Month: September 2015

What’s your fortune? Part two

A few months ago, I posted an entry about using origami fortune tellers as a basis for a speaking exercise.  Since then, I have taken the time to create a few printable fortune tellers.  I’m putting them on-line here, so that you can use these in your class.  But first, a short explanation of how to create a useful speaking exercise for your own class.

The fortune teller works in three main steps, A, B, and C:

A.  Speaker 1 asks his partner to choose something (a number, for instance).  He then counts up to that number.  For older children, they can count up by fives, by tens, or some other variant of the times tables.  In that way, you combine times tables practice with an English lesson!  Perfect!  An alternative to counting is spelling words out (names of animals, for instance).

B.  Speaker 1 then asks his partner a question, and speaker 2 answers it.

C.  Speaker 1 lifts the flap, and reads the “fortune” inside.


Each letter, A, B, and C, refer to a level of the dialogue you develop for the children to practice.

Here are a few examples of ready-made squares you can print and use:

A: Choose a number

B: What color do you like?

C: Aha!  You will get ….

This fortune teller works well with pre-school and kindergarten children.

This fortune teller works well with pre-school and kindergarten children.

A:  Choose a number.

B:  How’s the weather?

C:  Remember to wear …

Cut this square out along the main outside lines, right through the weather pictures.  Don't worry: once you fold the fortune teller, the picture halves will match up.

Cut this square out along the main outside lines, right through the weather pictures. Don’t worry: once you fold the fortune teller, the picture halves will match up.

A:  Choose a number (count by tens)

B:  What time is it?

C:  It’s time to…

This one is a bit more advanced, including analogue and digital clocks.

This one is a bit more advanced, including analogue and digital clocks.

I hope you enjoy using these in your classes.  Let me know if they are any use to you.  And remember:  play is fun and fun is good!


Sorting it out: logical-mathematical intelligence in ESL


Once in a while, I’d start my preschool ESL lesson with two hoops and a box of attribute shapes.  I’d roll out a carpet in the middle of the circle, motioning that there was no talking allowed.  In complete silence, I placed the hoops on the carpet, side by side, like this: Venn-side2side

Then, I’d take a red shape from the attribute box, hold it up, then place it in a hoop.  I’d take a blue shape from the box, and place it in the other hoop.  A red shape, then a blue shape.  The pattern was established.  Then, I’d motion for children to point to the correct hoop.  Which one this time?  The blue hoop?  or the red hoop?  Then I’d pick up a yellow shape.  Where did this go?  I’d offer the shape to a child, so he could figure out where it belonged.  By now, I’d hear quiet whispers of “no, not red,” and “no, not blue,” telling me the children understood the yellow shape needed to go elsewhere.  But where?  I’d motion to a place outside of the hoops, and the children would nod excitedly.  Yes, that was just the place for the yellow shape.


We’d go through this a few times, using shapes, then size, until the children had this puzzle down pat.  Time to take the next step: mixing two different sets of attributes.

In the one hoop, I’d place a blue circle.  In the other, a red square.  Then, a blue triangle in the first, and a yellow square in the other.  The children were catching on, pointing first at the “blue” hoop for blue shapes, then at the “square” hoop for the square shapes, correctly.  Then came the blue square.  Where would this fit best?  How to solve this problem?  I would wait.  Child after child would try to solve it, putting the blue square by the blue shapes, then by the square, then outside both hoops.  Eventually, some child would balance the blue square on the edges of both hoops.  I would assent, moving the hoops so that they overlapped.  An audible sigh of relief invariably escaped as the children realized that this impossible puzzle did, indeed, have a solution.


After that, we would play the game one more time, to see if they really did understand the concept of the Venn diagram.  During the exercise, I would introduce simple words like big, small, triangle, circle, rectangle, square, red, blue, and yellow.  The group quietly practiced saying each of these words several times, so they could say “yes, a circle” and “no, not a circle” when explaining their rationale about why a shape belonged in a certain place.

This exercise is a simple, abstract way of introducing the concepts of comparing and contrasting two different objects.  Later, this exercise can be applied in a more verbal form, for instance when comparing and contrasting two people, different animals, or different foods, during an ESL lesson.  The possiblities are endless!

This exercise is an excellent way of increasing vocabulary of descriptors, at any level of working.  I’ve used this myself at all sorts of levels, and hope you enjoy using this as well.

Raz-kids review my favorite site! my favorite site!

