ESL materials

scaffolding the online task: step by step

computerboy

One of the joys of the digital age is allowing children to work on the computer, playing games and doing web quests to further their language development.  Computer games allow children to work at their own level, and computers never tire of the endless repetition of drilling certain grammar patterns, something I cannot say of myself.  We often boast about how children are “so much more at home” with computer usage and how they just “pick it up so easily”.  Just as often, however, we teachers are faced with children who do not just “pick it up” and need step-by-step instruction on how to use a certain computer game or navigate a web quest successfully.  In our well-filled classrooms and even better-filled time, it would seem quite impossible to give these children the guidance they need.

During a course I once followed in order to become a Dalton-certified teacher, I learned about a wonderful solution to this conundrum: the how-to sheet.  A how-to sheet is, simply put, a means of scaffolding children’s work.  It provides a step-by-step guide of how to complete a task, complete with simple instructions and illustrations.  The goal of using these how-to sheets is to allow children to work independently on multi-step tasks or games with a minimum of extra effort from the teacher.

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A sample of a step-by-step guide of how to navigate the cd-rom for Backpack 3, the textbook I once used for teaching.

The first few sheets took the most time, as I figured out what format was the most useful, and what illustrations the most helpful.  Eventually, I started making how-to sheets for all sorts of things, from computer games to language tasks, so that children could work independently on a range of activities during the lessons.  The first couple of times, the children needed some instruction: how did these how-to sheets work?  Once they figured that part out, they happily worked on their own, and all I had to do was make sure they did their work well and give them feedback once in a while.

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A sample step-by-step of how to play a language game

The initial work of making these guides paid off: children could work independently, and my hands were kept free for the work of interacting with the children through the new language.

Here is a step-by-step instruction on how to make one of these sheets:

  1. Look at the activity through the eyes of the child.  What is his starting point?  That is step 1.
  2. Go through each step of the activity.  Every time the screen changes, or every new step in the game, take a picture or make a screen shot.  Crop the picture as needed.
  3. Number the steps, and give a short explanation for each one.  Use language the children can easily understand.
  4. Insert the pictures next to the directions.  I have found that using a table is an easy way to accomplish this.  Anchor the picture as a character, and it will stay in the table where you put it.
  5. Where needed, add an arrow to point out exactly where the child needs to click.  Or, insert thought and speech bubbles to illustrate thinking or speaking.
  6. Show children how the step-by-step plan works, so they can refer to it themselves, and refer back to it should they have questions.

Scaffolding towards independence takes on many forms, and this is only one of them.

But for now, the summer holiday calls, and so I shall take a short time off before resuming this blog.  Happy summer holidays, everyone!

 

How’s the weather? CLIL in action

Thermometer_0.svg

Dear readers:  For a change of pace, I’m not going to invent the wheel, but will simply share a good idea that’s been used in many classrooms all around the world.

I remember the first time I made my very own cardboard thermometer back in kindergarten.  I was only four at the time, but was fascinated by the fact that I could “make” the weather as warm or as cold as I wanted, simply by moving the yarn up and down.  In the rich world of make-believe, I would shiver as the “temperature” dropped to freezing, and fan myself off as the red yarn slowly crept up to the higher numbers.

Years later, I played the same game after making these with the children I taught.  The children loved combining counting with crafts.  They learned concepts such as “hotter” and “colder”.  They practiced sentences such as “It’s four degrees, that’s cold”, or “Ten degrees is hotter than four degrees.”  The more advanced learners moved on to temperatures below freezing, practicing basic addition and subtraction with positive and negative numbers.

Here’s a short explanation of how to make the thermometer:

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Materials needed: a rectangular piece of cardboard, markers or pens, a ruler, scissors, and red and white yarn.

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Use a ruler to draw a line on the cardboard.  Then, mark off spaces and write the numbers in order.  Here, I used red pen for the negative numbers.  (this cardboard has glue tears on it, but most children won’t mind that)

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Cut two bits of yarn – one red and one white – slightly longer in length than the thermometer.

