ESL material

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.

booklet_prek-k

 booklet1-2

 booklet3-5

booklet6-8

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

 

Advertisements

Story-based learning in the ESL classroom: the underrated treasure trove

 (Note to reader:  this blog post is a follow-up on the one I wrote previously, entitled “An alternative to textbooks“.  The previous blog gives general background ideas, while this one dives deeper into the concrete way I dealt with “Elmer in the Snow” with my ESL class)

1006290

Whenever I reached into my big blue bag during the English lesson, the question flashing through the children’s minds was always about what was going to come back out?  A puppet?  Some flashcards?  Some song cards?  Or… maybe… a new story?

A new story marked the beginning of a new adventure for the class.  Where would we be going this time?  Would we follow the very hungry caterpillar into its cocoon, or help the very busy spider make her web?

Once, we learned about Elmer and his friends as they traveled up the mountain, into the snow, and the fun they had there.  After the story, the fun began.  We built a paper-maché mountain on the tabletop, adding jungle trees, flowers, and animals.  We built rivers and bridges, so our toy cars could enter Elmer’s world.  Pine trees, snow, snowballs and icey ponds joined the landscape, and the children made their own finger-puppet elephants so they could re-enact the story.  Some, of course, just enjoyed the feeling of the gooey wallpaper paste we used to build the mountain, spending much of the lesson making circles in the paste with their hands flat on the table.

The entire time, the children were naming things, and talking about our construction.  What did we have to build, why, where would it go?  How would we reconstruct Elmer’s world on our tabletop?  Who could tell the story, while the others joined in?  Would the elephants hide in the cave we’d just built?  Would they slide down the mountainside?  What a rich, unexpected way to build their vocabulary and their language experience!

Of course, we took a few liberties with the original story while constructing our own, but that was half the fun for the children in my class.  They practiced saying things like “We go up the mountain,” or “We go down the mountain,” or “Where are you hiding?”  The more advanced children made up short stories while the others played along with their puppets.  After a month, however, the mountain and its jungle had grown quite tired after so much use.  It was time to tear it down, and start with a new story.

It is my experience that children learn many things from a good story.  Stories have so much to offer in ESL/EFL programs, and yet there has yet to be a single ESL/EFL textbook published in which the teacher is encouraged to get a book and read it aloud to the class.  Never have I found a course that requires teachers to step out of the textbook and into children’s literature, and that, in my opinion, is a challenge that needs to be picked up on by publishers of ESL/EFL materials.

There are so many reasons to use children’s literature in the ESL classroom.  Children’s literature is motivational, offers authentic language, fosters academic development, and offers a window through which children can view other cultures.  There is an excellent article written on this very topic, to be found here.  It’s concisely written and highly informational, so it’s well-worth the detour to read.

Besides re-enacting the story with puppets and scenery, there are other things one can do with children’s stories.  Here, I’ll try connecting stories to activities that activate the various intelligences:  (of course, this list is only a start, and I’m sure you’ll have more ideas of your own!)

  • Visual-spatial:  Draw pictures that match the story, make up your own pictures and re-create the scenery in the building corner
  • Logicalmathematical: ordering story cards
  • Musical: are there any songs you can think of, related to the topic?  Do you hear any rhyme or repetition in the story?
  • Natural: where does the story take place?  What kind of environment do you notice?  Is the environment like our own, or is it different?
  • Interpersonal:  Interview each other about the story, or  make up a new ending.
  • Intrapersonal:  What if you were one of the characters?  Which one would you be, and why?   How would you feel?  What would you do?
  • Verballinguistic: What rhymes do you hear in the story?  What new words can you find?  What language patterns do you hear?
  • Bodilykinesthetic:  re-enacting the story with puppets or with a role play

Of course, it’s important to choose children’s books wisely.  What are the kinds of things I kept in mind when choosing books?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Topic: does the topic match what you are trying to teach the children?  For instance, when teaching about clothing, The Very Hungry Caterpillar might not be such a good choice, while Aliens Love Underpants would fit better.  If you google the title of your book and “lesson activities”, you’ll find all sorts of interesting ideas.  Example:  aliens love underpants + lesson activities will get you here.
  • Topic (continued): of course, it’s always a good idea to make sure the story isn’t “babyish” for the older learners.
  • Level of language: for beginner learners, a simple story with lots of repetition is really useful.  I’ve also taken really easy books for older learners, and after I tell them their task, they’re quite gung-ho about listening to the story, so they can make an even better version on their own to read aloud to the little kids in their school.
  • Pictures: these have to be visually appealing, clear, and explain what the story is about.

