Thanksgiving: a celebration of gratitude

Thanksgiving is full of rich learning experiences. This year my high school ELL class sat in the cozy, colorful elementary school section of the library.  Some even dared to relax on the carpet.

“Are you sitting comfortably”? asked Ms Ilana as she showed us the cover of The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper.  I , meanwhile, experienced a flashback to the welcoming, warm opening of the BBC’s ‘Listen With Mother’…


The students settled into a quiet, listening mode as our narrator told of the grandfather who explained to his grandson the universal meaning of kindness.  We did not discuss the message, but held on to our thoughts as we completed thanksgiving cutouts on what we are thankful for.

On our way out, we stapled our gratitude to the thankful  tree.


The idea for the next part of the lesson  came from McGill’s timely post ‘An Open Mind’

I asked each student where she or he is from and as  I teach in an international school the replies were diverse.  While viewing  ‘The DNA Journey’, the students jotted down ideas on an index card to help them articulate ideas for the discussion and written response.

My ELLs were shocked and intrigued; pointing out that we are so quick to define our differences rather than our similarities.

As one student responded:

“Just by spiting in a tube you can know where you are REALLY from.”


The Best-Kept Teaching Secret?

The Best-Kept Teaching Secret.

The authors, Harvey ‘Smokey” Daniels and Elaine Daniels are experienced educators who have published many books.  I have read four of them: Mini – Lessons for Literature Circles, Inquiry Circles in Action, Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Reading and Texts and Lessons for Teaching Literature.  These books are rich in reading and inquiry-based activities  for the ELA as well as ELL classrooms.


Intrigued, I promptly ordered the Best Kept Secret and as soon as it arrived, rushed to read it before we got too far into the school year.

The secret?  Written conversations but in the form of letters.

The book is easy to navigate with a summary of each conversation;  goals  and clear directions for the teacher on how to plan the activity. I  came away with a few interesting ideas.

Daniels suggests we take a break in the middle of our lessons for students to exchange brief notes with a partner expressing understanding, or asking for clarification. (81, Daniels).

The writers call the entry note-card an ‘admit ticket.’ I used this as a homework assignment (Daniel’s idea) and all the students came to class prepared to discuss the prompt I gave them.  I asked them to draw a concept map of what/who influences their identity and used the note-cards as a hook for our unit on Civil Rights.


And here is what influences their decisions, values etc.


The Daniels have upgraded the old ‘quick writes’ with a silent, visible think-aloud called ‘write-arounds’.  (168, Daniels).  I used this activity to pique the students’ interest in the main ideas of a short story  ‘The Fan Club’.

I divided the class into 4 groups and put a different question on each table. Each student received a piece of paper and responded to the prompts.

When I rang my Bhutan bell

IMG_0194after 2 minutes, the students passed the papers on. When the paper reached the original writer, the group chose 3 big ideas and one student reported out to the class.

Daniels claims that these written, silent conversations “push kids’ thinking” (3, Daniels) and the students concur.

“I saw the clear opinion of every person in the group”.

“People who have a louder voice didn’t eclipse the ones with quiet voice”.

“I had to expose myself to new ideas and opinions”.

“It was silent, so I was able to be more focused”.

“My sentences are better structured”.

“It’s fun to work in groups”.

However, some students found they did not have enough time to think and write.

“I usually take a super long time to produce ides out of my brain”.

They also enjoyed working in groups and sharing ideas.

Do you have a teaching secret?

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