Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Interactive Writing Strategies for English Lang…Wait, for ALL Learners!
By: Joshua Aguilar
As a first year 5th grade writing teacher, I entered the classroom not knowing what to expect. Sure, I had the Texas state standards (TEKS) to look at, but that wasn’t enough. My past experience as a kindergarten teacher for 2 years made me aware of how writing for that grade level of students looked like (mind you, these students are at the beginning stages of learning and developing their English writing skills), but how would writing look like for 5th grade students in their final year of elementary?
            I began to worry that I would not be able to teach my students effectively because I wasn’t familiar with how to teach writing. On top of all my worries, I found out that I would have 13 English language learners in my class and that I would need to assess their writing samples for their yearly Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) score! I began to take on so many responsibilities in such a short amount of time.
            Luckily for me, I acquainted myself with some great teaching tools and strategies that not only benefitted my English language learners, but also my general education and special education students as well.
            Writing is a very complex and difficult subject to teach. According to the state standards in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or (TEKS) for short, teachers at the 5th grade level are to teach and develop a student’s writing skills with regards to teaching the correct use of words that are commonly used incorrectly in the English language such as, affect/effect, less/fewer, were/we’re, etc., parts of speech (i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives), and also Greek and Latin suffixes just to name a few. The teaching strategies I can say that were very effective in developing my students’ writing skills were daily journaling, modeling writing, using sentence stems and pictures, and class sharing
Daily journal writing is a fun and a great way to engage students with writing and they also have a great experience with making their journals their own, by decorating it and being able to write freely in it. One way in which I used their daily journals was to teach grammar and to provide feedback on their writing. Journals have also been regarded as being a great way to assess students in a formative manner as they are developing or forming their writing skills in class. ELLs also benefited from the feedback I gave them on how to fix their mistakes or comment on their correct use of English.
MODEL, MODEL, MODEL! Yes, I feel modeling writing in English is one of the most effective strategies to use in the classroom. Showing student how to start an essay and what types of words to use can give them an idea of how their writing should look.
Sentence stems are also very useful for not only English language learners but for all students as well. They provide a starting point for students to begin their writing and also model common ways of how to start a sentence in English. Giving students writing prompts are also ways to activate their thinking and motivate them to write. You can even use prompts that relate to various subjects like science, math, social studies. For example, if you are teaching about the water cycle, use a writing prompt that relates to it so students can write about it.
Sharing is caring! Let your students share their writing with their classmates and develop their speaking skills. I use a karaoke machine in my class to encourage my students to speak and share their journal entries and essays and recast the correct way to say certain things in English for them. Having students keep writing portfolios is also a great way to assess their writing development throughout the school year. Also, attending professional developments that have a writing component can help teachers to develop their teaching skills and encourage their use of effective teaching strategies in the classroom for ALL students.
New to teaching writing? Check out these fun and interactive writing textbooks for teachers from Gretchen Bernabei! They will MAKE WRITING FUN AGAIN for you and your students!

Brown, D. & Abeywickrama, P. (2010). Language assessment - Principles and classroom             
practice. (2nd edition). White Plains, NY: Pearson/Longman.
Lee, O., Mahotiere, M., Salinas, A., Penfield, R. D., & Maerten-Rivera, J. (2009). Science           writing achievement among English language learners: Results of three-year intervention in urban elementary schools. Bilingual Research Journal, 32 (2),153-167.  doi:10.1080/15235880903170009
Schulz, M. M. (2009). Effective writing assessment and instruction for young English language        learners. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(1), 57-62.
Short, D. J., Echevarria, J., & Richards-Tutor, C. (2011). Research on Academic Literacy           Development in Sheltered Instruction Classrooms. Language Teaching Research15(3), 363-380.

One of my ELLs writing form the beginning of year in September 2017 to March 2018. Handwriting to typing out an essay.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Have Some Fun in Language Teaching with CLIL!