There are other things to look at as well, but this is a good place to start.  I’m curious, what children’s books do you know about, that you might use in your own classroom?

for further reading:  “Four good reasons to use literature in primary school ELT” article: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.476.2159&rep=rep1&type=pdf

 

 

Broadening the ESL Experience – easy as 1-2-3!

download

“Okay guys, it’s time to make a graph.  You all have your blocks ready?” I ask.  The children hold their blocks up.  On the table in front of me, I have six circles, each a different color.  One by one, the children come forward.

“My favorite color is blue,” says one, placing the block on the blue circle.

“I like blue, too,” says the next, placing his block on top of the other.  Eventually, there are six piles of blocks, one on each color.  Time for the maths lesson.  We move the piles around, in order from highest to shortest, and find out which colors have equally many blocks.  We count how many blocks there are piled up on each color, and before carrying on to concepts like more than, less than, the most, and the least.  Which color do we like most of all?  Which colors do we like more than yellow?  Which colors do we like less than blue?  The children look, think, and discuss their answers with the neighbors before raising their hands and giving their answers.

We use this simple block graph more often:  favorite fruit, clothes we wear, pets at home, and so on.  Sometimes, we make them out of duplo or legos, and leave our bar graph on the topic table next to the door so the parents can join in the fun.

Graphs are one easy way of incorporating other subject areas into the English lesson.  Sometimes, the children would fill in their own graphs, based on the results of a walk and talk activity.

download

“What’s your favorite pet?”

Older children can go even deeper into the material, for instance first building paper airplanes, and then seeing how far each one flies.  Questions like “which one flew farther/farthest?” And “how far did it fly?” are simple examples of scientific inquiry. A line graph describing the results can be used to spark discussion and children can be encouraged to experiment with their paper planes to see how they can get even better results – all in the name of science, of course!  But also in the name of fun.

63167-600x450-BasicPaperAirplane

And that’s the important thing – have fun, while broadening the ESL experience.  If you have fun, the kids will have fun.  And when folks have fun, that’s when they learn best.

Music in the ESL class – (not) child’s play

d3105b2d-a908-4a9d-97d0-d4f28a310db3image7

These days, publishers are putting out loads of new, internet-based material.  One such publisher has recently started creating internet-based material called “Groove Me,” which bases its lessons on the music of popular artists such as One Direction, Shakira, and Katy Perry.  Its users are enthusiastic because the children enjoy singing popular songs, they learn what the songs mean, and it’s easy for teachers to use.

The growing popularity of this music-based material indicates that there is a desperate need for new, modern material that connects with the children’s life experience.  Popular music is hot, and therefore a logical means of connecting language lessons with the children’s own experiences.

Not all popular music is useful for the classroom, however.  When selecting music for the ESL lesson, it’s important to keep a few things in mind, such as appropriate language use and topic.  Unfortunately, numerous songs out there make sexual references that many teachers don’t catch on to – but their pupils might, and many do.  Other songs – which shall remain unnamed – employ a notably scant breadth of vocabulary, constricting how much they contribute to the language development of the listener.  Yet other songs are too fast or too slow, again, making them less than ideal for use in the class.

The ideal song for the ESL lesson meets certain qualifications, including but certainly not limited to the list below:

  1. the topic and the vocabulary used is appropriate for the children – not too childish, but also not too adult
  2. breadth of vocabulary – not too little, but also not too many new words at one go
  3. tempo – not so slow as to make everyone fall asleep, but certainly not too fast for young ears still learning the sounds of the language

Over the years, I’ve collected a number of favorite songs, some of which I’ve collected on this symbaloo page.  There is a range of songs, and I’ve used a number of strategies to find them.  I’ll share these strategies with you, so you can find (and share, please!) songs you enjoy using.