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Poke a hole at the bottom and the top of the number line.  Tie the yarn together at one end, and poke the free ends through the holes.  Tie together on the back of the thermometer.

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Here’s a variant of the cardboard thermometer I found on the internet.  A bit more complicated cutting work, but the concept of colors to indicate freezing, cool, warm, and hot is nice.

Another variant is to print a pre-made number line up to 100 and stick this on the thermometer.  This way, children can practice their numbers up to 100.  For those who like a real challenge, a blank number line is handy.  Handy search terms for pre-made number lines are “number line to ….”, “number line to 100 by 10s”, or “blank number line”.

This is a nice way to introduce various concepts in the ESL classroom:

  • numbers 1 – 10, or -10 through 10
  • simple measurement practice
  • connect to math with simple addition and subtraction
  • connect to weather words such as freezing, cool, warm, and hot
  • connection to self: how do we dress when it’s freezing, or when it’s warm?
  • a dash of drama: what do we do when it’s freezing, or when it’s warm?
  • simple use of comparatives with cooler and warmer
  • presentational speaking: the weather forecast

In other words, cardboard thermometers are a simple but effective way of getting children to talk during the ESL lesson.  Children can easily make these on their own, and help their classmates when needed.  They can personalize these by decorating (for instance, a sun or a snowflake), and use them in acting out their own weather reports.  Most importantly, children have fun during the ESL lesson.

Update: Can-do descriptors of language development

One of the questions I often wrestled with as a starting teacher was how to build a logical and developmentally sound curriculum.  I’ve written a blog about it before, but return to this topic as I have since found new descriptors for language development that I thought would be interesting to share.

One set of new documents that I’ve found is a series of grade-leveled booklets in which various levels of language development are described for speaking, listening, reading and writing.  An example of one such chart is shown here:

wida_can_do_1-2_rwAs you can see, these descriptors are still quite general, allowing the teacher to decide what vocabulary to teach in order to help their learners develop towards the next level.

Here, I’ve included links to the booklets with descriptors that the WIDA  (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment) developed.

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 booklet1-2

 booklet3-5

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Besides this, WIDA also provides ready-made Can-do descriptor name charts, so teachers can fill in the names of their own children at the appropriate level, thus creating an overview of language goals to work towards.  I’ve included links to these ready-made name lists here:

Key Use Can Dos Kindergarten

Key Use Can Dos Gr 1

Key Use Can Dos Gr 2-3

Key Use Can Dos Gr 4-5

Key Use Can Dos Gr 6-8

actfl-logo-2011Some teachers may find it a bit daunting, however, to deal with these general descriptors.  Is it possible to connect these descriptors with more concrete language behaviors?  The answer is: yes.  The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has put together just such a list of concrete language behaviors in their booklet “Can-do statements: Performance indicators for language learners” (2015)

In this booklet, one finds checklists of behaviors such as “I can say hello and goodbye,” or “I can ask who, what, when, and where questions.”  This booklet is meant to be a self-assessment checklist, but can just as easily be used by teachers to assess their learners and decide what benchmark their learners have achieved.  Besides this, the language skills are divided up into five categories: conversing (interacting), presenting (speaking), listening, reading, and writing.  These categories correspond with the five categories employed by the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), making it easier for teachers in Europe to use this document in their own work.

Moreover, the ACTFL has collaborated with sixteen language organizations around the world to define “world-readiness standards” for learning languages, and aligned their own benchmark levels with those of the CEFR.  This alignment makes it easier for teachers around the world to use these documents in informing their own teaching.

So now my question remains, what do other teachers use in designing their curricula?  What checklists, language level descriptors, or other standards do you use?  Please let me know!

Important update to this blog entry: I have recently had my Digital Record of Pupil Progress (DRoPP) program updated.  I have re-written it to include the descriptors from the ACTFL booklet, and the levels are divided up into A0 (pre-A1), A1, A2, and B1 levels for the five language skills areas: listening, presenting, conversing, reading, and writing.  I am including the booklet of instruction here so you can look it through.

