Video Example of Identifying ELL students

15 04 2015

Click on the link below to view an interesting video that looks at how newly arrived students are screened for the esl programme. 

In my school’s context, students coming in are screened during similar interviews and given a written test to ascertain their levels. This interview focuses more on the screening based on the questioning of parents. 

The area of concern we have is the written tests. We still haven’t found the right tests ( those simple enough to administer at the initial stage) that can indicate where to place students. This video points out that students are placed in the teachers classroom for a 10 day period during which time the ESL teacher assesses the student. 

This is the reality of what happens in our situation too. Unfortunately, invariably, we have students have been placed in the wrong class. Personally, I don’t think it is good for newly arrived immigrants to go through this insecure period of not really being able to fit in. I’m looking at how we can make the assessments more reliable so that the students can be placed relatively accurately in the right class. This is important given that within the intensive learning programme students go through a 10 week programme. 10 days of trying to ascertain the ESL learners position and placing them correctly is too long.

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Enabling deeper thinking

5 02 2015

This post in Education Week about deeper thinking titled “Would You Know Deeper Learning If You Saw It?”got me reflecting on a lesson I conducted in class today. This week, my students have watched a video version of “The ant and grasshopper” as well as a text version. They successfully identified features that were seen in both texts yesterday. Today, it was good to listen to and facilitate the small group discussions as students strove to identify features that were only identified in the separate versions. During the animated discussion, students were using their newly acquired vocabulary to argue and justify details and plot lines. Many were extremely precise in their observations and justifications. really proud of their achievement today.

Teaching a new level yet again.

1 02 2015

There is never a dull moment in teaching is there? I’ve begun teaching a new level of students this year. They are about 2 levels up from my previous level and approximately at a grade 4 standard.

The main difference I see at this level is that the students generally have more confidence in speaking. They can communicate in most social situations and can articulate their basic needs. In writing, most are able to express their thoughts in a few simple sentences with some quite capable of writing a short paragraph ( with basic inaccuracies still evident). A few of the students are still reading at grade 2 level but most have no problem working with grade 3 and 4 level texts when their learning experiences have been highly scaffolded. And best of all… They can listen and comprehend lessons quite well.

Here’s to a new 10 week cycle!

Grammar for the early esl classroom

7 12 2014

I certainly do not advocate teaching grammar out of context. However, the esl learner must be made aware of the grammar that “native” speakers have naturally assimilated. This knowledge can bridge the gap between those who have the instinctive awareness of how their language functions, and those for whom the complexities of the language overshadow their ability to make meaning.

I have been teaching the basic level group this term. They had about 3 months or more of lessons in English before coming into my class for the 10 week programme. In such a short timeframe, it is impossible to address all their needs but I have found that there are some grammatical structures that must be addressed to enable quality writing, reading and speaking at this level to occur.

The following grammatical structures need to be addressed.
– nouns ( common, proper nouns )
– nouns ( people, place, things)
– nouns ( countable, uncountable)
-verbs (regular and irregular)
– subject verb agreement( when teaching the present tense)
– tenses (present, continuous, past)
-verbs – the structure of the infinitive ( at a very basic level in such an intensive course)
– pronouns ( possessive – addressed first because it ties in nicely to the use of nouns)
-pronouns ( subject and object)
– articles
– prepositions and prepositional phrases of place and time

Organising the classroom

2 02 2014

It’s the start of the new year and the first challenge I have come to is the range of students I have in the class. Some of them have come into this Intensive English class at 13 years old, after 2 to 3 years in the primary school. Others are new arrivals with between 1 to 3 months experience learning in Australia.

The standard of English is so different. The majority have already developed good decoding skills; Only 2 will require intensive work on their basic sounds. Many have a strong basic math background. So some of the basic work that I used to have to cover intensively do not need such attention now.