Have Some Fun in Language Teaching with CLIL!
By Zihan Geng
Have you ever heard complaints from your students about how boring learning a second/foreign language is?
“I hate memorizing grammar and vocabulary!” That is probably what most language learners say.
But do we have a better way to teach a language? The answer is YES!
Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) is “a dual-focused educational approach in which an additional language is used for the learning and teaching of both content and language” (Coyle, Hood, & March, 2010, p.1). In other words, in CLIL classrooms, the subjects are taught to the students in a second/foreign language.
For example, in a CLIL class of Chinese students, biology could be taught in English.
Research has shown that CLIL could foster students’ language learning without impeding content gains. Additionally, CLIL students could develop the new language naturally by listening to the lecture, discussing subjects, and completing assignments.
But you may ask, “how do we implement CLIL in our classroom teaching?” In this post, I will introduce the 4Cs model proposed by Coyle et al. (2010) for a successful CLIL implementation.
In CLIL, content not only refers to the knowledge the students need to acquire, but more importantly, considers the skills as well as the understanding. The final goal is to have the students to be able to construct their own knowledge and skills by building upon the acquired knowledge.
But how do we achieve that?
Discussions and follow-up assignments could be great opportunities for the students to digest and construct the newly learned content. If you are looking for some strategies for a good discussion, you may want to try this video Strategies for student centered discussion (classroom demonstration).
When the students enter the classroom, they bring their own cultures into the class. It is very important to create a multicultural classroom. That way, the class could be open to alternative perspectives. When we incorporate culture into our teaching, we need to make sure our students could actually “feel” different cultures by themselves.
An example would be a multicultural “fashion show”. Each student will be assigned to a specific culture, which they need to explore after class. On the “fashion show” day they need to wear the traditional clothes of that culture. They also need to briefly explain the meaning behind the clothes.
You can find some tips for celebrating diversity in the classroom here.
Cognition, here, refers to higher order of thinking. It links concept formation, understanding, and language development. Teaching thinking skills is one of the main points in CLIL.
For example, Science experiments could be perfect tools for students to discover, to think, and to enjoy learning.
Teachers could either pre-teach the important concept or let the students discover it. But don’t forget to provide guidance and scaffolding!
Communication is the key for language development. In a CLIL classroom setting, students are expected to use the target language to communicate.
Remember, your role should not be a language instructor but a guide or a facilitator!
We need to encourage our students to talk and use the language. Not just memorize or parrot it!
There are multiple ways to promote speaking in a CLIL classroom. For example, in the chemistry class, one student could describe the element and the other student could guess it.
However, as they are learning the new language, we should be always ready to provide help during these activities.
Previous studies have shown that CLIL could help students learn a second/foreign language without impeding content gains. Understanding the 4Cs framework presented here is a good start for a successful implementation of CLIL.  

After reading the 4Cs framework, do you feel more confident to implement CLIL in your classroom? Bring CLIL into your classroom! You’ll see how interesting and different language teaching could be!

Brewster, J. (n.d.). Thinking skills for CLIL [Blog post]. Retrived from http://www.onestopenglish.com/thinking-skills-for-clil/501197.article
Coyle, D., Hood, P. and Marsh, D. (2010). Content and language integrated learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Levin, V. (n.d.). Celebrating diversity in the classroom [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.pre-kpages.com/multicultural/
Papaja, K. (2013). The role of a teacher in a CLIL classroom. Glottodidactica. An International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 40(1), 147-153.
[Teresa A Thompson]. (2014, March 25). Strategies for student centered discussion [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N99Mg5LfFfM

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Need Help Teaching Content to English Language Learners?

If you are a teacher dreaming to help English Language Learners (ELLs) to improve their academic language and content knowledge, then CALLA is here to help you.

Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) is an instructional model to meet the academic needs of English language learners based on cognitive theory and research.

Using CALLA you can guide your students in a way that they can become self-regulated learners. But how?