How-DRoPP-works

If you are interested in a trial use of DRoPP, please contact me here:

 


Links to the ACTFL documents cited:

https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Can-Do_Statements_2015.pdf

https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/publications/standards/World-ReadinessStandardsforLearningLanguages.pdf

https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/reports/Assigning_CEFR_Ratings_To_ACTFL_Assessments.pdf

 

BINGO! …activating those speakers

bingo-graphic21

“B-6, O-68, G-55…”  How many of us have ever played this form of Bingo in the ESL class?  It is an excellent and well-known way to review the numbers we’ve learned.  Some of us have already discovered the joys of downloadable bingo cards covering clock-reading, animals, fruits, and a whole host of other topics.  Often, when this game is played, the teacher names the word, the children scan their card for the corresponding picture or number, and they cross it off.  When they get a row (or column, or diagonal), they win the game.

This is a fine way of reviewing passive knowledge of a given set of vocabulary.  Children enjoy playing, and quite frankly, we teachers enjoy the occasional break from the drudgery of textbook lessons, so there is much to be said in favor of bingo games in the classroom.  What I’d like to talk about here, therefore, is how to build this game into a more flexible form, with less work for the teacher and more space for the children to actively practice using the language.

When my student teachers use this game in their lessons, they oftentimes will have spent hours and hours creating a dozen different bingo cards, only to spend a half an hour playing the game with their class.  As any experienced teacher can attest, this is a heavily imbalanced use of precious time.  The question is, how to spend less time to achieve the same result.  There are different possibilities.

One way to solve that problem is to find ready-made bingo cards.  There are various sites on the internet that provide these, either for sale or free of charge.  If this is what you want, a simple tip is to use the search terms “free download ‘bingo cards’ + topic”.   The only thing you need to look out for, however, is whether or not the words on the bingo cards actually match the words you’re teaching.  This is not always the case.  However, what these ready-made boards lack in vocabulary matching, they make up for in time savings.

Another way to solve this problem is to have the children make their own cards.  This way, you can make sure that the words on the bingo boards match what you’ve been teaching.  I’ve done this in different ways, depending on the children I was working with.  With the very young children, for instance, I made handouts with simple pictures of the words we were learning.  They had to choose a set number of those pictures (usually 6 or 9), cut them out, and then stick them to an empty bingo board.  I usually had two of them choosing from the same handout in order to save on paper and also to insure that everyone had different bingo boards.

Another solution I’ve successfully used was to create a simple bingo board using line-drawn pictures (tip: google search tools: type ==> line drawing).  Then, the children used one of a given four colors to color each picture.  Each picture could only have one color.  Then I’d call – for example – “yellow mouse” or “green snake”.  If a child had colored his mouse yellow, then he could mark that picture.  If his mouse was orange, however, then he couldn’t mark it.

pet-bingo

Older children, can recall what words they’ve been learning, and write them on the board.  When they’ve listed what they know, I added a few words of my own as challenge words.  Then, they wrote a number of words on their own papers as a rudimentary bingo board.  I let them write them in a row, since they only won when they’d got all the words on their board.

Having the children make their own boards is a bit of a time investment, especially the first time around while they figure out what to do.  Practice does make perfect, however, and soon enough they learn to create their own bingo boards quickly.

One way of making the bingo game more active is to get the children to call out the words.  It is perfectly okay to have the children take turns pulling the words out of a hat and naming them.  We can take it a step further, and make the game more challenging by having the children spell out the words, or put the word in a correct sentence, or even describe the word without naming it.  All of these are ways to make the game easier or harder, depending on what your children can handle.  When the children are taking turns calling out the words, we teachers can lean back and enjoy the process, making sure everyone is joining in, understanding the game, and that everything is going smoothly.

