7 Ways to Use Wordless Books with English Language Learners

Wordless books are some of my favorite tools to use with my English Language Learners.  The possibilities are endless! I'm going to talk about the "why" and the "how" of wordless books, then share a few of my favorites with you.


1. Wordless books foster confidence!

Wordless books allow students to process the story in whatever language is more comfortable for them.  They are then able to take those thoughts and translate them into spoken or written word.  Doing so lessens the speaking risks language learners need to take to be successful.

2. Use wordless books to teach the structure of a book. 

Title, author, characters, plot, and setting can be difficult skills to grasp.  Students can storyboard the pages to create a beginning, middle, and end graphic organizer.  Wordless books let students understand those concepts without struggling to decode. 

3. Use wordless books as speaking prompts. 

Assign a page or pages from the book, and have students narrate the story themselves.  In doing so, they'll practice using adjectives, action verbs, and proper sentence structure. Students can work in partners, small groups, or as a whole group to discuss the story.

4. Use wordless books as writing prompts. 

Prior to reading a wordless book, present one page and have students write based on the picture alone.  A shared writing idea would be to do a "circle write" where one student writes one page of the story, the next student writes another, and so on until the book is complete. 


1. Read wordless books silently. 

This tip is difficult for me, but it's so helpful for my students.  During the first half of a first read of a wordless book, I try not to say anything.  All I do is turn the pages.  For my kinders and firsties, I may track my finger along the movement to help guide their eyes, but I try not to say a word.  Watching their faces as they read the pictures is an easy and effective way to gauge comprehension. If I notice students need some help, I may ask a guiding question, but I try to leave my own thoughts out of the story.

2. Re-read, allowing free discussion. 

During the second half of a long book, or during the second read of a short book, I invite students to share their thoughts freely.  During this time I don't require raising of hands, as I want the conversation to be natural and fluid.  It's during this time that I work on using academic language supports such as "I agree with you, but I'd like to add..." or, "I can see what you're saying and I think..." 

3. Use wordless books across all content areas. 

Exposing language learners to content vocabulary is essential, and there are ways to incorporate wordless books across the curriculum.  Below are examples for the books pictured below: 

Wave (science) - Learn how tides are affected by gravitational pull
The Boy & the Book (Social Studies) - Learn why rules and laws are important
The Lion and the Mouse (science) - Discuss the ecosystem and its effects on its inhabitants
Quest/Journey (Social Studies) - Learn about different types of governments 
Once Upon a Banana (math) - Learn about exponents, cardinal directions, and if-then statements
Little Fox in the Forest (science) - Discuss the ecosystem and its effects on its inhabitants
Inside Outside (math) - Identify 2D and 3D shapes, angles, and lines in our environments

Have you used wordless books in your classroom? If not, what are you waiting for! Some of my favorites are pictured above.  Are there any I'm missing?

Four Quadrant Picture Speaking and Writing Strategy

One of my goals as an English Language teacher is to give my students plenty of time to practice their skills in conversational and academic English.  We start every class with a routine which provides practice in both skills.   I've recently added this little gem of a strategy to my repertoire, and I love the results I'm seeing! 

We've all used photographs as prompts for speaking and writing tasks before, but have you ever segmented the picture? That's the basis of this strategy, and it can be used in so many ways! All you need is a picture! I tend to choose images I know my students will find thought-provoking or funny. I have a Pinterest board full of images I use as prompts- feel free to use them too! Once you have an image, the fun begins.  If you're doing this digitally, a program like PowerPoint or an app like Pic Collage will help you create the layered boxes.  All you'll do is insert the picture, then add three boxes on top of it, leaving one quadrant blank.  If you're printing a picture, or using a magazine cut-out, just cover the quadrants with some white index cards. 

In my small groups, I've been having students work on one quadrant at a time.  For example, I'll show them the above image.  In pairs, the students would discuss what they see, think, feel, (you can do hear/taste if applicable) and wonder about the quadrant.  Then, using a PowerPoint slide projected on my whiteboard, I slide a box up or to the side to expose a new quadrant.  The students switch partners, and they discuss again.  Keeping the three quadrants covered creates an air of suspense and excitement, and allows my students to really focus their attention.

I use this as practice in making predictions, making observations using the senses, and discussing using academic language.  By asking questions such as "What do you see/think/feel/wonder," and modeling the correct way to respond, my students can listen to and practice the fluent speaking they are working towards.  Using this strategy, my students have learned how to explain their thinking using the academic language they need to be successful. 

