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Online Resources

I wanted to share a blog that I follow. Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/. I like that Larry posts multiple websites relevant to current events, holidays, celebrations, and other miscellaneous and useful websites. These websites facilitate planning, provide background information, are educational in nature, or just resourceful when navigating the web. Because Mr. Ferlazzo teaches English language learners he always evaluates the sites that he references according to useability by ELLs.

I would like to know what blogs or websites you find helpful and informative.

Interactive News Websites

A couple of weeks ago my cousin passed away, and I traveled to Georgia to be with my family for the funeral. My cousin’s death was published in the local and state news papers and online. I was previously aware of the interactive side of news (being able to comment on an article) but had never commented on any articles or been on the receiving end of those comments. People who new my cousin or our family left notes of sympathy, love, and encouragement after the obituary. I thought this was a wonderful use of the interactive web. However, there were also comments left from readers of the news story (separate from the obituary). Some of the comments and opinions left were uncensored as far as how they may impact and affect the family of the deceased. I saw this as the less attractive side of the interactive web. 

Since then, I have been pondering how to blog about my new experience with the interactive web and what I learned from it. First, I think the ability to comment on the news can be thought provoking and beneficial. The comments of sympathy, love, and encouragement were overwhelming and brought joy and warmth to our family. However, I don’t think that it is a place where the random reader should write whatever they want just because they can. Maybe this falls under web etiquette.  

So, why did I blog about this and what does it have to do with English language learners? I think that this is another form of authentic writing that can be used with our students. Standard 2 of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) standards for the 21st-Century Learner states that “Learners use skills, resources, and tools to draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge.” As members of a democratic society, it is essential that our students know how to think critically and make informed decisions. It is also important to teach them how to participate ethnically and productively (AASL standard 3). The interactive news websites can be a tool we use to facilitate the teaching of these skills.

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.

Holiday Letter

 

As part of my continuing attempt to create authentic writing experiences for my students, I had my students write a holiday letter and mail it to a person of their choice.  There were many benefits and lessons to be learned here – friendly-letter format, summarization (milestones of their year), what a full address is, addressing an envelope, and the purpose of a holiday letter.

Here is what I discovered.  Even though my students are in middle school, most of them don’t know what constitutes a full address, they don’t know how to address an envelope, they have difficulties coming up with things to write about, and they were completely amazed that I was going to mail their letters.

We started by creating a foldable for friendly letters.  They needed to know the format before they could write an appropriate letter.  I created a powerpoint that broke the letter into three parts.  You can view and download the powerpoint here:  http://www.slideboom.com/presentations/36868/Friendly-Letter

This is what their foldable looked like:

 

Outside of foldable

Outside of foldable

Inside the foldable

Inside the foldable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stapled these into their spirals so that they could reference them, both for the holiday letter and their epals e-mails.

After they made their foldable, we started talking specifically about holiday letters and their purpose.  I brought several examples for them to peruse.  I prepared a powerpoint that shared topics, mood, and overall purpose for the letter.  This seemed to help several of my students decide on topics and the type of letter that they wanted to write.  You can view and download the powerpoint here:  http://www.slideboom.com/presentations/36907/Holiday-Letter

They finally started writing their letters.  I created a basic letter format that they would copy their final draft onto.  It had some generic pictures and text boxes on it.  It wasn’t that big, so they didn’t have to write a lot of information.  This was actually a good thing, because some of them really struggled with things to write about.

Here is what I would change next time:  I would give them more time to work on the project.  Some students struggled getting all of their information written, edited, and their envelop addressed.  I also need to work further on editing skills.  It is something that they are not proficient at.  I do feel, however, that this was a very worthwhile project and will probably expand it a little and repeat it next year.

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:

book-review-rubric1

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

Language Arts Stations

I have been working with a teacher who has an 8th grade Language Arts class that has quite a few ELL and SPED students.  She is struggling to find a way to meet the diverse needs in the class, work with students in small groups, and maintain classroom management.  I talked to this teacher about coming in and co-teaching with her.