Strategy #1: youtube.com  Search terms ESL + song + topic got me pretty far.  Most often, however, I’ll find many songs for the very young learners, leaving the older grade schoolers out in the cold.  (young learners being about 4 – 8 years old, and the older learners 9 and above)

Strategy #2: find a useful channel on youtube, for instance Sesame Street.  The American version of Sesame Street has a lovely knack for picking up on the latest pop music, and getting the actual artist to come in and sing a child-friendly version of their music.  One such example is Katy Perry singing “Hot and Cold” with Elmo.  It’s amazing how many artists have found their way to Sesame Street, happily adapting their sometimes questionable lyrics for the younger audience targeted by Sesame Street.  Sesame Street also has, incidentally, a way of turning their songs into social lessons, a nice side-effect many teachers can appreciate.

Another useful channel is Super Simple Songs, good for the younger learner.  What I’v done in the past is had older children listen to a song, then ask them to create another verse that they can teach the younger learners.  That way, they get the pleasure of listening to something easy without getting the feeling of being babied.

Strategy #3: try out this site:  Songs for Teaching.  It’s got links through to various subject areas, listing topics and finally songs that you can listen to and order online.

Other music worth finding out about:

Hap Palmer: very old-fashioned, slow, and therefore perfect for the young ESL learner.

Tumble Tots: hipper, space for moving to the music, and therefore perfect for young ESL learner.  With a bit of enthusiasm, you can push this into the older grades, but don’t overdo it.

Alain Le Lait (It’s so good): simple, funny songs with just enough repetition to allow children to sing along and even make up their own verses.

Jim Cosgrove (Stinky Feet): funny stuff that any child can relate to and sing along with.  Good for the somewhat older ESL learner.

I’m sure there’s more out there, so feel free to share your favorites!

Click here for my symbaloo page full of super children’s music!

An alternative to the textbook

ChildrensBooksCollage1

I’m an addict.  I cannot help it, and I’m not sorry about it either.  I can never just walk past a children’s book store.  I always have to go in.  And I never leave empty-handed.  There are just too many good books in the world, and I just have to share these with “my kids”.

For years, I taught English to preschoolers and kindergarteners, using children’s books as a basis for the unit.  Were we learning about food?  We’d read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Were we learning about colors?  We’d read What Color are Your Underpants.  Were we learning about the weather?  Maisy’s Weather Book was an all-time favorite.  I’d read the book out loud, once, twice, and by the third time, the children were reading the story aloud with me.  They knew every page, every detail of that story by heart.

But just reading the story was never enough.  We needed to take that story and make it our own.  We’d re-write the book, adding our own fruits and foods to a revised version of the The Very Hungry Caterpillar.   We’d use a picture-book version of Curious George and re-build the story in the building corner, so the children could tell and re-tell the tales of the adventures of a “good little monkey, who was always very curious”.  I found that by broadening the children’s experience with the story, their vocabulary development was enriched in ways that I could hardly have realized otherwise.

Just reading a story aloud is never enough, in my view.  The child’s experience with a story needs to be broadened, deepened, adapted, so that the child learns to own the tale, and make it his own.

In my lesson planning, I would always think of ways to expand the child experience with the story.  I always found that brainstorming along the lines of multiple intelligence was a great way to do this, and so I’ll place a few ideas here, as an inspiration to other ESL teachers looking for ways to broaden their children’s experience with children’s literature.  Mind you, this is just a start.  There are so many more things one can do with a good children’s book.