Here are some of the many, many, ways to use this strategy as a speaking or writing prompt:
  • Divide the class into four groups, and assign each group a quadrant.  Each group is responsible for writing three sentences (or however many works for your students) about their quadrant.  Come back as a whole and work on merging the four sections together to create a cohesive tale. 
  • Have all students except one close their eyes or turn around.  The one student must explain the quadrant as best they can.  The rest of the group attempts to draw the scene they're hearing. The next student explains the next quadrant, and so on.  After all four quadrants have been explained and drawn, students can compare their drawings to the actual picture.  (This one is a fun icebreaker, too!)
  • Choose two or three pictures, print them, and cut them into quadrants.  Pass out each piece and have students try to put the pictures back together in a certain amount of time.  At the end, have them discuss what was difficult or easy. (For an extra challenge, have them find their matches without speaking!)

Have you used this strategy with your class? I'd love to hear about it!

Teach Students How to Restate the Question

Restating the question is an important writing skill, yet many students struggle with it.  I've developed a fun and colorful strategy that has helped my students become more proficient writers.  

All you need to teach this strategy is a whiteboard and two different colored markers!  I start with very simple questions, since at this point, I want my students to focus on the language, not necessarily the content.  This restating strategy has worked wonders for my English Language Learners, since it's a visual guide to structuring a sentence.  Color and number coding are such effective strategies to teach!

First we read the question, then we brainstorm how to restate by underlining and placing numbers above each word.  Students can then follow the numbers to build their sentence.  Keeping them color coded and underlined helps to clear up confusion.  

I model the strategy out loud, then on the whiteboard, and then I have students work in partners to practice restating.  If you'd like to try it with your class, click the link to download this free restating guide!

I hope this helps your students master restating the question!

Felt Turkey Speaking and Writing Activity

Practicing authentic speaking tasks is something I prioritize with my English Language Learners.  Incorporating seasonal themes makes it engaging and fun.  With Thanksgiving around the corner, I decided to use felt to allow my students to express their creativity and practice speaking and writing skills all at once.

felt turkey speaking and writing activity

I started by cutting out felt turkey bodies, feathers, beaks, and legs.  It's a great medium to use because felt sticks to felt, there's no mess, and it's soft and easy to work with.  In October we made felt pumpkins, and in December I'm planning to make felt gingerbread.  

felt turkey speaking and writing activity

I made a sample turkey for my students to see, as well as to model my own 10 Finger Sentence.  When I model, I make sure I make mistakes (and it's very easy to make a mistake!) so my students can watch my thought process as I progress from idea to spoken word.

felt turkey speaking and writing activity

Then it was time for my students to get creative! I used this as a center, so I only had 2 or 3 students working on it at a time.  That meant there were plenty of feathers and eyes to go around.

felt turkey speaking and writing activity

Each student had time to create his or her turkey, then think about a 10 finger sentence.  My students have learned to tap their fingers against the table or against their hand to count as they go.  I LOVE using 10 finger sentences as a prompt, because it really makes the kids think about what they're saying, rather than just rattle off some words.

felt turkey speaking and writing activity

My students who are brand new to the country even get in on the action, with a modified 5 finger sentence.  The great thing about 10 Finger Sentences is the structured flexibility: kids can be creative while sticking to correct grammar and sentence structure.

felt turkey speaking and writing activity

Once they completed their 10 Finger Sentences, they have a chance to write them down and share with the class.  Want to grab these writing pages? Just enter your name and email address in the pink bar below, and you'll get an email with the link to download. 
felt turkey speaking and writing activity
How do you encourage authentic speaking in your classes?

Listening and Speaking Practice with Halloween Costumes

Here's a fun activity that gives ELL and native speaking students some much needed practice in listening comprehension.  I used this activity with my first graders, and it was a big hit! It's easy to differentiate for all levels of learners, just by adjusting the vocabulary, sentence structure, or level of inference.

First, I took an informal survey of my students and jotted down the Halloween costumes they were planning to wear.  For students who didn't know, or didn't have one yet, I let them tell me what they would want to be.  I did a quick search and found images of each costume, plus a few others I knew were popular this year.  This lesson will work for students and/or schools who don't celebrate Halloween: turn it into a career lesson and ask them what they want to be when they grow up, then find pictures of those!

Next, I wrote clues for each costume.  I wanted to challenge my students but not overwhelm them, so I was careful to use consistent sentence structure throughout the clues to help them focus on the vocabulary. Finally, I projected the images on my whiteboard.  I paired my students up and gave each team a whiteboard, marker, and eraser.  As I narrated the clue, they had to discuss their answer with their partner.  I awarded points to the team with the most correct answers.  They loved the competition! At the end of the activity, each student chose one costume to describe, using clothing and color vocabulary that we had discussed throughout the game. 