We all know that formal academic language learning is challenging for ELLs as they are not exposed to academic language outside of the classroom and teachers do not spend enough time on improving academic language. Don’t worry as the five steps of CALLA can solve the problem.

 The most important step of CALLA is preparation. In this step, you concentrate on the students’ proficiency and try to activate their prior knowledge. But why do we have to activate our students’ prior knowledge? The answer is simple: to facilitate learning.

Just imagine how easier it would be for students to read a text on endangered species if the teacher already showed them some pictures of animals with their names on.

Passing the first step successfully, CALLA help teachers to promote appropriate learning strategies for different tasks. Then, the students will start practicing those tasks. Finally, teachers evaluate their students’ performances and motivate them to practice more by introducing new strategies.

Is teaching learning strategies useful? There is a bunch of evidence from research over the past four decades supporting the idea that explicitly teaching various self-regulating strategies improves learning. Many of these research studies focused on highly effective readers and learners who use a variety of strategies in interactive ways.

Such readers benefit from various learning strategies that are flexible and appropriate to the task. They are also active and strategic thinkers who can transfer strategies to new tasks and settings. As English learners develop English proficiency, it is important that the language literacy and content instruction include focus on learning and practicing various strategies.

Considering all the benefits of CALLA, more schools should encourage their teachers to use this approach. But even if your principal has not told you anything about CALLA, now you know how beneficial it could be and, by reading more about it, you can start using it as soon as possible.


Chamorro, M. E. G., & Paz, L. H. B. (2017). Improving language learning strategies and performance of pre-service language teachers through a CALLA-TBLT model. Profile, 19, 101-120.

Chamot, A. U. (2004). Issues in language learning strategy research and teaching. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 1(1), 14-26.  

Chamot, A. U. (2005). The cognitive academic language learning approach (CALLA): An update. In P. A. Richard-Amato and M. A. Snow, (Eds.), Academic success for English language learners: Strategies for K-12 mainstream teachers, 87-101. White Plains, NY: Longman.

Chamot, A. U. & Robbins, J. (2005). The CALLA Model: Strategies for ELL student success. Retrieved from http://www.calla.ws

Chamot, A. (2009). The CALLA handbook: implementing the cognitive academic language learning approach (2nd Ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Pearson

Chamot, A.U., & O'Malley, J.M. (1996). Implementing the cognitive academic language learning approach: issues and options. In R. Oxford (ed.), language learning strategies around the world, 167-173. Manoa: University of Hawaii Press

Echevarría, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners, the SIOP model. (3th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Nejad, B. S., & Shahrebabaki, M. M. (2015). Effects of metacognitive strategy instruction on the reading comprehension of English language learners through cognitive academic language learning approach (CALLA). International Journal of Languages’ Education and Teaching, 3(2), 133-164.

Struggles with Social Studies are HISTORY!

