When the Student Becomes the Teacher

guitar-1180744__180By NNETESOL Board Member Heidi Western

The bell rang and the students filed out after what had been a rather mundane lesson on using comparative language to discuss the electromagnetic spectrum.  I sat at my desk intently making notes to better our next class. Mirkesh sidled up to my desk and with his characteristic grin and impish gestures pointed to the guitar case on a high shelf behind me and asked, “Mrs. Western, what is this?” It was not uncommon for him to stop by for a personal chat after class. One day last fall year he wouldn’t leave until I could sing an entire lullaby in Nepali.   He still greets me in the morning with the one line I managed to grasp, “Loi, Loi”.

I knew he knew it was a guitar. What I heard him asking instead was, “Why don’t you ever play that?” In a moment free of self-monitoring or forethought I replied, “It’s your guitar.” Mirkesh didn’t bat an eyelash as I brought it down from the shelf.  Years earlier I used this guitar to strum the tune of, “one little, two little, three little American Indians – to teach one of the Japanese counting systems to some other inquisitive language learners. I had borrowed the guitar from the closet in the World Language Department where I had noticed it sitting for the 6 years I had been teaching Japanese.  My supervisor was about to retire and said, “I would like you to have this guitar. A student who enlisted to fight in the Vietnam War asked me to hold it for him, and you see, it is still here.”

My mother gave me my first guitar when my second child was born. It was an Oscar Schmidt she bought at the church rummage sale.  Bob, the perpetual usher, also worked at the town dump and had rescued that instrument with a broken neck.  He glued it back on and voila, $5 later, I was knocking out “Hush Little Baby”. Yet my skill has not progressed much beyond the lullabies I learned to sing my own children to sleep.

The World Language guitar remained in my classroom ‘just-in-case’. I tried to use it a few times; the tuning had become impossible even after replacing the nylon strings. Meanwhile I had acquired a new-to-me Martin and my son and husband each have a guitar in our living room at home. Students who had tried to play the Vietnam-era classical became frustrated, as did I. So there it sat. A great story. And in fact before opening it I felt just a little guilty for gifting something less-than-desirable to an eager learner; I didn’t want to ultimately hinder his learning. I rationalized that maybe it would prompt him to go further, and if he was really going to play, that he would find another guitar.

I took the 6-string out of its case and tuned it up in a few seconds. That was unexpected. I strummed a few familiar cords on metal strings. Wow, oh no!  I felt a twinge in my stomach as the realization took hold. This was not the bequeathal from a wise and beloved administrator.  “Oscar Schmidt” inlaid in white cursive blinked like a billboard from the head by my left hand. This was my first ‘real’ guitar – the one I learned to play 22 years ago.  I don’t even remember when I switched out my classroom guitars – or where that other gut-box went. Mirkesh sensed my hesitation and continued admiring the instrument without any possessive demonstration. Now the ‘real’ decision was literally ‘on the table.’

I showed him a few cords and he played them back effortlessly. Decision made.  We agreed he would practice 10 minutes a day and name it ‘Oscar’. I watched them walk out to the bus stop together, new friends.

When I learned that Mirkesh’s mentor-tutor from SMC, the one he met by chance on the slopes the day before their first scheduled English lesson when Mirkesh decided he wanted to learn snowboarding but had not yet signed-up and got on the bus anyway, was going to become his guitar tutor, it played right into the score.

In a culmination of serendipity, last week while catching up on the chores at home during summer vacation I was vacuuming the living room and noticed a label in blue marker on the guitar at the base of the pile… ‘ROOM 101’ – my classroom. It was the classic from the World Language closet. I had probably brought it home for the summer last year or the one before thinking I had grabbed Oscar. Now I know why.

The most fulfilling moments as a teacher for me have been when something unplanned comes up in class – or out of class.  Getting to the end of a chapter or entering grades too often becomes the intention that blurs my vision. The bells and bustle of progress through the corridors and collegial complaints become the din that muffles my hearing. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be alerted by some great wind of generous spirit and are able to seize the moment, nurture its potential, and watch the expansion in students’ minds and hearts. In this moment the student becomes the teacher by showing me that the outcome, grammar or pronunciation, are not the only focus of our interactions. When we appreciate this as teachers we experience true bliss. That one moment, I managed to put aside the confines of daily cares and expectations to make room for a question from a student.  I managed to flow with the unrehearsed wisdom available to us all. Thank you Mirkesh, I am blessed.  ‘Loi Loi’.


