Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Thirteenth Edition ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnivals

Let me start by saying that it is quite intimidating to follow up Candace William’s Twelfth Edition ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival. She did a wonderful job introducing and transitioning between each blog submission. I am in no way as creative, so I apologize in advance, however I will give it a shot. Before we get started here is some information to make note of. Alice Mercer will be hosting the next blog carnival on December 1, 2009 at The Blog of Ms. Mercer. Following her, in February 2010, is Shelly Terrell at Teacher Reboot Camp: Challenging Ourselves to Engage Our Students and in March 2010, Karenne Sylvester at Kalinago English: Teaching Speaking Using Technology. If you would like to submit one of your blog posts for one of these upcoming blog carnivals, you can do so here. Lastly, hosting the Thirteenth Edition ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival is a privilege and I want to thank Larry Ferlazzo for allowing us the opportunity.

Yesterday, the circus, aka “The Greatest Show on Earth,” came to town here in Denver, CO. Today, however, we have our own “circus stars” to feature in the Thirteenth Edition ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival. I would like to present to you…

Ringmaster, Larry Ferlazzo
Larry Ferlazzo is the author of Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day …For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL. As ringmaster, Larry will direct us all to the important question “Separate High Schools for Immigrants?

Pyrotechnics and Sound, Nik Peachey
Nik knows how to set the stage and add all the fireworks and pizzaz when introducing Web 2.0 Tools for EFL ESL Teachers at Nik’s Quick Shout through his latest presentation in video and scribd booklet format. And, to make sure that the audience doesn’t get bored, he dazzles us with Creating your Broadcast Network, a collection of tools that Nik himself uses to “put information ‘out there.'”

Lion Tamer, Karenne Sylvester
Karenne is the tamer of all the lion hearted ESL/EFL/ELL teachers as she discusses the ins and outs of Twitter in her blog post The English Language Teacher Guide to Twitter, tech tip #11. Not only does Karenne tame those familiar with English as a Second Language but she also guarantees that those in the audience also understand “What’s a TEFL Teacher?” in her blog, Kalinago English: Teaching Speaking Using Technology.

Tightrope Walker, Johanna Stirling
Johanna balances and performs on the tightrope while explaining the skills needed to successfully use spell checkers. For the observers who are too distracted by her performance to take notes, they can find the answer to Spell checkers- how useful are they? at The Spelling Blog.

Animal Caretaker/Trainer, David Deubel
David is our featured animal caretaker/trainer. Working with animals is never an easy task, but David makes every effort to provide those in his care with the tools and encouragement to be successful. Stop by and say hello after the show. David and his friends can be found at EFL Classroom 2.0- Teacher Talk: Presentations to help new teachers.

Flying Trapeze Artist, Chiew N Pang
Chiew is a one man circus all himself as he flies from one trapeze to the next. The first combination of stunts is Ideas for the First Lesson and Ideas for Using Videos in the Classroom. As his finale, Chiew makes it fun for all with a Cockney Rhyming Slang, Game for a Steffi? Time for a Bubble?

Acrobat, Barbara Sakamoto
There is never just one acrobat at the circus. It seems they always perform as a group and put on a spectacular show when they work together. Barbara has mastered working with groups and shares her journey from the “pre-Internet 80’s” to the “social 2000’s” and experiences with PLN’s. What is a PLN, anyway? I’ll let Barbara tell you at her blog Teaching Village: We’re better when we work together.

Aerialist, Shelly Terrell
Shelly Terrell sores above the rest Getting Children Involved with Edtech at Teacher Reboot Camp. She also invites others to join her PLN up high with Voice Thread. Audiences are amazed as what they perceive as the impossible happens right before their eyes.

Fire Breather/Eater, Mary Ann Zehr
Mary Ann is not afraid of hot topics. She will astonish those watching with spectacular feats of fire at her blog post, Learning the Language: We Don’t Know Much About the ELLs in Charter Schools, as she eats and breathes issues concerning English Language Learners.

Juggler, JP Loucky
JP is not your average juggler. He juggles people at his CALL 4 All ning where he presents a CALL Collaboration Proposal. For those of you not familiar with CALL, it is an acronym for Computer Assisted Language Learning. So if you are interested in networking with other jugglers, give JP’s blog post a visit.

Contortionist, Rafael
Rafael displays his contortion abilities and talents bilingually. At his blog post Classroom language when using the board / Lenguaje útil del profesor de Inglés en la Pizarra, Rafael demonstrates a variety of questioning techniques teachers can incorporate while at the board so that students stay engaged in the lesson.

Unicyclist, Nightwalker
This unicyclist is not just talented in one area as some might assume. He has skills. “Skills?” you say. Yes, Nightwalker is proficient in balancing reading, listening, writing, and speaking skills to support his demonstrations. One performance that Nightwalker is best known for is Dictation. “Why Dictation?” you say. You’ll just have to stay for the show to find out.