In this way, the children become the active owners of the game.  In requiring them to create their own material, and their own descriptions of the concepts involved, we empower the children.  We free ourselves up from a lot of work and get to step back from the role of ‘source of all knowledge.’  And – last but not least – we get to have more fun, which is a very good thing indeed.

Poetry jam

 

“Birdie, birdie in the sky, why’d you do that in my eye?

Looks like sugar, tastes like sap,

Oh my gosh it’s BIRDIE CRAP!”

Not all of the children dare read this one aloud; usually it’s the most rambunctious of the group who choose this one.  The rest listen and laugh loudly as the readers pretend to wipe the bird poo out of their eyes.  It’s time for the yearly poetry slam, and children have practiced reading their various poems in small groups.  Now, the groups take turns performing their poem, in the hopes of reaping heaps of applause and cheers from their classmates.

saytheword

Normally, a poetry slam is done by poets sharing their own original work.  A jury decides which of the poets wins, based on a scale of 1 – 10.  In my ESL lessons, however, writing original works was a bit difficult for the children.  Instead, I found simple, funny poetry that they could use.  Using search terms like “funny poems for kids” and “ESL poems”, I found sites like Ken Nesbitt’s, where poetry of all sorts of child-friendly topics is listed.  Another excellent source is Shel Silverstein’s books “At the End of the Sidewalk” and “A Light in the Attic”.

In selecting poetry for my children, I ask myself several questions:

  1. topic: is it interesting to the children?
  2. length: is it short enough for children to practice several times over?  Alternatively, if it’s too long, can I use just a portion of it?
  3. vocabulary: is it understandable for the children?  And, where applicable, is it related to the topic we are covering in class?
  4. made-up vocabulary: can the children figure out what it “means” and how it’s pronounced?

Why is a poetry slam so useful for the ESL learner?  I’ve addressed the natural rhythm in spoken English in an earlier blog.  Reading poetry with a clear rhythm and rhyme takes this speaking activity to a higher level, combining speaking with reading.  It makes it easier for children to practice speaking and reading fluently, while giving children the space to showcase their abilities in a low-threshold activity.  Allowing them to work and perform in small groups makes it even easier for them to perform in English in front of a group.

Here I’ve listed a couple of sites that might be helpful in looking for poems one can use in the ESL classroom:

Ken Nesbitt’s poetry for children: http://www.poetry4kids.com/poems

Shel Silverstein’s site: http://www.shelsilverstein.com/

Gareth Lancaster’s poetry for children: http://www.fizzyfunnyfuzzy.com/

Short poems for children: http://www.mywordwizard.com/short-poems-for-kids.html

I’m curious what other sites you might find.  Please share!

 

Hit and sink ’em: Battleship in the ESL classroom

battleship

As a child, I remember playing Battleship time and again with my three younger brothers.  It was always the sport to figure out where they’d hide their boats, while trying to hide my own in “fresh,” new places each time.  And all that without cheating, not even once.  Well, maybe once… or even twice… but enough about me.  Time for talking about the very serious business of playing.

You can only imagine my surprise when I found a lovely variant of this game on www.mes-english.com, only a few years back.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this site before, but this game has turned into one of my absolute favorites.  Each time I introduce this game to my students, their disbelief makes way for fun, and then… time for the teacher hat.  How can they adapt this game for their own classes?  What other topics can they use for this game?  The ideas start rolling out as the students start matching up sets of words and phrases.

Here’s how my simplified version of the game works:

  1. think up two sets of words or phrases that are easily combined into a simple sentence, for instance color and clothes, time and activities, number and fruits.
  2. draw out two grids of rows and columns (one for the player, one for his counterpart).  The exact number of rows and columns doesn’t really matter, but it will affect how much time your pupils need for playing the game.  The more columns and rows, the more time you will need (but the more practice your pupils will get!).
  3. write words or phrases along each axis of the grid.  For instance, clothes along the tops of the columns, and colors at the front of each row.
  4. pupils put “secret smileys” on their grids.  Again, it doesn’t really matter how many smileys they draw, but the more smileys they draw, the longer the game may take.
  5. pupils take turns asking each other simple questions, for instance: Do you have a red shirt? If the opponent has a “secret smiley” on the space where red and shirt cross, then he says “Yes, I have.”  If not, then he says, “No, I haven’t.”
  6. The pupils keep playing until all of the “secret smileys” have been found.