Troubling Times and Connections to Immigrant and New American Communities

By NNETESOL President, Cynthia Reyes

On behalf of the NNETESOL organization, I am writing to acknowledge the tragic and deeply troubling events in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas.  These events sadden all of us.  In addition to destroying lives, they undermine confidence in the strength building that we, as teachers, do on a daily basis, trying to foster hope for future generations, particularly for our immigrant and New American students. As I reflect on the different perspectives that seem to pour in from the news and the different ways that Black Lives Matter and the recent shooting of LGBTQ communities in Orlando seem to resonate as editorial writers point out commonalities in the way that hate is carried out across all groups, I am reminded of the immigrant and New American communities in our New England states and the deplorable ways that U.S. legacy on race and racism can also impact these communities. These stories can also hit close to home. Recently, Burlington’s 7 Days Newspaper published an article about a Somali Bantu woman, Fatuma Bulle, who was a victim of hate crime. It was a life-threatening encounter, but with the help of a bystander Bulle managed to get away from the man and was able to protect her 7-year-old son. Hoping to expose such hate crimes, Bulle has become an advocate for her community and speaks out against Islamophobia.

In a chapter on Migration and the Family Life Cycle, family therapy author Celia Falicov (2011) wrote about the ways that race in the U.S. could be an ecological stressor shaping the lives of immigrants, sometimes transforming them into the disadvantaged position of being members of a racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and citizenship minority that is often discriminated against.  Falicov described how even when some immigrants were people of color in their own country, they were not considered as “others” in terms of language and culture. She cited double consciousness as one form of resilient response by sharing a case study of an Oaxacan family that chose to absorb an injustice related to racism in order to move forward in securing the safety of the family.

W.E.B. DuBois first coined the phrase “double consciousness” in 1897 to refer to the ways in which African Americans were forced to view themselves through the racist eyes of their oppressors, including himself as he described it in his autobiography “The Souls of Black Folks.” It also referred to societal structures that denied them opportunities. Since then the concept of double consciousness has also been examined with a particular focus on feminism, as well as on immigrant youth. Leigh Patel’s ethnography (2013) “Youth Held at the Border” focuses on the case studies of a few undocumented youth attending high school who realize that they have hit a ceiling in higher education as their opportunities are fatefully intertwined with their citizen status. Patel describes the institutionalized racism that is sometimes inherent in school institutions. Although race is something that all of her adult and young participants know about and claim to challenge, she makes transparent some of the federal and local school policies and practices that nevertheless prove detrimental to youth as they work against incredible odds to complete their education and schooling in the U.S.. The teachers whom she interviews and who are aware of such structures are just as immobilized as the students when it comes to their future, sometimes helpless about what can be done; however, Patel describes a concept called the contact zone in which adults and youth can have these messy conversations about race, immigration, and society reaffirming what youth feel and experience as their lives. Such conversations about race can be powerful and scary.

I am reminded of a time many years ago when I was a bilingual Spanish/English teacher in a middle grades public school classroom in Chicago, IL. My students, who were mostly Mexican American and Mexican immigrant, were trying to figure out why I looked Asian but could speak fluent Spanish. It was unfamiliar to them in the same way that they found that some of their white teachers could also speak fluently in their language. Even then, my students and I were dealing with issues of race as a few of them experimented with some derogatory names for Asians, not realizing that those names could exact a similar kind of hurt that they themselves felt when they heard derogatory terms related to their identity status. Through storytelling and writing, and a little bravery on my part by jumping into the unknown, I began to dialogue with my students about these hurtful terms. I won’t say that our first conversation went smoothly, that students immediately felt empowered, or that I approached each incident with wise and powerful words, but it began to feel like we were undertaking something important by naming what we felt and experienced. It was a beginning. And, since then, I have continued to learn from these experiences about how to have more meaningful conversations about race, now with my older undergraduate students. Although occasional moments of ambivalence, confusion, and fear still take a hold of, and choke, some of our beginning conversations, knowing that we find the courage to return to those conversations and make things right creates a feeling of hope. And, it seems right when my students tell me that they feel heard or respected.

