Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Earth Day, Close Reading, and Jigsaws, Oh my!

It's Spring Break and I'm trying to get ahead for the rest of the year (and also get some good books in!). I can't believe the week is already half over.

Earth day is one of my favorite holidays to teach about, in part because it means summer is coming and in part because there are so many fun activities, videos, and books to do around that theme! This year with my high group of third graders, we're going to learn about Earth day with a close reading and jigsaw activity.
I start by splitting the students into their "expert groups", which in this case I do by reading level. Each group reads their assigned passage together and works on the questions. Once all of the groups have finished, they cut out their puzzle pieces and join their "jigsaw group", smaller groups of 3 with one representative from each group. The members each present their puzzle pieces, then glue their completed puzzle on construction paper and mount it on the wall.

I love activities like these because they are accessible to all of my learners, allow each of them to feel like an expert, and keep everyone engaged and responsible for each others' learning. You can purchase this activity in my TPT store or you can download a sample of my close reading passages here for free!

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Policies and Procedures for Reaching Newcomers

One of the questions I most frequently get asked as an ELL teacher is how I deal with new non-English speakers on their very first day or week. Newcomers are a challenge, to be sure, but they're also my very favorite class to teach. Here are some of our important routines that help them to fit right in and start learning basic English the very first day:

1. Songs

If you ask me about teaching newcomers, the very first thing I will point you to is songs. I learn and retain information so much better with a song and a video, and there are so many good, simple songs out there for practicing vocabulary and sentence structure! Here's a link to my YouTube playlist so you can check out some of the songs I use for yourself, or check out one of my favorites below:

You may be thinking that these songs are really young for some of your students, and I have the same problem. My fifth grade boys aren't always enthusiastic about the songs, but I've found that offering them choice of which old songs we get to sing helps them to be more invested. 

2. Oral Language Routine

We use our oral language routine as a spiral review time. With every vocabulary unit we finish, I add a new question to the oral language routine, which they will practice regularly in order to maintain the vocabulary they have learned.

We go around in a circle, asking and answering questions so that everyone has a turn practicing each question. Some of the questions we ask and answer are:

  • How are you?
  • What did you eat for breakfast?
  • What are you wearing?
  • Who is in your family?
  • How old are you?
  • What do you look like?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • What did you do after school yesterday?

3. The First Week Bag

When new students first arrive, they get a bag from me with a few things in it. I usually get the bags from the dollar aisle in Target- their Dr. Seuss bags are so cute and perfect for what I need.

Photo via
I also stock up on the Dr. Seuss color and shape flashcards to stick in the bags for new students to practice right away. Also in their first week bag is either a set of sight words cards or letter flashcards, depending on their literacy in their first language. I also send them home with one of these "Sparkle Readers" from Fran Kramer's TPT store - they are PERFECT for newcomers. One of the best TPT purchases I have ever made. Finally, I stick a book in there. Something simple with interesting pictures, because they'll be bringing books home and back in that bag for the rest of the year, and I want them to get in the habit even if they can't read it yet.

There's obviously a lot more to teaching newcomers, but I start with those three things and that at least gets them into our routine quickly. 

What about you? What tips and tricks do you have for a new student's very first day in the country?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Welcome to the Cozy Learning Cottage!

Thanks for stopping by! I am in my fourth year teaching ESL in elementary schools and I love what I do, but in four years of teaching I have never once had a classroom inside the building- always in the trailers out back. It's easy to be cynical about the leaky roof and borderline AC unit, but we call our classrooms the Cozy Learning Cottages and it really does feel like home to the English learners who traipse out here every morning.

I'm hoping to post lesson plans, videos, ideas, and funny stories as we go through the rest of this year and into the next. I've loved learning from teacher blogs over the years and they have given me some of my favorite lesson ideas. I can't wait to be learning from each other on this space!

Thanks for visiting!