Have you ever struggled to teach history or social studies to your English language learners? This may be because the curriculum assumes that your students have prior knowledge about many things, such as historical figures or U.S. geography (Chamot, 2009). ESL researchers Schleppegrell, Achugar, and Oteiza, (2004) believe that textbooks about history/social studies are particularly tricky because they include specialized academic vocabulary, abstract concepts, and are often unclear about the subject/event to which they are referring. Anna Chamot (2009), who created a method for working with ELLs in the content areas, outlined these key principles for making social studies/history easier for ELLs:
·      Integrate geography across all social studies/history units to help ELLs who are unfamiliar with the states and regions of the U.S..
·      Use historical fiction books to introduce U.S. history or democratic concepts to young students. Examples of these include Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, and many more that can be found here.
·      Design your units of study to be chronological, theme-based, and include contexts outside of the U.S., such as the heritage countries of your students!
·      Make sure your lessons include opportunities for ELLs to develop their academic vocabulary through listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
·      History textbooks may be too tricky for ELLs! Outside resources, such as the EL Civics website, have easy-to-read texts and materials for young learners.
Here is an example of an instructional sequence that could be used for teaching history or social studies to ELLs (Chamot, 2009; Vaughn et al., 2009; Vaughn et al., 2017):
1.     Activate prior knowledge: Use maps to discuss the geography of your students’ heritage countries, or integrate the oral history of their families into your units.
2.     Provide explicit instruction in vocabulary: Teach 4-5 vocabulary words each week. First introduce the word and its pronunciation, identify a cognate/translation in the students’ native language, give a student friendly definition, use a visual representation, and show examples of the word in sentences.
3.     Use videos: Videos, such as those from TeacherTube, and virtual field trips can increase understanding! Be sure that you select 2-3 questions to guide the students.
4.     Engage in critical readings of texts, with explicit instruction on vocabulary: These can be teacher-led, in partners, or in groups. Critical readings should be accompanied by several key questions that the students can discuss or write about. Plan to teach some strategies to your students to help them become “critical readers”, and understand concepts like author bias and compare/contrast.
5.     Provide opportunities to use the language: Debates, cooperative groups, journal writing, and graphic organizers are great ways to engage your students with the language, and to build critical thinking skills.
6.     Explicit instruction in strategies: Teach your students how to identify participants, events, and relationships in their textbooks, and how to decode maps, charts, graphs, and timelines.
7.     Comprehension checks: Around two times a unit, design formative assessments to see what students still need help with! One idea is to do the same assessment twice, individually and then with partners. Hopefully, the partners will learn from each other!

There are many websites with resources for ELLs, including National Geographic Education, which has ready-made lesson plans covering many social studies topics and tools for students to practice maps and graphs. Another website is Biogiraffe, which has biographies of culturally diverse individuals.
Teaching Content for Improving English Proficiency: Is it possible?
By: Amin Davoodi
Luis (pseudonym) is an English Language Learner (ELL) in Texas. As a Spanish native speaker, he has little proficiency in English. Although he is great at math and science, lack of English proficiency prevents him from doing well in those subjects. How can content teachers help such ELLs while teaching both ELLs and non-ELLs in the same class?
SIOP® Model (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) can act as a bridge between ELLs and non-ELLs in content classes. It is an approach for teaching grade-level academic content to English learners in strategic ways that make the subject matter concepts comprehensible while promoting the students’ English language development.
This model includes 8 major components and 30 features for teaching grade-level content while developing students’ English language skills. Developed by the author team of Dr. Jana Echevarría, Dr. MaryEllen Vogt, and Dr. Deborah Short, the SIOP® Model helps teachers develop students’ academic language skills.
SIOP models components are:
· Lesson Preparation
· Building Background
· Comprehensible Input
· Strategies
· Interaction
· Practice/Application
· Lesson Delivery
· Review & Assessment
Research shows that when teachers fully implement the SIOP Model, English learners' academic performance improves. In addition, teachers report that SIOP-based teaching benefits all students, not just those who are learning English as an additional language. SIOP instruction also benefits students learning content through the second language.
One of the features of the SIOP model is that the classes are student-centered and welcoming as ELLs can benefit from using language in authentic situations, collaborating with peers around concepts and information and practicing and applying the material to meet the lesson’s objectives.  SIOP provides teachers with a coherent approach for planning and delivering relevant, meaningful lessons that provide ample opportunities for students to interact with one around content concepts aligned to the Common Core and state standards.  While doing so, students develop academic English skills across the four domains–reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
Crawford, L., Schmeister, M., & Biggs, A. (2008). Impact of intensive professional development on teachers' use of sheltered instruction with students who are English language learners. Journal of In-service Education, 34(3), 327-342.
Echevarria, J., Richards-Tutor, C., Canges, R., & Francis, D. (2011). Using the SIOP model to promote the acquisition of language and science concepts with English learners. Bilingual Research Journal, 34, 334–351. doi:10.1080/15235882.2011.623600
Friend, J., Most, R., & McCrary, K. (2009). The impact of a professional development program to improve urban middle-level English language learner achievement. Middle Grades Research Journal, 4 (1), 53-75.
Giouroukakis, V., Cohan, A., Nenchin, J., & Honig, A. (2011). A second set of eyes and ears. Journal of Staff Development, 32(3), 60-63.
Gibbons, B. (2003). Supporting elementary science education for English learners: A constructivist evaluation instrument. Journal of Educational Research, 96(6), 371-380.
Short, D. (2013). Training and sustaining effective teachers of sheltered instruction. Theory Into Practice, 52(2), 118-127. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2013.770329
Short, D., Fidelman, C., & Louguit, M. (2010). Developing academic language in English language learners through the SIOP Model. Manuscript submitted for publication.010). Developing academic language in English
Polat, N., & Cepik, S. (2016). An exploratory factor analysis of the sheltered instruction observation protocol as an evaluation tool to measure teaching effectiveness. TESOL language learners through the SIOP Model.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Making Science Easy for ELLs

