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New Features

It’s fun getting a new site up and running. Couldn’t do it without The Hubster, that’s for sure. So what’s new, you wonder? Let me introduce you to some of our new features here at www.teachingels.com.

We have a “subscribe” feature now, and since I’ve been asked how to do it, I thought I’d show you how! You have two options. Both are over there on the lefthand side of your screen.
ONE: Have new posts emailed directly to you. Just put your email address in the box over there and hit “subscribe!”
TWO: Add our site to your Google Reader (or other e-reader) by clicking on the orange button.

(Here’s a screen shot of what my Google reader looks like.)

I’ve added a few books that were invaluable to me as a teacher and will continue to do so as I think of them/run across them. (It’s at the top of the page.) Feel free to check them out! The same goes for links; we’ll keep adding more!

You can search for different information in the blog. Yeah, nothing else to say about this. If you can search with Google, you can search with us!

I’ve tried to update the tags and categories so that it will be as helpful to you as possible. Hopefully, you can find everything you’re looking for!


A Different Way to Teach

In our biweekly meeting, we were discussing what we offer ELs that’s different than their mainstream classroom. Why are we pulling students anyway? What are we contributing to their learning experience?

The above photo shows one way that Nicole is teaching Fact vs. Opinion in a different way by using a Fact & Opinion quilt.

Lena is excited about offering more than just worksheets this year. Students already receive opportunities to show what they know through worksheets; why do the same thing? So Lena is determined to utilize her Mimio technology to the utmost to give students another way to learn a concept.

When I was first teaching writing to ELs,  I had a classroom teacher’s mindset–I wanted to teach a unit on persuasive writing, narrative writing, etc. But then I realized that that’s exactly what they’re already doing in their mainstream classrooms. How could I make it different? Help them learn it in a different way? So we started employing techniques like the Writer’s Marathon, SASH, and other exciting writing activities so that we could really establish a Community of Writers (classroom teachers are getting less and less time to do this!). And that feeling of community carried with us into all areas.

EL teachers have to think outside of the box in order to help students meet the “box’s” requirements. On one side, that makes this job so difficult–learning to think differently, teach differently. On the other side, that makes this job so exciting and fulfilling–we have the freedom to use unconventional methods of instruction!


P.I.E. for School

Nicole shares one way she helped her students remember the different reasons for writing and identify each reason in books. It’s important that kids know why they’re reading…or writing, for that matter. And P.I.E. helps them remember!

Another cool thing she does to cement it in their brains is that she requires each student to tell (dare I say, teach?) FIVE other students about something they’ve learned in her EL classroom. You know what they say–you learn more from teaching something than just sitting and listening to it.

math vocab

The Many Words of Vocab

I’m so mad. I’m furious. I’m upset. I’m hot.
Yes, hot can relate to that angry feeling you get when the pop machine doesn’t give you the can you requested…NOR your change back.

I digress.

Just like the many synonyms social English can carry, even academic English has synonyms.
Yes, even math has synonyms.

That’s why it can be so difficult for ELs to discern what function a particular question is asking them to perform. And that is why Lena works through this vocab sheet with her students regularly. Especially with high-stakes tests using multiple words to refer to the same function.

Click here for your own copy of Lena’s vocab sheet.


long division symbols

Visual Learners

Long division is hard…for anyone. But combine new language + new content and it can become downright frustrating. That’s why Lena has created this chart just of symbols to help her ELs remember the steps to long division.

Well, that and she uses Math Karate. Hey, whatever works!


Johanna is helping with her building’s morning school program, Spartan Scholars. She addresses her students as “scholars.”

“It sounds like you just answered my question with a single word,” she’ll say to a student. “Scholars speak in complete sentences…and you are a scholar!”

ELs don’t need to be reminded that they are behind; they need to be pushed to get ahead! And Johanna uses oral language practice as a perfect tool for pushing.

Parent Contact

“A school system without parents is just like a bucket with a hole in it.” -Jesse Jackson 

Nicole has taken parent contact extremely seriously. Her goal? To make personal contact with 100% of her parents…in both of her buildings.

Now, Nicole is not one to shoot for 99.9%. In fact, if 110% was possible, she’d do it.

