semester of curriculum and instruction in visual arts has come to an end. Here are a few of my exemplars for an out of proportion lesson where we followed success criteria to make a Picasso-style portrait using markers and oil-based pastels. What a fun class!


Great Resources at EduGains.ca

9 Nov


There are a plethora of incredible resources I’ve been exposed to and come across here at Lakehead U, and this link I’m sharing today is by far one of the best.  For videos, resources, assessment and instructional strategies, and much, much more, make time for this link.  For ELT’s there is a whole section of resources for ELL’s worth checking out.  Dig into the links and look around, there is a lot of amazing information here.


Teaching ESL Yoga

4 Apr

Teaching ESL Yoga

Every Wednesday I teach ESL for young learners (ages 4-6) in a really fun, active way! English yoga for kids, language + movement games (kinesthetic learners unite!), and some kids aerobics, too. Here we’re adding an Egyptian dance move to tree pose – always a laugh! 🙂

So, How Many English Phonemes Are There?

2 Apr

Open a book on English phonics based on the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and you will learn there are 40 phonemes (sounds) in the English language produced from either a solitary letter or combination of the 26 letters in the alphabet.  However, there is some debating this number of phonemes, 40, and the discussion can be quite “phonemenal.”

English phonology is the study of the sounds that make up the English language.   Very important stuff to ELL’s and ESL teachers concentrating on helping eager students improve their speaking and pronunciation.

Masha Bell mentioned there being 44 phonemes in an article written two years ago (March, 2011) by Masha Bell for The English Spelling Society.

And in a discussion prompted by the suggestion of strictly 40 phonemes, a participant wrote,

“One hears numbers ranging from 36 to 46 for the number of phonemes in English. In teaching or learning English, one can disregard the exact number and simply teach the potential phonemes that participate in the greatest number of minimal pairs or sets first, and then work down from there.”Mxmanic

I hope you’re not reading this post to once and for all find the definitive answer – how many phenomes are there, anyway?!  Because, I am not giving an answer.

Personally, I believe an answer of how many phonemes there are may vary depending on which Nation’s English in reference.   Australian English varies in pronunciation from Canadian, and then there’s Britain to consider.   I’m sure there’s a phoneme count difference based on culture.

Despite there not being a general consensus across the globe on phonemes, I agree with “Mxmanic” when he suggested forget about the exact number and teach the ELL’s what they need to know!

Great advice, anyway you pronounce it.

Speaking Journals: A Step-by-Step Guide

9 Dec

An advanced ESL student asked me this week about how she can polish her speaking (and listening) skills while studying solo.  Her goal is near fluency, and I think it’s quite achievable for her – and quite formidable since she’s only ever lived in Seoul.

Already, she listens to American dramas and reviews the content with a script she’s purchased.  She also plugs into English radio while she’s working or studying, keeping a notepad handy for any new words or phrases.  Yet, she wants more practice speaking!   The few hours a week we have together is fantastic, she admits, but eagerly wants more chance to talk.

What are my suggestions?   I wanted to pinpoint ways she can speak outside of our lesson time, and learn from it  – by using a speaking journal.

A SPEAKING JOURNAL – This is great for smartphone users, who already have (or can download easily) an app for voice recording.  I suggested for her that instead of writing a journal, which she has done extensively in the past, she should “speak a journal.”  And to keep it interesting – don’t just make it about what you’ve done today or plan to do tomorrow, even though that is very great practice.  Because of her advanced English functioning, I suggested she change the topics – which focuses vocabulary, expressions, context, tone and so forth.

Here’s a step-by-step plan to get started with an ESL Speaking Journal:

  1. Find the app on your smartphone, or get one – iphone or android.   I have an android phone which came with a voice recorder, but you may want find one with more functionality.
  2. Try recording a small clip – introduce yourself – and see if you can email it to yourself.  The voice files should be able to be sent using a variety of social media popular in your country.  In South Korea, my students and I send and receive voice recorded files using email, SMS, and KakaoTalk.
  3. Now, prepare to speak!  Daily.  I recommend 5 minutes of continuous talking with only minor pauses in speech.  Pushing yourself to speak without stopping is a great way to strive for ESL fluency.  Think fast! 🙂  For the first time, talk about whatever comes to mind – about your day, what you’re doing, plans for dinner, etc.   Try to flow from the past to the future, which ensures you use at least a few verb tenses.
  4. Grab a companion journal (or a few pages from your current ESL Writing Journal^^) to write in.  In this journal, start a list of potential topics to discuss, so that you can refer to it on days when you don’t know what to talk about.  This is also a great place to add new vocabulary and expressions that comes up with this activity.
  5. Day 2 – First, speak about  a topic that interests you, for 5 minutes continuously, little pause in speech.  For example, I love tea, so I could talk about tea for 5 minutes.  In a second language that may be difficult because there is a lot of topic-specific vocabulary.  Great!  Along with speaking practice, “rounding out” your ESL repertoire is what you’re striving for.
  6. Day 2 – Second, listen to yesterday’s speaking journal recording.  By reviewing each recording a day later, it gives you some time to separate from what you’ve talked about so you can listen with a more objective ear.   With pen and companion journal in hand: Listen for errors in grammar;  Look up vocabulary words that would have been good to use; Write down expressions you liked using or would have liked to say;  Think of, or look up, some idiomatic expressions on the topic that you could have used.
  7. Once you’ve been actively keeping a journal for a week, ask your ESL Teacher if you can send her a file for a listen.  She or he may be able to give a listen and offer some advice!
  8. And most importantly, have fun.  Learning a language is difficult, takes time, and there is no point in time where you can say “I made it!”  Keep ESL a learning adventure and you’re bound to enjoy yourself.

If you have been keeping a Speaking journal, have tried it in the past or are eager to give it a whorl – please leave your advice and comments below!

My New Classroom in Songpa-Gu, Seoul!!

27 Nov

Is there anything more exciting than walking into a new classroom for the first time and imagining all the learning, laughter, frustrations and ultimately growth that will happen within those four walls?  How wonderful!  

Jennifer Teacher!  I am opening my very own, very new classroom at Jangji Station (장지역 – 8 호선) in Songpa-Gu, Seoul, on December 17th, 2012 – just in time for the new year.  

There is a lot to prepare as you can imagine and that is one of the reasons I’ve been so inactive on the social media front.  From curriculum considerations, materials prep, choosing texts and readers, tweaking programs and assessments so that everything will run smoothly and the way I would expect if I were paying for private language education.  So, this is a major growth time for me as an educator.  

Keep posted for updates! ^^

Thinking in a Foreign Language

20 Oct

It’s often said that thinking or even dreaming in a foreign language is THE marker of genuine fluency, but is this actually true?  Cogito ergo sum.  Je pense donc je suis.  I think, therefore I am.   Descartes sure thought so, but how does this apply to thinking in additional languages?

Answering this question requires getting to the absolute basis of what makes up a language.  Are words merely symbols or labels which we affix meaning too – replacing one set of labels for another repeatedly until our neo-cortex finally chooses one over another automatically?  Or is language an alternate reality one steps into and out of, imbued with culture and context?  I pulled this interesting comment from an online discussion on a similar topic:

What makes language exciting is that each one divides up the world into sometimes overlapping categories or concepts but there are different “seams” and “patches” to every quilt — you can say things in German which cannot be said in English.    -Unknown

What a beautiful thought – the world as one big cozy quilt of overlapping language patches, each filling in where another falls short.  French is the language of lovers, Japanese for sound effects and English for sarcastic, utilitarian purposes?  But seriously..

Learning a new language is not just about rote memorization of vocabulary and phrases.  One has to memorize and intuit new sets of labels and labeling systems for everything around and within them.   Effective teachers use miming, images or symbols to illustrate the meanings of new words rather than offering handouts and translations into their native language – attaching a new word to a image or movement makes it easier to think of, rather than translate from.  Many language learning resources take advantage of this (consider Rosetta Stone for example).

Linguists suggest that dreaming and thinking in another language is a goal of language learning.  There isn’t a set amount of time that one has to study for before being able to do this.  What matters is the amount of time and consistent effort a person puts into learning the desired language and immersing themselves in language and culture of the language that counts.   Within a few months (to years.. ahem..) of learning a new language, a person may start to notice some of their inner dialogues are in the new language rather than thinking in their native language and then speaking the translations.

Learning a new language takes time, effort and motivation.  Every person will experience language learning differently and there is no one formula for fluency.

So, as they say in Korea… 화이팅! (Fighting!)^^



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