9_MI

  • mathematical-logical: make picture story cards for the children to put in order as the story is read aloud.
  • verbal-linguistic: use picture story cards for the children to look at and predict what the story will be about.  What do the children think will happen?  Can they tell a story (before you’ve read it aloud?)
  • visual-spatial: children re-create the environment of the story, either with drawings,  with paper-mache, with blocks, or with puppets.
  • bodily-kinesthetic:  re-enact the story in the building corner, with puppets, or in the classroom.
  • natural:  what environment do you notice in the book?  Is it a jungle, or mountains, or something else?  Is the environment in the book the same or different from the environment you live it?  How so?
  • intrapersonal:  what if they were the main character of the story?  How would they feel?  What decisions did the main character make?  Would they have made the same decisions?  What would they have done differently?
  • interpersonal:  children re-create the story with each other, and change it to fit a new “plot twist” or interview each other as though they were characters in the story.
  • musical:  What songs do you know that match the theme of the story?

Children’s literature is an excellent way to expand children’s experience with the language to be learned.  When they are unable to read it on their own, the teacher can read the book aloud, exposing children to authentic language use in ways no one else can.  Once they start reading on their own, their vocabulary development will improve by leaps and bounds, as children find themselves confronted with words and contexts no textbook will ever be able to provide.

It’s a shame that textbook publishers make so little use of this fact.  Which textbook do we know of that actually says “now, go and read Maisy’s Weather Book to the class as an introduction to words about the weather”?  The answer to that is simple: not a single one.  So it’s up to us, the professionals, to spread the news.

Read to your children!  Children’s literature is an excellent way of developing vocabulary and grammar skills among young learners!

Which books do you like to read to your class

?  Please let me know!

 

But… where do you find this stuff?

images

At the end of my workshops, I always have tired teachers.  Happy, but also a bit frustrated, because they really like the stuff I teach them, but they also want to know where to find this stuff on their own once I’ve gone home.

I’ve decided to put a number of sites I’ve found into one space, so anyone who wants to can find them just as easily.  I’ve created a Symbaloo page (symbaloo.com, free of charge and a great way to collect your favorite sites) and I’m sharing it here.

Of course, this selection is only a miniscule share of everything that is available on the internet these days.  The real question is, of course, how does one find these things on one’s own?  That is where the correct search terms come in handy.  I’ll list some important ones here:

ESL or EFL (English as a Second Language or English as a Foreign Language)

+ age group (kindergarteners, young learners, elementary school, young adult, adult)

+ topic (food, weather, transportation, etcetera)

+ activity (flashcards, worksheets, online games, song, video, speaking activities, lesson plan, etcetera)

This gets me pretty far in finding the material I need for my lessons.

Another useful item is an online picture dictionary.  I looked around, using the following search terms:

“online picture dictionary”

+ topic (math, science, history, gym)

+ kids

I found it was really necessary to add “kids” to the search terms, as there are dictionaries with all sorts of words most children wouldn’t need.

Recently, I got stumped when a Dutch teacher remarked that she didn’t know the English word for “turnkast”.  Really, I had no idea what such a thing was called.  I hadn’t ever worked with such a thing before in an American school, so my only experience with this object was while working in a Dutch school.  There, I got away with calling it “this thing here”.  Not terribly professional, I admit, but it got the job done with my pre-school classes.  It was time for an answer, so I rolled up my sleeves and started to work.

300110

a “turnkast”

I searched for online dictionaries explaining gym material and was getting discouraged by the lack of school-related online dictionaries for gyms.  Instead, I found all sorts of other neat things: dumbbells, chest expanders, and sponge wedges.  I tried google translate, google image search, reverse search, until finally, I struck gold: an online catalogue for gym- and sports-related material.  A few clicks later, and I finally found the answer: the “turnkast” is called a “vaulting box”.

Sometimes you just have to think outside of the box.  wink

What are you wearing today? … and the importance of speaking

shopkeeper-clipart-kids-raising-hands

How many of us will recognize the following scene:

  • Teacher: (points to picture) Children, what is this?
  • (hands fly into the air)
  • Teacher: Okay, J, please answer the question.
  • J: (answers the question)
  • Teacher:  Very good.  (points to picture) Now children, what is this?
  • (again, hands fly into the air)
  • Teacher:  Okay, S, please answer the question.
  • S:  (answers the question)
  • and so on…

Just how much time do these children actually speak during this English lesson?  If every child gets one turn during the lesson, and each turn takes two to five seconds, the children get two to five seconds of speaking time during that lesson.  Now imagine this happens during each lesson, all year long.  How long is the school year?  In the Netherlands, it’s forty weeks long, so if I multiply five seconds by forty lessons, each child has had 200 seconds of speaking time, or 3,3 minutes.  If I’m generous, I can even double that to 7 minutes of speaking time throughout the entire year.

