Sizzling Salsa Words

Jordana, a young ELA colleague, celebrated word choice with a Salsa party for her 10th graders.  My ELLs were not to be outdone so I planned a party for them.

It  began with tasting rice cakes and corn chips dipped into a bowl of not-too-hot salsa.

I think that eating rice cakes is like eating styrofoam (not that I’ve ever tried).  Salsa sizzles.  The students thought the rice cakes were boring and the salsa words were original.

It was messy and fun.

My takeaway:  I was sure the students would find the rice cakes dry and inedible.  However,  I learnt that hungry teens will devour anything especially before lunch.  I thought I over catered.  But no!


We no longer talk about word choice.  We discuss salsa words.

2 activities & The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I had read the book by Mark Haddon when it was first published in 2003 and went to see the powerful award-winning play in London last year.  I was inspired.

I have read so many studies of how students are feeling less and less empathetic.  What a great chance to raise the students’ awareness of other people’s views of the world, of those who are “different, not less” (Temple Grandin).

One of  my favorite activities is the gallery walk because the students have to move and think.  They are all engaged. So I decided to use this strategy to “frontload” ( a term coined by Jeff Wilhelm in one of his oh so teacher friendly resource books   Action Strategies for Deepening Comprehension) .   In small groups, the students walked around the classroom, responding in words and images to 4 significant quotations written on poster paper.   In analyzing the quotes, the students  predicted the attributes of the main character as well as the themes and  conflicts that may emerge.  Once the groups responded to all the quotes, they returned to their original prompt. Each group synthesized the main ideas  of the final quote, and reported out to the rest of the class.  We then held a general discussion.


The second activity was  a drama workshop where the students practiced non verbal communication.  After a few exercises, the drama instructor divided the students into small groups. Two of the groups presented a short scene highlighting conflicts that arise at home through lack of communication. One group enacted a scene from the novel.




New Year = Goals

We should encourage our students to set short term goals.  I do this a few times a year, using different activities.  This time, I divided the goals into 2.  First,  I asked my students to set goals that are not connected to ELL.  I like Dave Stuart Jr’s term ‘long – term flourishing’ and decided to use his ‘back from winter break‘  SMART goal setting activity.


The second activity was for the students to focus on themselves as English language learners.  I asked them to write down what is working and what they need to work on; a form of feedback I learnt from Jim Burke.


Next my students will go back to their goals and evaluate how they are doing.


How long does it take to reach proficiency in English?

I am reminded of  Jeanne D’Arc’s last line in Bernard Shaw’s Joan of Arc:


‘How long, O Lord, how long?’

I was so happy to read that it can take up to 3-5 years to reach oral proficiency.    We want our ELLs to succeed in their regular classes.  In order to do so, some students may simply need more time.

Thank you to one of my mentors: Larry Ferlazzo.

On average, how long do your students remain in your ELL program?

The Ubiquitous Icebreaker – an Upgrade

I am always searching for a new, original icebreaker to begin the year.

Since identity is a recurring theme in various texts, I like the idea of building  individual and class identity webs as a community builder.

I even have my first writing activity:  to reflect on the identity charts, find differences and commonalities.

My thanks to Sarah Ahmed.

A tweet by Traci Gardner sent me to an interesting article  that gave context to the identity concept maps.  I will pair individual and class selfies  with photographic and painted self portraits. And then … I will let you know next week.

Thank you Traci Gardner.

Do you have a favorite icebreaker?

Low Tech Notes

LI was looking through my twitter feed about 10 minutes before my ELLs arrived in class when I read the following:

Although the students resist, I  insist they keep an idea/thought/interactive notebook.

I always stress that  note taking is one of the essential skills they’ll need in high school and college.  They practice Cornell, discussion and even sketch note taking in the hope that they  find a system that works best for them.   All notes are handwritten.

For this morning’s warm up, I projected and read  an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, written only yesterday,  with up to date research on the benefits of written rather than typed notes. We had an interesting discussion about low distractions such as drawing and doodling.  I explained that according to research, that also helps you think.

It appears that I am not the only teacher who insists on hand written notes.  Their social studies teacher has the same idea.

How do you teach note taking?