As our states continue to embrace New American communities, and as more families migrate from the Middle East, more teachers will once again mobilize to help their New American students develop a sense of belonging in their new schools. At the same time, the news and social media continue to be flooded with anti-immigrant sentiment and racial hatred. Hopefully, we can explore more deeply such concepts as double consciousness and the contact zone to reaffirm what some of our immigrant and New American students experience in the schools and to further enhance our cultural competency skills to deal with race and racism in the classroom. As a start, I share educational websites that are informative and instructive when it comes to engaging controversial and provocative topics in the classroom. It may be useful to dig into these websites to be better prepared to work in a multicultural and multilingual classroom. Also identifying a classroom teacher, curriculum coordinator, school multicultural liaison or staff member could be valuable in forging interdisciplinary relationships to address these topics. It will take all of our efforts to remain vigilant, to speak out against acts of injustice, and to raise our voices to denounce incidents of hate wherever we see it happen.

Rethinking Schools began as a local effort to address problems such as basal readers, standardized testing, and textbook-dominated curriculum. Since its founding, it has grown into a nationally prominent publisher of educational materials, with subscribers in all 50 states, all 10 Canadian provinces, and many other countries. While the scope and influence of Rethinking Schools has changed, its basic orientation has not. While writing for a broad audience, Rethinking Schools emphasizes problems facing urban schools, particularly issues of race, and addresses them through curriculum and lesson plans for grades K-12.

Southern Poverty Law Center Our Teaching Tolerance project combats prejudice among our nation’s youth while promoting equality, inclusiveness and equitable learning environments in the classroom. We produce an array of anti-bias resources that we distribute, free of charge, to K-12 educators across the country – award-winning classroom documentaries, lesson plans and curricula, Teaching Tolerance magazine, and more.


Student Voice and Immigrant Experiences

hands-1234037__180By Cynthia Reyes, NNETESOL President, Reporting from the International Student Voice Conference (Burlington, VT), July 7, 2016 

It’s Day 2 of the July 6-8 International Student Voice and Partnership Conference at the University of Vermont, and while my brain feels overloaded and I am saturated with information, it has me thinking both about the possibilities and the challenges of enhancing the voices of immigrant and New American students in our schools. I’ve heard the concept before and understand it as an idea that involves school personnel (e.g. higher education) and teachers forging equal partnership with students. For example, see Dana Mitra’s definition of student voice.  She argues that students should be a part of the solution in solving schools’ problems, and that schools should include students in shared decision-making.  As I think about our own communities I begin to ponder what it might look like to have our ELL students weigh in to inform teacher curriculum or school policy. It may be happening already in some pockets, but how might we further enhance our ELL’s voices so they can take part in making important school policy decisions? The Vermont Agency of Education is also thinking about the importance of student voice. Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe was one of this morning’s invited speakers, and Deputy Secretary Amy Fowler was also in attendance. It was inspirational to hear Secretary Holcomb talk about how schools might think differently about exploring the range of potential in our students, and to honor those differences but also to examine power and privilege within those dynamics. Secretary Holcomb also said – and I’m paraphrasing here – that we must “…provide support to those with less power today and to help them thrive so they can be members of the civil society tomorrow.”

With regard to our ELL students, how might we enhance their voices in our school communities, and how might we further help them develop a sense of belonging there? Here are some challenges that I considered:

  • Some school personnel may not feel that ELL students will be able to adequately articulate their opinions in English, and translating may be tricky if they can’t find an appropriate interpreter, or the translations don’t fully capture what students mean.
  • Some ESL teachers may not feel the support they need to help them collaborate with content teachers on student voice initiatives.
  • Like any initiative that comes with a mandate, student voice projects may be seen as something extra to add on to an already burgeoning workload.

But, here is why I think it’s important to be thinking about and discussing it with colleagues, and some of you in Vermont have probably already been engaging those hard conversations due to Act 77. The Act 77 Flexible Pathways Initiative is a mandate that is currently being rolled out. As I sit in this conference, it strikes me as interesting that there seems to be some assumption that this mandate will be the same for all students. I don’t hear any questions or critique about how approaches or models will be differentiated for all students. Regarding ELL students’ needs, I know that these conversations have been happening in some schools, among teachers and/or coordinator group meetings. How might there be more intersection between what is happening at the state level and what is happening in the schools, and how might higher education folks help to facilitate that?