Trampolinist, Janet Bianchini
Janet is “high on the hog” when she is on the trampoline and makes it look like “a piece of cake.” Her blog post WikiEducator Update demonstrates her skills as a WikiEducator using Wordle and idioms.

Circus Clown, Ann Foreman
Ann is one clown that stuns the crowd with her karaoke skills. When Ann is not performing, she hosts karaoke parties for the rest of the circus clowns. They all practice for their time in the spotlight using the Sing and Investigate Task at her blog Encouraging learner autonomy.

Encore: You can view all blog submissions here. Have a great school year and we look forward to seeing you again soon at “The Greatest Show on Earth.”


Lost Generation

A simple yet profound monologue. Let’s encourage the students and young adults in our lives to think backwards.  

Amazon Book Review – 1st Post

After my classes created a book review rubric, it was really important to begin writing their first review. One of my criteria was that they must finish a book before they review it.  While that might not always be necessary, a lot of my students struggle to really describe why they aren’t liking a book.  I get a lot of “It’s boring.”  I am working to try and get them to really understand why they don’t like it, but they aren’t all totally there yet, but that is another problem.

They had to use the rubric to write their rough draft.  We talked about what elements they should include in the review and in what order.  Descriptive words, we decided, needed to be added after the rough draft was completed.  It was a polishing area as opposed to a component of the review.  After they finished their rough draft, they edited it for content and word choice.  I then edited it once more.  I had my students write out the review because they are not able to draft on the computer and polish their writing in the 20 minutes that I have in the computer lab.  There is also no way to save the review to complete at a different time.  

After they had created the review and edited it, we headed into the computer lab.  In order to post on Amazon, you must have a customer account.  Additionally, you must purchase something on the account.  If you purchase a book, you can then delete the payment information and still use the account to post reviews.  I had created screen shots to help students log in.  It is quite a process to login to the account, so there were many steps that they needed to follow.  You can see the login sheets here:  Logging in to Amazon.  

I was very glad that I had the screen shots for my students to use and that they had written their reviews ahead of time.  It took them the full 20 minutes (at least) to get the review entered and edited before publishing.  They were very excited about publishing it to the internet – I was as well.

We posted our first reviews in December and have since posted one more round.  They were able to access the account much faster which meant that they had time to edit their typos.  I am now having them post one review a month.

Note:  You might check your Amazon profile to make sure that is shows the reviews you have posted (or find your review under the book’s information).  I have run into a problem with my account.  None of my reviews had posted after my first test.  I have contacted customer service, but the problem hasn’t been totally fixed yet.  You might not have any issues with this, but it is something to keep an eye on.

2nd Note: 4/1/09 – I figured out the posting issue. When your students enter their review, have them select that they are over 13. This will allow the book review to be posted. This was not a privacy issue as the account they were posting under was Mrs. Duarte’s class, so their names don’t appear anywhere. I have also discovered that if one person writes a book review on The 13th Reality, no one else can post a review on it. That means that each student will have to create a review on a different book. This might be a problem depending on how many students you teach, then again, you can always create multiple accounts.

Word Walls

I was working with a teacher several weeks ago on various math strategies when an idea struck me. I was talking about the coordinate-graph vocabulary strategy that my colleague Laura Zoromski created (and I blogged about in an earlier post) because his students were struggling with vocabulary.  I mentioned word walls to him and he indicated that he used them.  That was when the idea hit – add an additional component to the wall.  If a student proves that he/she not only knows the definition of a word, but can use it and explain it to others, put their name under the word on the word wall.  That way, if a student has a question about that word, they know that they can ask the teacher or one of the students listed there.  It would also provide a way to see what words most of your students truly own and those you need to reinforce.  I think if you paired it with the coordinate-graph strategy, students will become much for effective in self-evaluating their level of knowledge – which is the direction I think we need to be heading.

Amazon Book Reviews – Rubric Creation

Before my students started writing their own book reviews, I wanted to make sure that they knew the target that they needed to aim for – that is what I call a rubric.  We used the same four sections from the book review highlight activity:  who should read this book?, descriptive words, plot, and opinions.  We added three optional categories:  characters, genre, and rating.  After we had each of the topics that they needed to include, we started filling out a rubric together on the overhead.  Since we had created a booktalk rubric together earlier in the year and they had been assessed on the rubric, they were familiar with the possible scores they could receive in each area:  advanced, proficient, partially proficient, unsatisfactory, or no attempt.  We usually fill out the advanced first, then work our way down the scale.  We listen to everyone’s ideas and come to a consensus.  After we create the rough draft, I type up the information, create an overhead and have my classes review the information.  I want to make sure that they agree to everything on the rubric, because that is what they are going to be required to do.

Each of the rubrics look a little different, based on the decisions of each class.  Here is an example that my class came up with:


So, after the creation of the rubric, it was time for them to write their own book review…to be continued.

Building Background

The longer I teach, the more I realize that activating my students’ background knowledge about a topic is critical.  I find this especially true with ELL students.  There are lots of ways to find out what your students already know about a topic and what misconceptions they have.  This is also incredibly important – what do students not understand.  

