Struggles with Syntax, Volume 2

A few months back, I shared a syntax technique I used with one of my lowest proficient students.  My little buddy has been in the USA for just over a year; he knows a lot of words, but doesn't understand how and where they fit in a sentence. 

I started with a box of word blocks and dumped them on the table.  

Next, I picked out an easy sentence, like, "I have a blue car," and showed and read it to him.  Then I scrambled the blocks and he had to re-arrange them.  

He worked hard on this one!

 What I noticed is that he was certain his words were in the right order, and me asking him, "Do you think that sounds right?" was not effective in making him understand. He almost always said yes, because it did sound fine to him. After realizing my mistake, I gave him two options -  his version and my version -  and let him choose.  If he chose wrong, I modeled the sentence for him.  

Finally, the way he got through this tough one was listening to me model the sentence orally.  It took three or four repetitions, but pointing to the words as I said them helped connect his ears and eyes.

Once he got his words in order and read me the sentence, he separated the blocks into nouns, verbs, and adjectives and wrote them on the whiteboard.   

This kiddo really has a hard time understanding the concepts of verbs, and no amount of BrainPOP, ELF Learning (youtube- they are awesome!) or physical response can make it stick with him.  Creating this sort was a great review.  

I realized half-way through that I should have had him color code the words on the chart.  So I grabbed a handful of blocks and let him sort those.  Then, I had him pick words from each column to try and form his own sentences.  

I was able to hit so many skills with just this little activity: sorting and classifying, one-to-one correspondence, listening skills, fluency, and decoding.  We will definitely be repeating this one! Do you have kids who struggle with syntax? How do you help them?

Using Hand Signals in the Classroom

Did you get that?

Do you understand?

Easy peasy, right?

Raise your hand if you've ever said that to your students.  {Raising hand wildly over here!} I'm also guilty of calling on the same 3 kids over and over again.  It's so hard to change, especially when you've been saying the same things for years!  I have been trying a few different ways to break those bad habits, and I hope some of them can work for you!

Checking for understanding is something we are constantly doing before, during, and after lessons.  It can tell us which students are on the right track, which are the wrong track, and which kids are on Platform 9 and 3/4.   But when does checking for understanding become a tool we can actually use to drive instruction?

Enter the Marzano Scale.  I started using this on the first day of school this year, and am so glad I did.

After I've conducted direct instruction and before we move on to independent practice, I stop and say, "Show me how you understand."  Sometimes I'll use it as a quick pre-assessment as well.  My students will then raise anywhere from 1 to 4 (sometimes we get silly and raise 10) fingers to show their understanding.  From there, I can assign partners or groups based on what I've seen.  This strategy has worked out well for both my high and low proficient students; the physical response lessens any speaking anxiety they have.  

The next strategy works really well for my low proficient ELL's, and would work for any student who is on the shy side.

When I ask a question to the whole group, I wait to see my student give me a thumbs up on the table before calling on him.  

Earth shattering? No.  Easy? Not always, especially when we are holding a group discussion.  Effective?  Absolutely!  Waiting for that thumbs up avoids unnecessary speaking anxiety for my student, and saves the rest of the class from a overly long wait time. It's not a very visible signal, and it's just between the two of us.  He can lay his fist on the table with his thumb to the side, or he can hold his thumb up (like in the game Seven-Up).  

None of my students have asked about it , but if they did, I would simply tell them that's how I know their friend is ready to answer.

I use lots of hand signals on my part as well. They help a lot when I have very new newcomers at school who are unfamiliar with classroom rules or spoken directions.  
Finger to ear- listen
Finger from mouth - speak/tell me
Brush two fingers on one hand against two fingers on the other - Stop/Don't do that
Hand from chest in a circle- everyone

Do you use any hand signals in your classroom? Share in the comments!

5 Tips to Get Your Students on the "Write" Track!

Teaching ELL's (or any) students to write can be a struggle!  Finding the words and syntax to put on paper can be frustrating for students and teachers alike.  For a second language learner who is new to the country or does not have a firm grasp of writing in his first language, writing can be downright awful!  Over the past few years teaching Newcomer students, I've found some ways to alleviate the stress that writing causes, while allowing students to develop their own thoughts and ideas.

1. Use picture prompts! 

I have a go-to prompt that really open up a student's path of expression.  I use it with high and low proficient students alike.  It gives them a sentence frame to start their writing, as well as a reminder to dig deeper into the prompt.
When I assign this prompt (usually with a picture from Google or my Pinterest board) I ask students to say their sentence out loud before writing it down.  It's a simple trick that helps them organize their syntax.  Here are samples from two of my refugee students..  