Easy to prep, fun to do, and appropriately challenging: sounds like a recipe for a great lesson! This lesson focused solely on listening and speaking, since my students need a lot of practice with those skills.  If you're looking for Halloween reading lessons, click here to find some of my favorites!

Fix Letter Reversals with Mr. db!

Many of my young students struggle with letter reversals.  B and d reversals are the two I see the most, but p and q reversals show up often as well.  Discriminating between b and d can be a really hard skill for beginning writers to grasp. So, if your students' sentences look like this: "I have a dig dlack bog," or "The doy plays daseball," I might be able to help.  Introducing, Mr. db!

 I learned this strategy way way back when I was substitute teaching during my college vacations, so I can't take any credit for the idea.  A kindergarten teacher had a hand-drawn poster of Mr. db up in her classroom.  I was fascinated by the way the students looked up at the poster for help during their writing centers.  That trick stuck with me, and I've used it whenever I have students struggling with letter reversals. Since that time way back in Mrs. Hart's kindergarten, I've given Mr. db a friend named Miss qp.

Once I see a chronic letter reversal problem, I introduce Mr. db and/or Miss qp, and I post them in plain sight for my students to see.  They become classroom mascots, and the students enjoy making up stories about their adventures.  

My little old hand-drawn classroom poster finally faded away over the summer, so I made myself an updated version.  I want you to have it, too!  I created a blank list for students to keep on their desks or in their writing folders, too.  You can grab the posters and worksheet here, for free! 

If your students are struggling with letter reversals, I hope this trick can help them!

Small Group Classroom Management Ideas

Whether you're deep into the school year or just starting, classroom management is an integral part of ensuring student success.  A professor I had once said that teaching is "70% classroom management and 30% instruction." That sounds like a lot, but I believe it! I'm the kind of teacher who thrives on routine, structure, and practiced procedures with my small groups.  In my small group pull-out classes, maintaining consistency means everyone knows what to expect at all times, allowing our short instructional time to run smoothly.

It's easy to decide on a group strategy at the beginning of the year, but once you meet your students you may find your needs have changed. That's happened to me so many times! There are also years where I introduce a new strategy halfway through the year.  Most years I use two or three of these strategies in conjunction with each other. Flexibility and responsiveness to the unique needs of your class will help you find and maintain the best strategy.  Below, I'm sharing some of the strategies that have worked best with my small group pull-out classes.

1. Fabulous Cone

Simple, fast, and only cost me a dollar! I picked up a Fabulous Cone at a dollar store and implemented it from the very first day of school.  I pass it around to students who are on task, helpful, and trying their best.  Kids LOVE to get the fabulous cone! One of my classes needed a bit more motivation than just the cone, so I paired it with my clip chart- whoever had the cone at the end of the day got to "clip up." That was a game-changer!

2. Clip Chart

I've gone through a few different versions of clip charts over the years (scroll down for my first one!) but I do find that students LOVE the opportunity to clip up, and I try to give them that opportunity.  There were years when the clip chart wasn't right for my class, so I didn't use it.  In the 16-17 school year I had a rowdy first grade group, so this came out mid-year.  When kids clipped up to "Wag your tail," they actually got to wag their tails! It was a great motivator for my bouncy kids who really needed to get the wiggles out. 

My very first clip chart! 

3. Money System

This is a strategy I used mostly with my upper elementary and middle school students.  I would pass out MC money the same way I would the Fabulous Cone (see above).  In middle school, students would have to turn in MC money in order to exit the room for a drink or bathroom (except in an extreme emergency).  This worked well with older kids who were more responsible and had a better grasp of the concept of money.  I would pair this strategy with a treasure chest or book raffle at the end of a marking period, which was another great motivator.

4. Reward Coupons

Some students really need tangible items to motivate them, and keeping a treasure chest or prize box gets expensive very quickly! I implemented reward coupons in a three-step system conjunction with the fabulous cone and the clip chart.  Once students got the Fabulous Cone, they had the chance to clip up.  If they clipped up to a certain color by the end of the week, they could then choose a reward coupon.  This took a little more recording, but worked for the group I used it with! 

5. Mystery Student

This one is really low-maintenance.  I start by picking a mystery student, usually one who I noticed doing a great job the day before.  Throughout class I mention how well the mystery student is behaving, walking in the hall, or being a great friend.  When it comes time for independent work, I reveal the mystery student, and that child can then sit in a comfy VIP beanbag chair, use special VIP materials, and read VIP books that I set aside.

There's no one-size-fits-all classroom management strategy.  In some cases, classroom management may need to be as differentiated as your lesson plan! My best advice is to go in with Plan A, but have plans B through D as a backup.  

What are your favorite classroom management strategies?

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