My first focus is on how to differentiate in the classroom. This week I will be organising the students into ability groups so that they can develop their learning at their own pace. Step 1 will be the planning of the tables. Step 2 will be the organisation of learning activities and preparation of materials. Here’s to a busy week ahead.

Reader’s theatre

25 06 2013

Implementing Readers Theatre as an Approach to Classroom Fluency Instruction by Chase Young and Timothy Rasinski in The ReadingTeacher 63(1) 2009, discusses the success seen through the use of reading theatre in a grade 2 class. “Accuracy, automaticity, and prosody lead to good comprehension”. Reading theatre encourages students to improve on their reading speed without adversely affecting their attention to meaning. It is in the nature of reading these scripts that students also work on discovering meaning, and how intonation and stress naturally develop that meaning for their audience. It is in the nature of readers theatre that no props or costumes are required. However, some of the scripts I have used do allow for the use of masks. This suits the needs of some of my less confident students.

I’ve just come across this website, “Readers theatre all year” offering reader’s theatre scripts. The scripts are interesting and of varying durations so that I can differentiate in the classroom. My students and I have enjoyed working on short scripts in class before but I haven’t until now found scripts that weren’t childish.

The challenge I have is in finding themes that can appeal to my mature 18 year olds as well as my younger 13 and 14 year olds all within the one class! On the whole I find I have to steer away from animal centred texts that don’t appeal to the teens.

Another website that offers reader theatre scripts is the super teacher site. Check out these others too. “The best class” at has a huge range directed at grade 2 level. Teaching has scripts that are slightly more difficult. I have modified a couple for use. And I love using the materials from “a-z learning”.

Last term I had students work on performance poetry for their assessment. This term I’ll be using readers theatre. I think the opportunity to work with peers and the culmination of a term’s word on decoding and phonics will be harnessed through these activities. And students do enjoy the creativity of working on these scripts.

Some tips to see the smooth running of the programme:
-choose a range of scripts and explore the texts in class before students actually choose their role.
-ensure the scripts have difficult words modified prior to students seeing the script. It can be frustrating finding huge chunks of unwieldy text to deal with.
– some scripts had long unnecessary segments that confuse students. Adapt the script when necessary.
– work on pronunciation throughout the preparation stage. When students are performing in front of an audience, you want the best from them.
– part of the value in using such scripts and allowing students to choose their own roles is that students develop a realistic perception of what they can and cannot do. Some of my students choose difficult scripts, sometimes with just difficult pronunciation being the issue, and then make up their own mind to look for something more suitable. I think this development of self awareness is healthy.

Looking at esl learning

24 06 2013

I came across this article on the teaching of French in an intensive setting. It embodies all the philosophies I have held about how the intensive language centre for English should be. I’ve ordered the research articles it is based on and look forward to receiving that.

I’ll look at one principle here and that is the need for authentic communication. Many of my students are older and have had learning in their own languages. Place an older esl learner in the same classroom as a 13 year old who has not been exposed or has not developed ideas to the same extent and there can be a great deal of disparity in their needs. However, this can also lead to some great opportunities for authentic conversations as older, or more knowledgeable students guide the younger or less experienced ones towards learning. The common factor for them is that they all need the language to access the knowledge.

Currently, I ensure my students work towards preparing some spoken task every week. The task may be linked to any of the content subjects but it allows students to internalise and use language learnt for the topic.

The powerpoint makes another suggestion that I will have to look into. The suggestion made is that there should be a routine of beginning each day with an interactive activity. I can see how valuable this would be but I will need to look at how this can be incorporated into the very very busy schedule we already have.

Another area I want to look at is my students own interests. Many of my students crave to communicate their feelings and knowledge, but feel frustrated when they are hindered by language. I’m looking at ways to open up this communication.

One new lesson component I will be introducing next term centres around the use of pictures to elicit talk. I have collected a range of photographs mainly from magazines and newspapers and will be using these for speaking segments. These photographs will allow students to acquire vocabulary but also develop their own responses as they share their perspective on the images.

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