Reading was always one of the most difficult things to teach during my ESL lessons.  Not only were the lessons too short to allow any time for reading instruction, but the ability range within each class easily spanned two to three years, making group instruction impractical.  One can hardly imagine the relief when I finally found out about an internet-based reading instruction site.  I went on a thorough tour and was immediately hooked.  I soon convinced my director of the need for this material, and she readily agreed to pay for a number of classroom subscriptions.  Why was I so enthusiastic?  Let me share a few reasons with you, dear reader.  But be aware, before you continue: you just might become an avid enthusiast of this on-line material and find yourself subscribing to raz-kids.

Why is this the perfect material for the ESL class?  Here is a list of reasons, in no particular order.

Reason one: it allows the child to work at his own pace, at his own level.  The teacher can easily adjust the given level, or “assignment” for each child.  Children who are more advanced readers can be given a higher level assignment, and children needing a lower level of reading instruction can be given a lower-level assignment.  The easy books start with simple one picture, one word, per page.  The difficulty increases to two- and three-word sentences, then gradually makes its way to short chapter books.

Reason two: the books are read aloud to the children.  As the story is read aloud, the accompanying text is highlighted.  The easier books are read one word at a time.  As the stories develop in difficulty, the highlighted text increases to short phrases, short sentences, then finally it highlights a paragraph at a time, as it is read aloud, reflecting how the reader views the text as he develops.  The animation provided is instrumental, illustrating and clarifying the text.

Reason three: the books are complemented with quizzes and worksheets.  The quizzes provided cover a wide range of comprehension skills and levels of thinking.  The child’s progress is recorded, and teachers can easily see how each child has been progressing and what reading skills need extra training.

Reasons four and five: for the children, there are free apps available, so they can access their raz-kids account from anywhere, at anytime.  For the teacher, there are lesson plans, worksheets, reading assessments and smartboard materials.  What a time saver!

Reason six: there is a wide variety of topics, fiction and non-fiction, so that every child can find a book that interests him or her.  And with this, the only drawback I have managed to find so far after years of use: many of the books include topics covering American history and culture.  For those of us outside of the United States, it’s a bit strange to read about Thanksgiving, George Washington, and the Fourth of July.  However, raz-kids is constantly updating its material and adding new books about current topics such as President Obama and space exploration.

Raz-kids goes further than just reading, however.  For the online materials enthusiast, there is writinga-z, sciencea-z, vocabularya-z, Headsprout….  and the list grows longer with each passing year.  Normally, I’m not one to give free advertisement space to other folks’ material, but this stuff really is the best thing since the invention of sliced bread.  But you don’t have to take my word for it…

Happy reading!

Sign of the times – ASL in ESL

ASLsignlanguageimageIt was time to write English lesson plans for my first-graders’ first week of school.  Of course, we’d be remembering all of the stuff we’d learned the year before, such as numbers, colors, and things we find in school.  The question for me was how to review these words in a way that was exciting and interesting?  How could I incorporate the various intelligences into the lessons?  I finally hit upon an idea in the middle of the night.  It was so inspiring that I could hardly sleep the rest of the night, and first thing in the morning I raced to start up youtube on my computer to search for videos I could use with my children.

I soon found that combining the terms “ASL” (American Sign Language) with “song” and the topic at hand gave the best results.  Before long, I had found just the right video for reviewing counting:

The song combined with the gestures was an instant hit with the children, and they begged to sing the song again and again.  Later, I found even more examples of instructional videos I could use:  farm animals, Christmas songs,  and songs about food were soon added to various lesson plans.  I found that the children remembered new words easily when combined with the gestures.  I incorporated the gestures into storytelling exercises and songs in which the children would provide the word indicated by the gesture, or played guessing games with them.

Later on, I read about how TPR (Total Physical Response) is often used in ESL/EFL lessons.  I realized that by incorporating sign language into my lessons, I not only encouraged children to develop their bodily intelligence, I had also been applying the principles of TPR to my teaching without even realizing it.

Sometimes it's easier for young children to understand what feeling one is naming when it's combined with motions.

Sometimes it’s easier for young children to understand what feeling one is naming when it’s combined with motions.

I had always used certain hand gestures in my teaching, but now I had a new tool in hand: official sign language.  Certainly I’m no expert in the area of sign language, but knowing how to find and learn useful, recognized gestures has allowed me to develop a consistent “gesticulative vocabulary” for use in class.

Are there other teachers who use sign language in their teaching?  If so, I’d love to hear about your experiences.