So, why student voice? Here are some of the things that I learned while I was at the conference. Much of this is based on the work of the Vermont youth organization directed by Helen Beattie called Up for Learning.  Check out the video clip of students who are using their voices to inform curriculum and school policy.  Up for Learning describes a process that fosters partnership between students and teachers aimed at using student voice to seek solutions, to inform teaching, to create more venues for student participation. They use the following action terms to describe this process:

  • Share Responsibility
  • Start from Strengths
  • Assume Positive Intentions
  • Seek Equity and Justice
  • Create Open Dialogue
  • Employ Data to Drive Change (e.g., using surveys to gain insight and to help inform change)

I share this not to suggest that your school district should immediately look into this project (although it could be a transformational process), but to call on all teachers to ask yourselves: What student projects do you currently carry out with your ELL students? And which ones address the bullet points above?

These are just a few of my thoughts after attending this conference, and I pose these questions because I know there are already teachers who are doing incredible work with their students, who create space in the classroom for student voice, and who co-construct activities with their students. Let us (NNETESOL) know what you do!

I realize that my unfettered praise is probably due to the stimulating conversations that I’ve had throughout these last two days, but my question about where such partnerships exist for ELL students is earnest. My last pondering relates to how we might further enhance student voice in the ESL class, and how might we capitalize on their skills, strengths, talents, and wisdom and share that with all of their peers, teachers, and administrators. To that end, I’d like to share just a couple of resources for those of you who would like to do a bit of your own investigation into student voice. Summer is a good time to find inspiration!

  1. Student Voice Practitioners Blog – A website for practitioners and students who engage student voice in the schools. (Did you know that student voice is a well known concept in Europe, because many of the countries have signed Article 12 of the United Nations Rights of the Child (UNCRC)? The U.S. is the only nation in the world that has not committed to ratifying the UNCRC.)
  2. Picture1Cambridge Student Voice Seminar Blog – A website for the original location for the International Student Voice Conference.


Call for Contributions: Creative Writing For English Language Learners

hand-281995__180TESOL International is currently seeking submissions for its forthcoming volume New Ways in Teaching Creative Writing for the ELL Community. The deadline for contributions is October 1, 2016. If you would like to submit an article for consideration, please click here to see the guidelines and send your article to the co-editors, Patrick T. Randolph and Joseph I. Ruppert.

Slang & Texting Lingo with Chinese International Students

phone-918633_960_720by Stephanie N. Brown, NNETESOL Board Member

Over the past few weeks, I have been working with a group of Chinese International students as they prepare for their first semester studying at a U.S. University. The focus of this program is to support students with English language, academic and social skills to prepare them to be successful.

While I have been working with students on their academic skills, I noticed that they were lacking informal language necessary to communicate with their native-English classmates. With this information in mind I created multiple activities to help students learn, listen and use American slang and texting lingo/acronyms.

My students wanted to learn specific regional slang that their classmates will be using. So, I started listening to the conversations around me for about a week. I combined these observations with online research and compiled a list of slang used in this region. This corpus of slang and informal language really helped to shape the classroom with authentic information. We use this data in a variety of different ways: creating dialogues, acting out, problem-solving college issues using slang/informal language, and gap-fills. Students shared that they felt more confident in their ability to communicate with their future classmates.

We did something similar with texting lingo/acronyms. I noticed students looked up “HW,” when I had written the homework on the board. I thought this was another area to focus on to help build students communicative competence and self confidence. I gathered texting slag from friends, family and the internet. I compiled a list of about 20-30 texting acronyms. We used these in class to practice sending text/Facebook messages to future classmates. I also showed students authentic texts that I have sent or received using slang. The class had to decode the general meaning in each text message.

The slang and texting lingo/acronyms have helped my students in many ways. This was a great opportunity to speak and work with others in class. Students seemed very confident and eager to use the language. As students left class for the day, I overheard them say “BTW” and “TTYL.” This also helped because they had to use the language they knew and decode between academic and social language. We practiced note taking, projecting our voices in class, and other related topics. Overall, it was a great success!

Developing a Free ELL Resource Tagging Database

We read the below message with great interest on TESOL’s EEIS mailing list. What a fantastic idea! Read on for a great new resource that’s in development, and how you can contribute to it…


Hi everyone!