In order to learn how to speak a language, children need to practice actually speaking, often and regularly, in various environments.  They need a chance to practice in small groups or in pairs, so they may make mistakes and learn from them, without being embarassed.  They need to use the language themselves.  This is where co-operative learning structures come in handy.

I’ve already discussed a few simple co-operative learning strategies in my blog before, so regular readers will recognize my mantra of “get the children to do the speaking”.  But for new readers, co-operative learning strategies allow learners the following advantages:

  • They can practice in a smaller, safer environment
  • They get more practice
  • They get more feedback within that smaller, safer environment
  • All of the children are guaranteed speaking time during the exercise.

No doubt there are more points to be made, but that is enough for now.

******************** and now for the fun part **********************

A few days ago, I was cleaning out an old closet and came across an “oldie but goodie” among all of my old material.  I decided it was too good to throw away, so I’m sharing it now with you.

This activity is meant to help learners talk about clothing in a half-open exercise.  It works like this:

Step 1: the chidren get four drawings of people wearing different kinds of clothing.  They color in the clothing and faces of the people on the page.DSCF5457

Step 2:  The children cut out the four pictures along the heavy lines.DSCF5458

Step 3:  the children place the four drawings one above the other, and staple them into a book cover.  They carefully cut along the light, dashed lines to make a flip-flap book.

DSCF5459

Step 4:  the children can now begin short discussions about what they are wearing.  For instance, this person is wearing a red coat, orange shorts, and blue shoes.  Please note: all of the children will be speaking at the same time, so the classroom might get a bit noisy for a few minutes…

This is an example I made for talking about clothes, but one could also make a simple flip-flap book for numbers and fruit… (“What is in your fruit bowl?” “I have 2 bananas”)

  • What are you eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…
  • What will you do in the morning, afternoon, and evening…
  • What time are you going to (read a book / go shopping / play football)…
  • How is the weather on (Monday / Tuesday / Wednesday)…
  • How many animals are at the farm…

With a little imagination, one can create all sorts of flip-flap books based on what concepts are being taught at the time.  When creating flip-flap books of your own, make sure to have the sections lined up carefully, so that when the pages are cut apart the dialogues make sense.  The most important thing when making this, though, is that you have fun.

What other kinds of dialogues can be made up using flip-flap books, I wonder?

Here is a document with blank pages for flip-flap booklets.  You can adapt these for your own classroom if you like.

basic-form-flip-flap-booklets

There are three pages: one with two flip-flaps per page, one with three flip-flaps per page, and one with four flip-flaps per page.  Print the page you want to use, or copy-paste it into a new document for yourself, and insert the images you want to use for your lesson.

It’s important for you to decide who’s going to do the work: you or the children.  If, for instance, you want the children to create their own flip-flap booklets, then it’s important that they do the work.  You can pre-structure certain parts of the booklet yourself, or none of it at all, and let them do all of the work.

Or, you may decided that you really want them to practice specific vocabulary, in which case you will need to create the basis for the flip-flap booklet yourself before printing it.

Some suggestions for material you might use:

Images for things to do, daily tasks, modes of transportation, clothing, etcetera can be found on www.mes-english.com.  If you want, print the handouts provided on this site, and the children can cut and paste the images they want to use into their own book.  Otherwise, you can copy the images from the power points provided and paste them digitally into the document before printing.

Images for blank clock faces can be found here: http://www.helpingwithmath.com/printables/worksheets/time/wor0301time05.htm.  If you use blank clock faces, the children can write in their own times.  If you want them to practice specific times, then you can draw them in on your own, of course.

If you are interested in more ideas and concrete assistance with implementing these booklets in your classroom, please let me know.  Good luck, and remember to have fun!