There are several ways that I try and get at my students’ knowledge beyond KWL charts or having a whole class discussion.

Brain dump – where students draw a picture, give an example, or write down everything that they know about a topic or vocabulary words or a process, etc.  I might have students do this as a warm-up activity, an exit ticket, or at the beginning of a unit.  If it is an exit ticket, I would assign it before we started a new unit or topic.  That way I can collect some information that informs my instruction in the unit.  There are many off-shoots or extensions for this activity.  After students have written, you can group them using a Kagan structure (like HandUp, StandUp, PairUp) and have them share their thinking (maybe using RallyRobin).  This allows them to hear about many sets of knowledge.  You need to keep in mind that some students might share some incorrect information.  This is why you will probably want to collect their writing – so that you can address these.

What is the topic?  – You can use this strategy when you are introducing a new topic.  You write vocabulary words on the board (or overhead, etc) and based on the words, the students must decide what you will be focusing on.  This allows you to see if your students have any frame of reference for the topic.

What words don’t fit? – This activity is similar to the previous, except the students are told the topic and they must decide which words written on the board (or overhead) should be included in the unit and which words should be discarded. 

My colleague, Laura Zoromski, has created a great building background activity that she uses in her math class.coordianate-graph-explanation Click on this link to view an example and the explanation.

If you have a specific set of vocabulary words that you will be teaching, you can have the students pre-assess their familiarity with the words.  You can create a basic chart that lists the word and options on a knowledge continuum.  vocabulary-checklist Click on this link to view an example.  After you have taught the unit, have students re-evaluate where they fall on the continuum.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of strategies, but these are some simple, quick, and useful ways to help your students activate their background knowledge.

LàTeen Magazine

 Today, while I was viewing the exhibits at the NMSA conference, I came across a very interesting magazine. The magazine is specifically for Latino teens and is appropriately named LàTeen. LàTeen was originally created by a class of 8th graders and their teacher. At this time, I do not know all of the details as to how the magazine became what it is today. There is a website to accompany LàTeen, but it is still under construction. However, you can visit and register your school or classroom for a free 6-month subscription (must have tax id). Teens or Youth can also register for an individual free 6-month subscription.


LàTeen Magazine contains articles in Spanish and English (the same article is not featured in both languages). The articles are about fashion, sports, famous Latinos, and much more. I look forward to receiving my first copy to read through and report back on some ways to incorporate this magazine into the classroom. If you or your students have already had the opportunity to read LàTeen Magazine, please share with us your thoughts

20 Questions

Last Christmas, my husband and I were invited to a white elephant party and were looking for a nice but fun gift to bring when we came across the handheld game 20Q’s. My husband was immediately addicted and we bought one as our gift. That little bit of background leads me to my current thoughts on an inexpensive but useful classroom tool for English language learners or struggling readers.

In order to play the game, you must pick a common object that most people would know about, be able to read or have someone read the questions for you, and then answer questions about your object’s characteristics. The choices are yes, no, and sometimes. The online game provides more answer choices. Here is a sample question. (I indicated that my object was an animal.)

Q2.  Does it have fur? 

 Yes ,   No  , Unknown, Irrelevant, Sometimes, Probably, Doubtful

Fun for struggling readers:

My nephew turned 15 this summer and I was stumped as to what to give him that wouldn’t just be thrown in his room and never used. Thankfully, I remembered the 20Q’s game and thought that it would be something he would enjoy. I was right. He and my husband played with the game pretty much all day and then again at dinner that night. My nephew is what most educators would classify as a struggling reader due to dyslexia and isn’t interested in reading. However, this “toy” required him to read the questions presented in order for the game to guess his object. My husband commented later that he thought the 20Q’s game would help our nephew with his reading because there were times when he did not know a word and would have to ask for help. 

Reinforcement/Fun for ELLs:

In an ELL classroom (only ELL students such as NEPs or NEPs and LEPs), 20 questions could be used to teach vocabulary and the characteristics of vocabulary. For example, if students are learning English for the first time, it is important for them to learn common school objects. The facilitator (teacher, instructor, para, tutor) will show them pictures of these objects or point them out around the school or in a book. Once the students are familiar with the names of these objects, identifying their individual characteristics creates a deeper understanding of the object and allows the students to then begin comparing and contrasting the objects or categorizing them into groups (comparing and contrasting and categorizing are higher level thinking skills). 

In addition to the content vocabulary such as the school objects, ELLs would also need to understand the academic vocabulary that is included in the game such as yes, no, unknown, irrelevant, sometimes, probably, and doubtful. If the students have no knowledge of these words then it is impossible for them to answer the question correctly. 

In a content classroom with ELL students, this “toy” could be useful as a “filler” (something that they could do after they have finished their work or if there are a few minutes left of class). 

The game is available in stores such as Target, Wal-mart, K-mart, and Toys r Us for approximately $7-$10. 

It is also online at

If you have used 20Q’s in your classroom or have any other ideas on how 20Q’s could be incorporated into the classroom, please share your experiences and ideas with us.