My name is Yefei Jin and I’m developing and curating a free database called LessonPick for ELL educators to share and find resources tagged by WIDA Can Do Descriptors, ELD standards, ELL instructional models, Common Core etc. My goal is to empower ELL educators and content teachers through collaboration and streamlined access to useful resources.

My background is in working with Burmese refugee youth in after school settings. I care a lot about the ELL teaching community and given the national shortage of ELL teachers, I wonder how we may leverage our impact through technology. In the future, I envision a much better way to share resources within/between schools, within districts, and across the country.

In the meantime, I’m looking for help gathering resources. If you have materials you’ve personally used and want to share (worksheets, outlines, lesson plans, graphic organizers etc), you can submit through this link: https://yefei.typeform.com/to/IWz6Hw. I will be sending out $30 Target gift cards as deep appreciation! Feel free to look over our test page at www.lessonpick.com.

Let me know if you are interested! I can be reached at yefei_jin@mail.harvard.edu.


Finally, Guidance for ELLs and CCSS

This is a re-post from Beth’s blog, the personal blog of Beth Evans, NNETESOL’s President-elect. Since Beth published this post about Navigating the Common Core with English Language Learners, co-author Larry Ferlazzo announced that all lesson plans and student hand-outs book would be made available for free download. Just follow this link to the publisher’s page and scroll down!

9781119023005.pdfIt’s about time.

I’m reading a book co-authored by one of my favorite bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo. He chronicles tons of resources for all levels of English . (The most recent entry has to do with Ramadan, which begins Monday.)

And I say, “It’s about time,” because so much of what is in the Common Core State Standards is just unreachable for high school students who immigrate come to the United States. With this resource, I can see some light.

Don’t get me wrong… others have been focusing on how to meet CCSS standards, Like Kenji Hakuta through Understanding Language. There are some really nice things out there.

But I’ve never really thought they’ve spoken to me.

I teach mostly very recent immigrants who belong to the refugee community. Many of them are Students with Limited or Interrupted Schooling (SLIFE, or in some states, SIFE).

And when I read in the CCSS that you should not pre-teach vocabulary, I just kind of wonder how students with limited to no background knowledge about the United States or its history could potentially understand without some frontloading of vocabulary and concepts…

Just last week, I read a book with student that had to do with the automobile. It was a fiction book from the point of view of a young boy whose father was the first in his town to get a horseless carriage.

Now I ask you, how is a third-grader who spent most of his short life in a refugee camp in Nepal supposed to understand anything about that? He read the piece nearly flawlessly, but he had no concept of what an automobile was (had the piece said “car,” he’d have been able to get by just fine) or insight into U.S. history and our particular national affinity with horses and the idealized image of cowboys on the range.

I don’t know that in the Nepali refugee camps that there was much talk about cars. I imagine not many people owned or had access to cars, much less thought about how they affected horses and changed the way of life for millions of people.

So what Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski are doing is being CCSS interpreters. I had, for example, never heard that the CCSS writers had “dialed back” the emphasis on not preteaching vocabulary, but rather gleaning meaning from context.

And they seem to “get” where I’m coming from. If a student comes to me in 9th grade with very low literacy skills in any language, I can’t see the goal of “college and career ready,” the mantra of the CCSS movement.

We are all for having our students be “college and career ready,” but we’re not sure that the socioeconomic infrastructure is there yet to support student, teachers, and schools in meeting the Common Core standard’s definition of that state of readiness (p8).


So the setup of most chapters is actually quite predictable, and therefore quite digestible for the average teacher. I don’t know about you, but I tend to skim rather than read deeply, which is what we are supposed to be teaching our students. Because the format’s always the same, I know I can go back and read the information that I know I didn’t absorb before.

First, they give an overview of the CCSS and then “Creating the Conditions for English Language Learners to Be Successful in the Common Core Standards.”

That’s what I’ve been looking for all along. How do I take a student who is not literate in any language in 9th grade and get them to think deeply in a topic in English? These authors get this. This chapter focuses on socio-emotional skills that students need to learn to really play the game of student well, such as goal-setting, meta-cognitive thinking, and asking questions, to name a few. Each of these has lessons and resources to teach these across the continuum of English Language Development.

They split the rest of the book up by domains (reading, writing, speaking/listening) and then go into Language, another focus of the CCSS, as well as content areas, presented by others who know more about it: Math, Social Studies and Science.