EL parents are accustomed to hearing one of two things: “Your child is behind” or Nothing. As terrible as this is to admit, it is sometimes easier to ignore a difficult situation than face it head on. 

Parents in Nicole’s buildings are hearing neither of the above things. Instead they are being assured that their children are, in fact, progressing (even if it’s at a slower pace than their teachers prefer), that they are being well cared for by their EL and classroom teachers, and that their insight into their child is invaluable to help said teachers teach their children in the most effective way possible.

Now that’s motivating. That’s what results in high parent involvement.

Here’s a reminder of why parental involvement is so important from FamilyFacts.org.


“Go ahead and start on your math sheet,” EL teacher Amber directed. “I’ll be with you in a moment.” She scooted over to the other table with the other students’ needs.
Multiple students, multiple levels, multiple needs. Such is the life of a teacher.
Pound, pound, pound. Amber was interrupted by the harsh sound of pencil meeting textbook. Little eyes glanced back and forth between distressed student and concerned teacher.
Teaching reaches far beyond pure academics.

Eduardo had zoned from the classroom. “Eduardo,” Amber began. No response. “Eduardo!” Still the pound, pound, pound of hopelessness. “Students, you may go back to class,” Amber directed, sending the three scurrying from the room. She crouched down on all fours next to his spot on the carpet. “Eduardo!” she called. Fingers snapped, zone broken.

“I just don’t understand, Mrs. Cotherman.” And difficult it was. Multiple step problems with a new skill set.

New language, new content. Big words, big risk of failure. 

“Don’t worry, Eduardo, we can do it together.”
“But it’s due today!”

Amber was able to pour confidence into the frustrated sixth grader by reminding him of what he did know, what he was capable of. And by reading the questions to him, helping him dissect the many words that he did know but that had jumbled themselves all together, and looking for those key words (in this case, “percentage” and “total”), he was able to complete his assignment. Even on time.

There are many modifications for ELs in mainstream classrooms. One of them is extra time (time-and-a-half). Another is being read the material. But it is never dumbing down the content. Make content accessible. Amber did.


10 months

Bringing It to Now

“What do you do?” people ask.
“Teaching elementary English language learners” was always the first thing I said. But not anymore.
“I am Mom to a beautiful redhead,” I reply. “I also work part-time for the local school district,” I continue. “Five or so hours a week. Perfect to keep me connected but still allow me to stay at home.”

And stay at home I have. We’ve been having a blast here, learning about each other, dusting off old hobbies, meeting other moms and kids. I’ve also been quite invigorated by the time spent away from The Cuteness. Those hours I put in for the district are hours I get to spend with elementary EL teachers, advocating for them, for their students, and for their low-income families.
I’ve taken a long hiatus from this blog. Ever since I stopped teaching (a year ago!), I’ve had every intention of closing up shop, shuttin’ ‘er down, saying goodbye. But I couldn’t. ESL (turned ELL turned EL) has been such a strong part of me for so many years. How do you quit? So I’ve postponed my goodbye.
Sometimes I hop on the blog just to read where we’ve been, remember the journey, dream for the future. Please don’t read this as discontentment with my current calling. I love being a mom. And a wife. A caregiver. A cook. A seamstress. A reader. But boy, did I love teaching those precious EL students!
So. What am I saying? As I’m still connected to the EL community, I thought it only appropriate to continue sharing what I’m learning, even if it is only in five hours a week.
  • I plan to highlight EL teachers and their building teachers who are doing great things for EL students.
  • I plan to showcase this ever-changing world and how teachers are adapting and succeeding in it.
  • I plan to demonstrate to the nay-sayers out there that teachers teach for reasons far beyond themselves–reasons with names and faces and souls.
  • I plan to document for my own intellectual well-being, to keep my mind sharp for this field that has grown me in radical ways.
It’ll be a great ride!

A Letter from an Author

Remember all the Jorge activities we’ve done this year? Well, I wrote to Jane Medina (the author and creator of Jorge) to let her know how much we’ve grown because of him. And guess what? She wrote us back! (Okay, she wrote us back a while ago, but…I’m still on my maternity leave, so I’m just now posting it.)

Isn’t that amazing?? She wrote it FROM JORGE!
And check this out. She wrote it in Spanish, too!
Jane Medina, you rock! :)