For a higher proficiency student (first example) I will go back and correct some grammar or spelling if those concepts have already been taught.  For a lower proficiency student (second example) I do not correct grammar or spelling, rather, I focus on revising syntax. 

2.  Write in sequence!  

If there is an expository question, I always provide my students with the first/next/then/last/finally prompt.  
click to grab it from my TPT store!

For a lower proficiency student, I again overlook spelling and grammar- I am more interested in the order of events and getting words from head to paper. 
For a higher proficient student, I leave things more open ended: this is an example from my How to Eat an Oreo pack on TPT- click the pic to check it out!

3. Make it simple with a Can/Have/Are chart.  

Use this as a pre-write, or as the finished product depending on proficiency.  

4. Start at the very beginning... 

Use Beginning, Middle, and End as your jumping point.  Using illustrations to help narrate isn't just a primary tool- I used this example with my upper elementary students. 

5.  Choose your own adventure.  

I love to give my students a prompt and let their imaginations run wild, but some kids just have a hard time coming up with material.  An easy way to get around that is to have them pick and choose from story elements you provide.  Here's my favorite example- and it's free in my store- just click and download!

For low proficient students, I may have them make their selections and complete just the BME, but for higher proficient students, I would ask them to complete most of the page.  Pre-writing can be tedious, but choosing one's own pieces can make brainstorming fun!

This is just a sample of the many ways to get your ELL's on the "write" track.  I hope you found something useful!  Do you have another tip or trick to share? Let me know in the comments! For more great writing ideas, check out my Pinterest board! Follow Everyone Deserves to Learn's board ESL Writing on Pinterest.

Sunday Scoop

Hello friends!

I'm linking up with the Teaching Trio to share a bit about the coming week.

This week in ESL, we'll be working on finding textual evidence, studying the work of MLK, Jr., and learning about seasons, clothing, and weather.  Here are the resources we'll be using:

We'll be working on a Martin Luther King diary, told from the perspective of his son.  This is one of my favorites!  It's historical fiction, biography, and non-fiction all rolled into one. I just added an audio file for your listening learners- click the pic to check it out. 

P.S. It's on sale until tomorrow!

P.P.S I'm giving one away on my facebook page- come say hi!

My firsties are learning about seasons and weather.  We'll be using one of my best sellers, Seasons, Clothing, and Weather (Oh My!) over the next two weeks.  Click the pic to check out a freebie from the pack!

Now on to the Sunday Scoop!


My dog likes to dig, then roll in her hole.  She needs a bath desperately. 

We have off for MLK day and President's day in February- time to schedule those routine dentist, physicals, etc.  Not my favorite thing to do!

Here's how I menu plan: I look at the coupons while pushing the cart through the front door of ShopRite.  I am trying to get better at planning ahead.  Tell me you do that too?


I am the Maid of Honor for my friend's August wedding.  I'm finding that coordinating bridesmaid schedules is like shepherding rowdy first graders.  Enough said!

One of my best blogging friends is attending a workshop at my school on Friday- that's the perfect excuse to go to happy hour after work!


Sinus and ear infection 1, Maria, 0.  I was sick from the time we got home from our cruise (Sunday night) until Saturday morning.  I spent three days at home on the couch and I'm ready to get back into the swing of things.  

I'll be back with some classroom updates soon.  Have a great week!

Melting Snowman Craftivity

Happy New Year!

Are you ready for the first day back? Of course not- I'd rather stay in my PJ's for another week too!

I may not be ready to leave the comfort of my PJ's, but at least I'm not stressed about my lesson plans.  I started this craftivity with my class before we left for Christmas break, knowing that we would just pick up where we left off in January.

This craftivity includes two optional glyphs, which I had my firsties start last week. There are three options for the craft- one to cut and color, one to cut, color, and arrange some of the pieces, and one to cut, color, and arrange all the pieces.

They each have their own personality! How adorable!

There are also quite a few snowman-themed printables and writing prompts- this one is my favorite! 

I displayed the finished products on my door, which serves as my bulletin board. #bulletinboardlessteacher 

I found chalkboard style wrapping paper at Target and backed it with cardstock to make it stay stiff.  

I'll add the rest of the snowmen around the door once my kiddos are done working.  Early finishers can work on the printables while they are waiting for their friends to finish.  Lesson plans done! 

If you have older students or are looking for something a little more rigorous, check this out: 

My latest diary is a science-based informational text, which teaches about the formation of snowflakes and Snowflake Bentley, all from the perspective of one little snowflake.  Click the pic to grab it from TPT!

I hope you have a great New Year with your class! 

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