Each of the chapters starts with the Anchor Standards, the ones considered to be the most important for all teachers to focus on to help students reach that college and career-ready standard. And then it gives explanations, what it means in the classroom, tech tools, example lessons and tons of resources.

The lessons are well scripted and innovative, beyond the regular stuff.

This book serves a guide to help teachers navigate this course with a special eye on those learners who need that extra support and need to learn how to do it without the scaffolding. And it’s a guide that we’ve needed for a long time.

Some states do a great job making sure all teachers are aware of the CCSS and how it should be affecting our teaching and students’ learning, but here in Vermont, I feel like teachers think this is just the next fad. I heard from the beginning that people thought our Vermont State Standards were so much more rigorous than the Common Core. “Take these rocks from this place and restack them over there.” Just another lens through which we do what we’ve always been doing.

But still, I have to wonder who is holding our feet to the fire. And if we were so much better than the Common Core, why were students still falling through the cracks? Especially the New American students that we expect to conform without really adjusting our teaching?

Teaching is more than standards. And I’m grateful to hear from people who have been in my shoes how I can help hone my practice so I can be a better teacher than I was yesterday, meeting the needs of those kiddos in front of me.

At the end of the year, I always find myself getting very excited about next year. Clean slate and all. And I know this book will help me think about it more deeply.

Electronic Village Online Call for Proposals

EVOLOGO2017Want to present at TESOL’s Electronic Village Online (EVO)? The Call for Proposals is open through 9/4/16!

The Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core and 7 Things I Learned From Using It

by: Michelle Marzelli, Kearsarge, NH District ESOL Teacher

What am I going to teach next? What skills and information would be MOST beneficial to my high school ELLs Should we focus on US History? Culture? Language of Algebra? Biology? Literary Terms? Text structure? Grammar? Vocabulary? Where do we go from here? … oh the possibilities!

I ask myself these questions every day that I teach ELLs. These vast possibilities are one reason I love my job, but they can also make it challenging. Many of our ELLs need so much and prioritizing is a skill! I strive to teach language through content so that students are gaining the knowledge that they need to be successful academically while also increasing their language skills. To be candid, as the solo K-12 ELL teacher in my low-incidence district, I am often overwhelmed by the abundance of curriculum and content that I am responsible for helping my ELLs learn and retain. What should I focus on? How do I best meet the needs of my diverse learners in a timely fashion? Well… I recently found a wonderful resource to help me narrow my focus.

SprengerMarilee Sprenger’s Teaching The Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core: 55 Words That Make or Break Student Understanding has changed my teaching habits at the secondary level.  While it is an excellent resource for ALL students across grade levels, it is extremely helpful for students who are learning the English language and are new to the Common Core. I used the book this year with a small group of high school ELLs. Here are 7 things I learned from this experience.

  1. Get student buy-in: What defines critical, and what is the “So what?” Nouns and Verbs from the book include evaluate, analyze, figurative language, and argument. Why are these words so critical? Who cares? What is the point? I started off by showing students a short response question from the Common Core practice tests and an example of how a student mis-understood it. The student had clearly spent a lot of time answering this question carefully and thoughtfully, but had completely missed the point. The question asked the student to analyze  the author’s purpose, but all he did was retell the story. I explained to my students that we don’t care if they memorize a story or not. We want them to become thinkers. Reading is thinking, and teachers are simply using literature and texts as a tool to help them become thinkers. The words in Sprenger’s book are critical to students becoming lifelong learners and thinkers. I also ensure students that they will see these words in all of their classes. In high school. In college. In graduate school. In their jobs, whatever their career path may be. And I make sure to point the words out as we come across them throughout the year. I always get a smirk or a comment like, “oh yea. I remember that word!”
  1. Understand what students think they know The book’s introduction is wonderful, and something you won’t

    Example of completed pre-assessment

    want to skip over. It suggests exactly how to pre-assess what students know or think they know! Sprenger suggests that for each word being studied, “students can simply place a checkmark in the appropriate column… ‘I might know it’ and ‘I know it’” (25). I used this idea, but changed it slightly. I broke down the verb list and noun list into smaller sections of 8-10 words each. Then I asked students to place a check indicating whether they had “no clue,” if a word “sounds familiar,” or if they “know it well”. I also had a short answer option entitled “if you think you know it well, what does it mean?” This worked well as a starting point for each of the lists we studied. Then, at the end of each set of 8-10 words, we did some review and practice on Quizlet and I asked  them to write meaningful sentences using each of the words. It was also important to revisit past words throughout the year.