I met with the teacher to plan out the lesson and decide what she wanted the focus to be.  She has been working on determining the subject and predicate in sentences and is moving into the different types of sentences.  She also wanted to be able to meet with a small group of kids.  We decided to set up stations.  She would create groups based on some classroom data.  That way when a group came to her, she would be able work on specific skills that that group was missing.  The four stations that we decided on were:  teacher station, creating sentences finding the subject and predicate, types of sentences foldable, and a parts of speech bingo.  I would create the foldable, provide the game, and an introduction to types of sentences.  She would create the stations, the subject and predicate station, and her teacher station materials.

Before class began, we arranged the desks in the class and put the materials at the appropriate stations.  When the students came in, we told them the station that they needed to sit at.  We did this because we knew that this group would struggle with movement after the instructions.  We started the lesson with an introduction to types of sentences.  I created a powerpoint (you can view or download it at this address: http://www.slideboom.com/presentations/32470/Types-of-Sentences ). to introduce the topic and explain the foldable.

After the introduction, we explained the task at each station.  At the subject/predicate station, students had to write one sentence based on a picture and then highlight the subject and predicate in each sentence. This sheet would be used as a pre-assessment for the teacher at her station (the one right after the subject/predicate station).

 

Subject/Predicate Station

Subject/Predicate Station

We got some good data from this station.  One entire group neglected to add a subject to any sentence.  This allowed the teacher to know exactly where she needed to begin her instruction – even further back than she had anticipated.  

At the foldable station,  students made a hotdog fold and cut out four sections.  Each section would be used to describe one of the types of sentences.  They would write a definition, a sample sentence, and a picture illustrating that picture.  They will use this foldable as a study guide for future assignments.

 

Types of Sentence Foldable

Types of Sentence Foldable

Inside of foldable.

Inside of foldable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With our short classes (only 45 minutes), we ran out of time very quickly.  Students did not get to finish the foldable.  We decided to create an overhead and have them finish it as a warm-up.  We would provide the definition and they would add the sample question and picture.  This would provide a quick assessment for the teacher to see if they comprehended the various types at a very simple level.

 

 

Students working in stations.

Students working in stations.

 

 

At our debriefing, we talked about how great a job the students did, how surprised she was that a group of students didn’t add subjects to any of their sentences, how she adjusted her instruction to that, the fact that students were upset when they couldn’t finish their foldable (how many students do you know who complain when they can’t finish their work?!?), and how to build in the time to finish the foldable during a later class.

All in all, the kids did a great job.  I think that this might be a strategy that will be successful with this class.  

On a different note, the more foldables that I make, the more excited I am about this strategy and using it with students.

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.

ePals

Almost a month ago, I signed my classes up at http://www.epals.com.  It is a website that matches classrooms from around the world that are looking to work on similar projects together.  I had my students get parental permission and started e-mailing teachers in other countries that had students of a similar age.  I finally had a class respond over the weekend and my students e-mailed students in Italy today.  My students are incredibly excited and enthused about communicating with students from around the world.

Here is how it works.  After you get parent permission (the site wants it for students under the age of 13, I made all of my students get one), you create an account for each student.  There are several options on the types of accounts that you can create for them – those are explained at the site.  After you have created the accounts, you get to select the amount of monitoring that you would like to have over each account.  I selected the highest level of monitoring, which means that each e-mail has to be approved for delivery both incoming and outgoing.  My students grumbled a little bit about this, but when I explained why this was necessary, they understood.  It was also a selling point with parents.  Students can access their account anywhere they have access to the internet.  I have signed up for computer lab time, our ePals are e-mailing us from their homes.

Even after our first day e-mailing, I can see the types of conversations that we will have about letter writing, use of slang, how to write questions, spelling, and editing on the computer.  I am excited to have them start receiving responses.

Eventually, I want them to share the books that they are reading and the literature that their ePals are reading.  This might lead into a shared project – the sky’s the limit!