STEM Marble Maze

STEM challenges are always a good idea, especially for language learners. If you're looking for the perfect low-prep STEM activity, try a play dough marble maze!

For a marble maze, all you need are whiteboards or plates, play dough, and a marble.  Students have a set amount of time to design and create their maze.  They can work individually or in partners.  The objective is to move the marble through the maze without it falling off the board. 

You can choose to blow the marble through the maze, or tilt it through. 

Working together allowed students to practice social and academic language skills, as well as have fun!

The teamwork, creativity, and problem-solving skills needed to complete a challenge lend themselves so well to authentic use of language.  When STEM challenges are applied to a unit of study, students have double the chances to use academic vocabulary!

Looking for more STEM challenges to use with language learners? Try these!

Back Pocket Teaching Strategy: The Story Circle

A "back pocket" strategy is a tool a teacher can use in any classroom, with any group of students, with very minimal prep.  Whether a lesson went south, you had a pop-in observation, or you have 6 minutes left in the period, having back pocket strategies means you'll never be without a quick teaching solution.  Add these back pocket strategies to your teaching bag of tricks for this school year!

Besides the 10 Finger Sentence, my next favorite strategy is the story circle.  It's a great way to practice content area vocabulary, use collaborative skills, and can work for speaking or writing. 

Model a story circle by choosing a topic.  You can use content area vocabulary that you're working on, or have students suggest topics of interest.  Seasonal vocabulary is always a fun idea, too, and you can have a student choose a card to start the game.  Next, start the story with a one-sentence opener.  You can choose to do the story orally (good for a large group!), or write it on an easel (easier with a smaller group).  The next person in the circle must say the next line in the story, keeping with the theme or topic.  The story continues until the last person, who must end the story with some sort of conclusion.  It's really a lot of fun!

I've used the story circle with everyone from kinders to adult learners, and as long as you use appropriate scaffolds, anyone can do it.  For example, in the picture below, my ELL students brainstormed words they knew about hot air balloons, and had to choose at least one word from the chart to include in their story sentence.  

If you use story cubes, like the ones below, you can have each member of the group add to the story using their own picture prompt.  Be prepared for wild and wacky turns! 

Image result for story cubes

A story circle offers learners a fun and engaging opportunity to use vocabulary and grammar structures, as well as build community by collaborating with their peers. A story circle can be used in any content area, and takes little to no preparation at all.  If you use the story circle as a segue into the Language Experience Approach, as I did with this pumpkin activity, then you've created an entirely student-centered activity tailored to each student's proficiency level. 

Check back soon for more back pocket teaching ideas! 

Back Pocket Teaching Strategy: The 10 Finger Sentence

A "back pocket" strategy is a tool a teacher can use in any classroom, with any group of students, with very minimal prep.  Whether a lesson went south, you had a pop-in observation, or you have 6 minutes left in the period, having back pocket strategies means you'll never be without a quick teaching solution.  Add these back pocket strategies to your teaching bag of tricks for this school year!

My number one strategy is the 10 Finger Sentence.  It's a great tool for practicing speaking and writing skills, and I've used it with everyone from kinders to adult learners.

Model a 10 finger sentence for your students by first choosing a topic.  Then, hold up your hands, and put down a finger for each word in your sentence.  You'll notice that you automatically have to make revisions and edits to your sentence to get your message across.  Your students will enjoy watching your brain work as you attempt the strategy.  Then, encourage sub-vocalization and finger tapping as they work to create their own 10 Finger Sentence. What a great way to demonstrate the power of word choice! 

A 10 finger sentence helps reluctant speakers use the vocabulary they know, gives kids practice using grammar accurately, and offers a fun, stress-free way to demonstrate fluent speaking.  It's an excellent choice for emerging readers and writers as well! Use the 10 Finger Sentences as a segue into the Language Experience Approach, and you've created an entirely student-centered activity tailored to the student's proficiency level. 

Get ready for more Back Pocket Teaching Strategies coming soon! 

ESL Supervisor Interview Questions

You've written a cover letter, polished your resume, and procured letters of recommendation.  Finally, you land an interview for a department supervisor position in a dream school district.  You research possible interview questions, but most of what you find is for building principals or curriculum supervisors, and you struggle to prepare.  Sound familiar? Here are the 8 interview questions I was asked on my most recent ESL Supervisor interview.

1. Walk us through the steps for entering and exiting an EL in this state.

2. Explain the process for ordering and proctoring the state ELL assessment.

3. There are many schools in this district, each with its own culture.  How will you adapt to meet the needs of each school's leadership and culture?

4. What would you do if a building principal blatantly disagreed with a strategy you suggested?

5.  How would you spend our allotted Title III funds?

6. What advice would you give to a building principal who has $1500 extra to spend on a Title III before and after school program?

7. What relationship should the Director of Curriculum have with the ESL Supervisor?

8.  What would your first hour of PD look like at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels?

Whether you're looking for an ESL Supervisor job or searching for the perfect candidate, I hope these questions are helpful!

