Where in the world is Ms.D?

After what seemed like a short summer vacation, we return once again to those tiled halls, colorful classrooms, and bubbly teacher’s lounges. School let out in good ol’ Missouri just before June. There was about 12 days off then summer school started.

This was my first time teaching summer school and I was placed at a different school. I took on the role of ELL Teacher at a new building, with new faces and two different schools combined within. I experienced a new demographic of ELL students than what I’m used to and was completely on my own for the 20 days. Summer school, at least at that school, wasn’t like anything I was used to. When I was little and attended the Summer Adventure School program, we did normal academia in the morning and the afternoon was filled with hands-on, creative electives that we chose. I took classes like LEGO Movie Making and Go Karts Plus, where we built our own go karts out of wood and raced them.

Summer school where I was back in June consisted of a lot of videos/movies, outdoor fitness, and fuse bead art. I was also in a setting where the regular ELL teacher mostly used the “push-in” method, where she stepped into the regular classrooms to assist students with their work. For me, and this summer school set-up, the “pull-out” method is my go-to. Most of the students were fluent and all the older students questioned their placement in ELL every single day. They were unaware of the great services they should have been receiving regularly. Perhaps, titles weren’t properly given to the students via ELL teacher or the students weren’t seen too often. Regardless, it made my experience challenging but also more rewarding. It gave me the confidence to come back in the Fall to my own classroom and finally take charge.

That’s right, my own classroom! It still hasn’t fully sunk in on my end, but I have happily taken over the ELL Teacher position at my (current) dream school. Now that I’m officially a teacher here, I don’t think I can refer to it as my dream school anymore. It still feels like a wondrous dream to me. My incredible mentor from the past 1.5 years retired after she finished out summer school here. I was left with a room filled with various curriculum boxes and activities to teach English to my newcomers and visiting scholars.

Another stepping stone I reached in July was starting my Master’s Degree. I’m working towards earning my Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language PreK-12th through Western Governor’s University online. I almost finished with my first course on culture. The program was fairly easy to get into and is very straight-forward. So far so good!

It’s going to be a busy first year teaching but an incredible experience to say the least!


Graphic Organizers Galore!

If I can organize my thoughts, ideas, questions, feelings into graphics, then I’m all about it. Language learning is so much more enriching when pictures can be associated to word concepts. Sometimes it takes a short video clip to see the concept in motion or maybe an action that can be associated with the meaning of the word. All of these elements, whether used alone or in combination, help to further instill language and new terminology. 

We can talk all day about healthy foods and read about eating a rainbow of foods. But it doesn’t really help us if we only know a few of each colored food. I created this food color wheel to go along with our book from Reading A to Z, A Rainbow of Foods. I put up a picture of some colorful foods, we referenced our book and completed this healthy food wheel. This helped my students a lot with more ways to eat healthy and better snack choices. 

This organizer came straight from the Reading A to Z activities with the non-fiction text, The Foods We Eat. In this text we learned about where different foods come from and how they are made. Students had to brainstorm some of their favorite foods and figure out if they were plant eaters or meat eaters. Again associating a word with a picture and even a partial definition in this case with explaining the where. Some students took it a step further by telling where exactly their food came from.  

A story we read from the My Sidewalks on Reading Street collection had a similar picture that I drew up as a labeling activity. The book had this diagram at the end of the section for students to look over and read. I created this document for the students to physically label the plant parts between a flower and a vegetable. This activity was completed with first graders but can easily be modified for up to third grade, depending on how many parts you’d like to label.  

Not every graphic organizer has to include graphics. Sometimes just the movement and separation of words and phrases gives the visual or kinesthetic learner a different approach to understanding. This is where good old Venn diagrams,  t-charts, or KWL (know, want, learned) charts come in handy.

These types of graphic organizers are my absolute fave! They are so versatile and of course can be tailored to anyone’s needs. I first discovered them through Vocabulary A to Z, a branch of the Reading A to Z collection. Sometimes I choose the words to be defined and other times I make a list of vocab words for the students to pick the words they need a more clear understanding of. Students look up images on Google, our text, or from our discussions. For the more advanced students, we take our words and illustrations to the next level by writing a sentence about them.  

And then there are always more graphic organizers that are just more visually pleasing ways to share and keep track of information. Sometimes it’s good to physically see the connections between different things and how they correlate with like topics. Other times it’s good to make a timeline or number line to list out events in chronological order to get a grasp on time itself and the significance of events. 

Whatever works best for your students and you is something to take and run with.  My personal favorite is the vocab words with matching illustrations, which can be used across the board in various content areas and learning abilities.  I hope this blog will help you and your students to further develop language skills and comprehension overall. These are definetly big hits with my kiddos. 


Connecting Contractions

Sometimes we know what apostrophe’s are and sometimes we think they are commas that got away. But when it comes down to taking out a letter, or two or more, we throw that old friend in the air to signal that something is missing. When using contractions, we are taking two words and pushing them together as  concept can be easy to grasp but often times the students keep reading the contracted word as two separate words. When reading it’s, they are often saying it is. Sometimes when breaking things down we only make it that more confusing. So I like to take a few different approaches to concepts and grammatical tools to fully develop the thought process.  

When looking at contractions that end in “d” we are getting more difficult. Because many words end in “d” so it’s important to read through the whole sentence to understand where it’s going and which word will fit best. It’s also good to point out that you’re taking away way more than just 1-2 letters for these types of contractions. We practiced these choices more together to wrap our brains around these potential rule breakers. 