If I asked you what is the hardest subject to teach to English language learners (ELLs), what would you say?
Most teachers would definitely say science!
But what makes science so difficult for ELLs? Lee and Buxton (2013) have an answer:
“ELLs frequently confront the demands of academic learning through a yet unmastered language without the instructional support they need” (pp. 37-38).   
In this post, I will discuss strategies that can help address each of these difficulties.

Academic Learning

Academic learning refers to what students will learn about science. In many cases, the best way for students to learn science is not to be taught science, but to experience science.

Strategy 1: Hands-on Learning

Hands-on learning, where students actually do science, can help ELLs with both content and language growth. However, most teachers see one huge barrier with hands-on learning- supplies.
Rafe Esquith, author of Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, recommends science kits from Delta Education. He particularly likes Delta for their unit kits, which provide the teacher with everything to run engaging lessons and hands-on science activities for an entire unit, not just one experiment.
You may be thinking, “That’s great! But who’s paying for it?” If you district or school does not have funds for science supplies, crowdfunding sites such as https://www.donorschoose.org/ are a great place to find funds. I personally know many teachers who have had success getting supplies through crowdfunding.


Language can be a barrier for ELL students in all subjects, but science offers particular challenges with highly-specific vocabulary that is rarely used in daily life. Therefore, it is important that teachers spend time explicitly teaching the vocabulary of science.

Strategy 2: Teaching Vocabulary in Science Class

It is often helpful to teach vocabulary at the beginning of a unit. This gives students the language tools they need for the science lesson.
But what should vocabulary teaching include? Here are a few suggestions.
1.     Student-Friendly Definitions- The Longman Dictionary usually provides the most student-friendly of all dictionaries, but teachers will still want to customize these for their students.
2.     Graphical Representations- A picture is worth a thousand words, right?
3.     Weekly Activities- Vocabulary activities should be used throughout the unit to help solidify the words for the students over time.
If you want to become a vocabulary-teaching pro, I highly recommend reading Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. The book provides a week-long template for teaching vocabulary with many great activities students love.

Instructional Support

Instructional support is what helps students go from their current level to the next level up. Sometimes students struggle to understand the dense concepts of science. This is where graphic organizers can help.

Strategy 3: Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are a great way for students to visualize and keep track of their science learning. There are many different types of graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams, t-charts, mind maps, and many more. The one you choose depends on what your learning objective is.
The internet is filled with graphic organizers for science instruction. TeacherVision.com has a page with their Top 10 Science Graphic Organizers, and Teachers Pay Teachers is overflowing with free graphic organizers for science.


When teaching science to ELLs, it is important to keep in mind academic learning, language, and instructional support. The three strategies presented here can help you address these challenges in your classroom.
However, these strategies are just the beginning. There are many more strategies that can help address these areas and make science learning easy for ELLs.
What strategies do you use in your classroom for academic learning, language, and instructional support?
Share in the comments section below!