56 Technology Free Summer Activities

Recently, I asked my students what they might do during their summer vacation.  Some mentioned going to the local pool and park, but many said, "Play on my tablet all day."  After reflecting on their home lives, I realized that technology as a babysitter is a reality for many of my students.  I can't watch over them all summer, but I can send them home with ideas of things to do that don't require any technology at all. 

cover image of boy at lake, 56 tech free summer activities

All of these ideas are tech-free, require few materials, and most cost nothing.  They can be done alone or with siblings, with or without parental involvement, inside, outside, day, and night.  There is one activity suggested for every day of the week, for eight weeks, and can be done in any order. This tech-free list offers opportunities to continue practicing skills in STEM, literacy, and SEL.  While it won't keep them busy all day, my hope is that it sparks inspiration to explore and utilize the resources they have in and around their homes to create their own fun. 

free printable of 56 tech free summer activities

Feel free to save and share the image above, or click on this link to download a free PDF version.  Happy summer!

Teaching Grammar in Context with Mentor Sentences

Grammar matters! As students are tasked to read more informational text, they must decode and comprehend difficult academic language.  I've noticed that many of my upper elementary students can decode and comprehend new vocabulary words, but struggle to use them accurately in oral or written sentences.  So, in addition to teaching words and their meanings, this year I focused on identifying and using grammar in context, via mentor sentences.

After researching mentor sentences, I decided to use primarily non and historical fiction books as mentor texts.  That way, I would be able to focus on content-area vocabulary while developing grammatical skills.  When choosing a mentor sentence, I looked for sentences that specifically contained parts of speech my students needed to work on, specifically nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.  We also covered conjunctions, subject/predicate, and independent/dependent clauses.  Some of my favorite mentor texts from this school year are below, as well as how we used them: 

While working on visualizing, we learned about Jacques Cousteau and practiced past-tense verbs.
During our "Read Around the World" unit, we learned about world cultures, geography, and practiced noun types.
After reading Dragons Love Tacos, we learned and practiced adjectives.  We also worked on how-to writing, and wrote a recipe for a taco.
This was a great book to practice verbs! We also classified animals by mammal, reptile, amphibian, etc. 
During Black History Month, we learned about George Washington Carver and practiced dependent and independent clauses. 
Another class favorite was this book about Jackie Robinson, which we used to practice adverbs and possessive nouns.  
 The "typical" mentor sentence structure would be to spend one day noticing the sentence, one day identifying parts of speech, one day revising the sentence, and one day crafting a new one.  That schedule didn't work for my students, so we created our own.  

Day 1:  content vocabulary: we found images or made connections to academic words in each sentence, or throughout the book. 
Day 2: identifying parts of speech, with a mini-lesson on our weekly skill, or a spiral review.  
Day 3: finding examples of our weekly grammar skill throughout the book, grammar game (like Kahoot, SCOOT, or trashketball).
Day 4: comprehension and vocabulary mini-lesson or review.  
Day 5: writing, applying the vocabulary and grammar skill we'd learned. 

We also used non-fiction articles as mentor texts. and are my go-to places to find appropriately leveled non-fiction passages. 

After reading about hot air balloons, we created a class chart of all the words we could think of about the subject.  While they were thinking, they had to sort them into the correct parts of speech categories. 

This was a great collaborative activity that really got them thinking! 
The students used the collaborative chart they had made about our mentor text as a word bank to help them write poems. 

Intentional, direct, explicit grammar instruction has changed my students' fluency, comprehension and writing skills so much! Because they know about plural nouns, they're more likely to notice and pronounce the /s/ sound at the ends of words.  Because they know about adverbs, their sentences are more descriptive.  Because they know about nouns and adjectives, their syntax has improved.  

As a review activity before the benchmark, we used a study guide to help us find parts of speech in a book about pirates, and they rocked it!  
Using mentor texts to teach grammar and vocabulary took a lot of prep work, but it was all worth it.  Even though we rarely did any drill style activities or grammar worksheets, my students learned to identify parts of speech in context and use them correctly in speaking and in writing.  Grammar matters! 

Jigsaw Strategy for English Language Learners

English Language Learners need lots of authentic opportunities to practice and improve their academic language, and the jigsaw method is a fun and collaborative way to do that.  

jigsaw cover image

I use the 5W's and How to teach social studies and science units.  In the pictures below, students are learning about Paleolithic, Neolothic, and Ancient Sumerians.   I start each jigsaw activity in a whole group manner, front-loading the content area vocabulary that students will be expected to know.  Each vocabulary word is assigned a color, which is continued throughout the reading.  Front-loading the vocabulary gives me a chance to review any language objectives we'll be practicing, such as past-tense verbs or common and proper nouns.

jigsaw activities for english language learners

 After pre-teaching the vocabulary, I assign students reading based on proficiency levels.  Higher proficient students may get the What or How pages, and lower proficient students may get the When and Where pages for even more visual support. 

jigsaw: assign notes

Students use a graphic organizer to summarize two or three main points from the reading. 

jigsaw: take notes

Some students write in complete sentences, others write in fragments.  Here, using perfect grammar isn't as important as comprehending the content.  I conference with each student while they are reading to make sure they're understanding the content at their proficiency level.

jigsaw: review and edit notes

The following day, students work on editing the notes they took, editing for grammar or content, depending on the need of the student. 

jigsaw: everyone shares their notes

Finally, we rejoin as a whole group and share the information we learned.  Students dictate their notes aloud one by one.  This often takes more than one class period, and is difficult at first, but with more practice it gets faster and easier! The struggle is worth it: dictating the notes they've taken gives them practice in speaking, listening, reading, and writing in the content area.  

After completing the jigsaw, my ELL students have notes about the 5W's and How written in language they can read and understand, and have had authentic experience speaking about the topic.  It's a true academic language trifecta!  

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