Of course, there are loads of variations on this theme.  With the very young people, I use flaschards and laminated smileys.  When the child makes a combination, for instance, “2 dogs,” then I turn the matching card and we all applaud.  When the child makes another combination, for instance “3 cows,” I turn the card over and we all say “oh no, try again.” Children can take turns being the card-turner, so I have my hands free.

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Children can play in pairs (two against two), so that they can help each other create proper sentences.

The boards can have pictures instead of words.

There’s a lot more that can be done with this game, and now I’m curious what your experiences are with this game.  Feel free to let me know!

For your reference, the site that inspired this blog entry:  http://www.mes-english.com/games/bombsaway.php

Van Gogh in the ESL classroom

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Van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles

What do you see in this picture?  Tell me about it.  What words do you know?  What phrases do you need, to describe what you see in this picture?  What colors do you see?  How would you describe this painting?  Vibrant?  Muted?  Rough strokes?  Refined brushwork?  Who made this painting?  When?  Where?

Look at the painting below.  What do you see there?  What’s the weather like?  Who do you think lives there?  And again, who made this painting?  When, and where?

During lessons, it’s really important that we expose children to various modes of communication, such as music and games, but also the arts.  Paintings, sculptures, and drawings are all excellent means of developing vocabulary and eliciting speech.  It also frees us, as teachers, up from having to use what the textbook dictates.  Art is everywhere, and we can learn to talk about it, at any age.

For instance, young people can start by naming the colors and objects they see, or alternatively, point to things the teacher or other children name.  More advanced learners can talk about whether or not they like a certain piece of art, and more importantly, why they may or may not like it.  Young adults can dive into the more technical aspects of the artwork, discussing the artist, the type of art created, and maybe even the context which may have inspired the particular artwork.

An example of the history behind the painting is hidden behind the row houses in the painting above.  Who would have known that these five houses were once owned by Alfred Pope, a former slave who had once tried escaping, was caught, to be freed upon his master’s death two years later?

Art isn’t just for talking about, however.  It can be a source of inspiration for teachers and children alike, providing a means of working outside the textbook-driven box.  In an informative blog written by the British Council, several ideas for how to use art in the ESL classroom are explained.  Besides talking about art, children can make their own artwork to talk about.  In a blog written by the Oxford University Press, two more ideas are shared, expanding the idea of “art” to include doodles and poetry.

Another important reason for using a different mode of teaching is that different children are stimulated to participate in the lesson.  Oftentimes, the quiet learners will come out of their protective shells of silence to join in an arts and crafts activity, into a space that allows them to express themselves in ways outside of words.  It’s then on us, as teachers, to help them connect their work to the words and phrases they can use to talk about it.

I’ve often used pictures from the internet for use in my classes, putting them into power points as a means of getting children to look at the world in a different way.  Here are a few tips for finding usable images:

  • Search terms:  look on Google images for: painting + topic, for instance “painting + tiger”.  Sometimes I’ll use “watercolor” or “oil painting” if I’m looking for a certain kind of effect.  Other times, I’ll use “statue” or “abstract painting”.
  • Search settings: It’s important to choose the search settings carefully, by clicking on “search tools” and then “size”.  I’ve found that small images won’t reproduce well in a power point, so I often pick the “large” setting when looking for images I want to use.
  • Copyright settings: sometimes pictures have “watermarks” on them.  If you change your search setting on “usage rights” to any other setting than the default, you won’t have any watermarked images.

I wonder who else has used art in the English lesson?  Please let me know about your own experiences.