Actions Speak Louder Than (Other) Words

What are you doing right now? Thinking, writing/typing, sitting, breathing, blinking….those are verbs. Those action words that get us up and moving.those helping words that motivate and encourage us to build with ourselves and our words. 

Parts of speech are often left by the way side with ELL students because they are only learning in the United States for so long. But it’s also an important task to take on with any student who is fairly fluent with their writing and understand basic grammar and punctuation rules. It’s just good to know the difference between nouns and verbs. I usually don’t express that every sentence needs a subject noun and verb because that’s just beyond their reach at this point in their education. But knowing the difference between action words and people, places, things , and ideas are a terrific place to start adding to that learning curve and further develop their thinking. 

After brainstorming various verbs together, students worked on reading through sentences and deciphering which words are verbs. Many times we found ourselves asking questions like “who is doing what?” or “what is happening here?” These questions helped the students to read closer as to what actions are actually taking place in each sentence they read. Students then got to write a sentence of their own being conscious of their use of verbs as they go. Verb usage was never an issue before, other than subject verb agreements–but that’s an issue with most people learning a new language. It’s all a part of the learning process. 


Satisfying a Masterpiece

This creative art piece was created by all of our ELL students as a gift to our beloved ELL teacher that is retiring. The concepts were brought together by two fourth grade students. One had the idea of color where the other had ideas of clouds, land, and a dark circular void in the middle of it all. We were able to combine those ideas into a large scale stained glass window design. Using pieces of colored broken glass we began laying the ground works for our masterpiece. As the day went on, we got students from each grade level to join in with laying the glass.

Dr. Gennie is the real mastermind when it comes to creating stained glass art. She carefully showed each student the ropes of each step of the window design, the layout, glueing all the pieces, to the grout work, polishing the entire piece, and of course giving it a name. We assigned different tasks to each grade level. Our kindergarten friends helped name the masterpiece, “Piece by Peace.” Our first graders helped to shine and polish the beautiful work. Much of the glueing took place by the careful hands of our third and fourth graders.

Silicone is used to adhere the glass pieces to the window. We used Popsicle sticks to spread the silicone onto the glass then carefully place the pieces back in their rightful place on the window. It is a tedious task that our wonderful third and fourth graders excelled at. The next step is adding the grout in between the pieces of glass to really hold everything in. Once the grout is inserted, it’s time to polish the masterpiece and do the clean up work. Cleanup work had to be completed by teachers since you have to use x-acto knives to dig out excess grout and silicone. We used water and wool socks to shine the glass and clean the window frame.


Eat the Rainbow

It’s important to eat a rainbow of healthy foods each and everyday. But why is it so important? What foods are considered healthy? How can we enjoy more of a rainbow when we eat? After reading the story “A Rainbow of Foods” we have been discussing these same questions and more. The story broke down many different fruits and vegetables that we commonly see and enjoy. The text told us what great things these healthy foods do for our bodies and how we can better ourselves. But are those the ONLY healthy foods we should enjoy? We made a wheel of colorful healthy foods that we can eat to keep our bodies strong and our minds working sharp. We used our book and the food rainbow above to help inspire our healthy foods quest.

More about emphasizing the importance of eating healthy foods of a variety of colors. Because each color of foods does different things for our bodies. And that’s important because our bodies do SO many different things every single day!


On a Personal Note

I decided to change it up and take a look into myself, my teaching abilities, as well as my strengths. It’s good to take a step back, self-evaluate, and give yourself the credit you deserve sometimes. So many people in this world are so negative and will try to talk you down, but you have to remember who you are, where you are, what you are, and where you want to be. So Michael Scott asks, “Why are you the way that you are?”

I really enjoy working with ELL students and learning from them about their unique and diverse cultures. They are so young but have already experienced so much, which gives them different worldly concerns that most of us don’t necessarily think about. Like the fact that some of our students don’t know what a bath tub is or their parents don’t bake anything. Some students fear returning to their home country from a harsh and strict living situation. Some students from an African heritage practically run their families; they become independent at a very young age and are responsible for themselves and their siblings. Once you’ve established a relationship with these individuals and built up their confidence in English, you start to hear more and more about their day-to-day lives either back in their native country or their American home life. It’s such an eye-opening experience for all of us.

I love how different my role can be as a teacher of English as a second language. Some days we are working with flash cards and manipulatives, phonics word work, matching pictures to text or definitions to text, reading and writing responses, and even inquiry topics. Depending on the student(s) abilities and understanding of content areas varies how much we can actually do which allows for more individualized lesson plans and more enriching experiences for learning. We are doing so much in just 30 minutes, but it’s extremely conducive to learning. 

I’m currently in a role where I’m pulling 10-11 small groups a day to work in 30 minute increments on speaking, reading, writing, and listening in English. I’m working with first through fourth grade at the moment with various skill levels. Some students are just getting settled into America and the school; whereas some students have been here anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. Each group is very different and working on something completely different. 

Each group is pieced together based off everyone’s abilities. Sometimes I have third graders working with second graders. Sometimes you have students that just lack the maturity to focus and move forward, due to their age or refugee status,  so they get bumped down to a group that better fits their needs. Maybe a beginner is moving and learning so quickly that they need to be placed in a more challenging group. Nothing is set in stone because everything I do is completely based on what each child knows and can comfortably do. It’s what is necessary for their learning and for my teaching. I do what I love and I love what I do!