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: I will be sending out $30 Target gift cards as deep appreciation! Feel free to look over our test page at

Let me know if you are interested! I can be reached at


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’.


WSD Family Literacy Class Celebrates Student Autobiographies

Cover image for "Our Autobiographies"

Cover image for “Our Autobiographies”

by Sarah Forbes, K-1 ELL Teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary, Winooski School District, Vermont

This year, the Winooski School District’s Family English Classes took on a new project. Women in their third year of after-school English classes explored the world of biography with the goal of writing their own autobiographies. ELL teachers and classroom teachers teamed up to create a year-long project-based learning (PBL) curriculum.

During the fall semester, students read biographies on historical figures. Winooski school libraries provided a variety of reading materials for students at different levels. Students participated in a combination of shared read alouds, independent reading and choral reading. The class explored the characteristics and features of biographies, such as sequential life events written in a timeline, or a central message to a person’s life story. The teachers used elements of responsive classroom, a greeting meeting and team building activity, to create a sense of community in the class and to introduce elements that scaffolded biography work. For example, when discussing how stories often share memories linked to emotions, students could play “feeling” charades to preview vocabulary and assess understanding. While reading, students were encouraged to make connections with text and extend their learning through speaking and writing.

In the second semester, the focus shifted to students creating their own autobiographies. Literacy levels within the

Students tell their stories on camera

Students tell their stories on camera.

class varied, so much of the preparatory work was oral. As students were asked to tell or write memories from different times in their life, the women found similarities between their tales. Each story showed emotion: sadness, joy, and laughter were all present as students creatively put all of their English vocabulary to use to convey their meaning. All students made incredible effort to put their words on paper, which were typed up into formal autobiographical texts. Teachers asked questions to make writing more detailed and encouraged verbal recounting and peer sharing. In the end, the students published their work into a book, and each student chose one memory to tell for a movie. A public showcase celebrated their hard work.

The women graciously agreed to put their book up for sale in order to help the district raise more money for future family literacy work. If you are interested in supporting this cause, please follow the link.

You can watch the movie on YouTube.


Video Clips on The Challenges of Learning English

by Diana Garcia-Lavigne, NNETESOL Webmaster


A few of us recently attended a Vermont Agency of Education-sponsored WIDA workshop on differentiating for ELLs. Our instructor showed a number of great (often funny) videos that illustrate the challenges of learning English, which I’ve listed below. I know I’ll be using these the next time I’m called upon to train my mainstream colleagues in how to better serve the ELLs in their classroom. I know there are lots of these video clips out there. If you have an especially good one, please share it with us at



Procrastinate No Longer! NNETESOL Proposals Due Today!

Jump on our Call for Proposals site TODAY and submit your proposal for the fall conference, Saturday, November 5, at University of Southern Maine-Gorham. We all have something to share.

If you are planning on coming to the conference in the fall, why not throw your hat in the ring! We’d love to see what you’re doing!

Proposals are due at 5 p.m. We’d love to count you in!

WIDA ACCESS Content Review Meeting and Item Writing Workshop

By Sarah Forbes

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

K-1 ELL Teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary, Winooski School District, Vermont

In early March, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Washington D.C. to work with representatives from WIDA, the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), and other ELL professionals to learn a bit more about the process of developing content for the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 English language proficiency assessment. We worked in grade cluster teams to review drafts of new test items and to share ideas and outlines for potential future ACCESS 2.0 topics. It is nice to know that CAL includes practicing teachers in this process, relying heavily on our input to decide appropriate topics and tasks for students.

The goal of this large scale standardized test is to isolate language from content knowledge in order to get an accurate measurement of students’ proficiency in English listening, reading, writing and speaking. The results are used to inform classroom teachers of students’ strengths and areas for growth, to communicate progress to parents and schools, and ultimately to determine whether English learners continue to receive language support services. This means that test item creators must ensure that all of the content students need to complete a language task is available and accessible within the test item text, visuals and verbal directions.

In the 6 stage timeline of test development, this workshop fit into stages 3 and 4, Item Refinement and Initial Item Generation. As we worked in our teams, we began to see the careful consideration required to create test items within the confines of a restrictive online programming environment and to avoid of a long list of topics due to bias and sensitivity issues. No wonder CAL calls in teachers for help! Our teams were provided with check-lists of questions to ask ourselves as we reviewed draft items. Then we began brainstorming new topics and drafting potential new tasks for future tests.

During the content review, as our team worked through test items, we were able to voice concerns and give feedback on many aspects of the student task, including how visuals supported text, whether text was appropriate for our grade level, how wording supported student understanding, and whether the topic was applicable to all of our diverse student populations around the U.S. We found our CAL facilitator to be incredibly open and excited about our feedback. Another CAL participant took extensive notes on our discussion;  later the CAL staff will comb through our transcript to find major themes and areas for improvement.

The item writing workshop asked us to create test item idea boards using assigned MPIs, or Model Performance Indicators. We generated a large number of topic ideas that avoided bias and sensitivity issues and were not repeats of past topics. These themes were then grouped together based on similarity. From these, we chose three main topics to develop into tiered speaking tasks. The new online ACCESS test is an adaptive system, and test tasks under one topic must aim to elicit language that matches proficiency levels within 3 tiers. If students are placed in tier A, beginner, in the reading and listening portions of the test, then they will be presented with tasks at at the beginner level (1) and intermediate level (3) in the speaking section. If they are placed in Tier B/C then they will be presented with intermediate (3) to advanced (5) level speaking tasks. For example, a Tier 1 task may involve simply naming objects in a visual shown on the test screen, a Tier B task might push students to make comparisons between things in the picture, and a Tier C task might encourage students to add detail and complexity to discourse by making justifications for choices based on a provided narration. WIDA’s website provides more information on the test format and development process:

The experience of working with test developers and teachers from across the country was an incredibly valuable one. As we voiced our concerns and questions, they were met with either open consideration or detailed explanations of why things are done a certain way, or why certain adjustments might be challenging. I also learned through discussion with different teachers that while our students may be different demographically and geographically, they are quite similar in their development and ability. I do believe that WIDA’s English Language Development standards provide us a cohesive and consistent definition of student proficiency and that WIDA’s work to align those standards with ACCESS 2.0, and to include educators in the process, is commendable. Despite all the technical bumps with the first year roll out of the online test, I’m confident WIDA will continue to improve on their work. I’m proud to be in a WIDA state.

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