  1. Make it authentic. The book provides some really clever and fun ways to study the words and help students truly retain them so that they become automatic. But I often found myself with opportunities to connect their learning to specific content (usually from their English or History classes) and/or pop culture! I used Newsela articles for real world news. I used songs that are currently on the radio. I used upcoming holidays. I used To Kill A Mockingbird, a book that a student was reading in English class. There are so many ways to teach the critical vocabulary, and that’s why I loved using this book. You can take the suggestions from the book itself, but you also have opportunities to make it truly relevant and authentic for your students and to target what gets them engaged.
  1. Take your time with each word. There’s no rush, really. If these words are critical , then why speed through them? Most language arts teachers will make their students study 10-20 words per week. That’s approximately 360-720 words per year. (I’ll be candid… I can’t retain that many new words a year.) I took the entire year to study 55 words with my high school students. That’s slow as molasses! But I know that they will stick.
  1. Demonstrate each word in a variety of ways. Back to my thoughts about making the vocabulary authentic for students… I think it can make a HUGE difference when we teach vocabulary in a variety of ways. You can’t simply learn the word “suggest,” by saying you suggest a great movie for the weekend. Many of these words have multiple meanings. Multiple variations. Multiple purposes. I taught collocations and word forms along with
    Excerpt from a student's vocab log for the letter "C".

    Excerpt from a student’s vocabulary log for the letter “C”.

    each word. For example, “suggest” could also be “suggestion,” “suggested,” “suggesting,” “suggestive.”  What words would typically come after “suggesting,” and in what situations might we use that word in that form? “Suggesting that,” “suggesting otherwise,” “suggesting an idea or a connection, etc.” I’d give examples and help students come up with their own examples based on topics of interest to them or topics being covered in their core classes. “Atticus’s actions throughout the novel suggest that he is a kind and compassionate man for both his family and his community.” Students also kept a running vocabulary log in the back of their portfolios and were able to refer back to and update the words throughout the year.


  1. Students needs scripts. I was recently impressed with a colleague who teaches 6th grade social studies. She gives her students a script whenever they’re asked to participate in a discussion or debate, providing them with sentence starters/frames  “I like that you mentioned ____ , but here’s what I think…” or “I disagree with ____, because _____.” I use scripts or sentence starters/frames all the time and I was really excited to hear that a general education teacher was using this strategy in the mainstream classroom. It’s one of my favorite tools to share with other teachers who have ELLs. With much of the critical vocabulary in Sprenger’s book, you and your students can come up with sentence frames or signal words and phrases. For example, we came up with a long list of “the language of compare/contrast” when studying compare and contrast. When we provide our students with scripts, we teach by example. The more opportunities  students have to practice with scripts, the better they’ll get at it. Practice, practice, practice! Eventually, they will be able to do this on their own… (gradual release of responsibility), but for now, it’s OK to help with structure!
  1. Resources don’t have  to be used in their entirety. With any resource, we can take some and leave some. This book is no different. What you choose to use  depends on your specific students’ needs. I found myself referring to this book quite a bit as I taught my 55 vocabulary lessons, but I also pulled resources from many different areas to tie them all together. The main take-away is that students need opportunities to practice using and saying the words, otherwise they’ll walk out of the room not remembering what they just heard.

Sprenger writes that the time to teach and reinforce these words is now. “These words will be indispensable on assessments and in life.” I hope you enjoy this book as much as my students and I did.


New ESOL Endorsement Program in New Hampshire

new-hampshire-875178_960_720Interested in pursuing an ESOL endorsement in New Hampshire? If you subscribe to the NHESLNET listserv probably saw the posting from Heather Wardwell of Hellenic American University We thought it was noteworthy that there’s a new addition to the list of NH Department of Education approved – professional educator program for ESOL endorsement in NH public schools.

Have a look at this PDF flyer on Hellenic American’s web site to find out more about the program (and their Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics and TESOL Diploma programs).

Want to see the complete list of NH-DOE approved ESOL teacher preparation programs? Peruse this PDF on the NH-DOE web site. For quick navigation, search on ‘ESOL’ or the program code ‘612.06’.


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