They Can Absolutely Read That.

Picture a newcomer you know this year. Remember the beginning of school when we were all freaking out that these kids spoke NO English?  I was so worried about how in the world they would survive in a comprehensive high school. I am every year!  As always I had to remind myself that they can learn very, very quickly.

Well, we are so proud of those kiddos who are not only surviving, they are thriving!

In the first few weeks of school, I showed someone the “I Don’t Know” poster and explained that this is critical for new English learners and students with interrupted or minimal education.  I explained that teaching kids what to say instead of “IDK” is a great practice for all students in every content classroom.  This is Step 1 of Seidlitz Education‘s Seven Steps – a fantastic training on sheltered instruction.

This poster is helpful so our ELs have a way to participate immediately if they feel comfortable to do so.  Her response was “But they can’t read that!  Your kids don’t read any English.”

Okay. I get that.  On their own… on that day…. no, they couldn’t read a poster in English.  But even on that first day, they absolutely CAN read that poster with our help. Everyone can repeat and follow print and they can comprehend what the sentences mean if you offer some support. And EVERY DAY they gain more English with help from that poster.

“May I ask a friend for help?”
“Can you please repeat the question?”

With phrases like this (that are useful for all students), this environmental print is much more than a poster.  For ELs, it is the first step toward participation and eventual independence in any learning environment.

Even with brand new ELs, let’s remember that they understand more English every single day.  And with some sheltered strategies, that language can be acquired even more quickly.  Once my students began to gain confidence, their participation in English increased.  We do a great deal of speaking in unison, reading aloud in unison, tracking print and having conversations with classmates that may start scripted but lead to authentic exchanges.


I’m thrilled to have some of those students preparing for a presentation that they will do next week for 37 World History students who will be visiting our classroom.

The mainstream kiddos are interested in our migration stories! They will come for a class visit, hear a few presentations and share food that they are bringing for the occasion.   Can you imagine all of the positive affective, cultural and growth-mindset outcomes for both groups?  Not the least of which are the learning standards we are hitting with World Geography and World History in the curriculum.

Presenting to our community is great but it gets even better.  We are contributing our slides/stories to a project on migration stories that is happening in a classroom in Laos.

For this project, I have to give a big thanks to two colleagues whom I have never met.  These ladies are from my Twitter PLN!

Ms. Olwen Millgate is a 5th grade teacher at the Vientiane International School in Laos. Several months back, she reached out to me on Twitter and invited us to contribute to a Google Slides presentation on Migration Stories for her students.This opportunity to tell our stories and write for an authentic audience was like gold!  And what an amazing opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures, countries, push/pull factors, current events and more. So much learning happens in the cracks with this kind of global collaboration.  It is profound for both classes!

At first, I was not sure how to have my newcomers (some who are just gaining literacy in any language) participate with the limited amount of time we have in class or in a grading period.

Enter Noa Daniel and her fantastic idea of BOBs (Building Outside the Blocks)!  I first heard Noa on this episode of Derek Rhodenizer’s podcast. She was talking about the idea of having your class work outside the blocks of times that we are allowed in class.  WOW! Why had I not thought of this? This idea of flexibility paid off in so many ways.  Noa’s students are taking off in all different creative directions so her blog is worth checking out no matter what you teach!  For my students, the choice of projects and the choice of presentation

For my students, the choice of presentation dates, offered them a realistic way of preparing and sharing something in their new language. Noa also sent me a different project “What’s in a Name” that allowed the students a chance to research the origins of their name,  interview parents and analyze if this name suites them.  I was inspired by how many students chose to do this project even though they had already compiled enough information to present on other subjects.  This project was compelling to many of them.   
What I am seeing is that CHOICE + FLEXIBILITY = SUCCESS for my learners.  Wouldn’t this be motivating for any learner?

So now we are getting close to the end of the school year.  This time of year is so rewarding! As ESL teachers, we get to see all the growth our students have made and we are now communicating with more ease.  We start to relax as we see these learners using their skills to take ownership of their learning.

It creates a differentiation issue when we have new students arriving all the time.  My campus has received over a dozen newcomers in the past few weeks and my veteran newcomers are far beyond the beginner stage in several domains.

Thankfully, the poster is still there and the class helps the new students use it so they can start participating right away.

Thanks for your interest and for being an EL advocate!

We need more like you!


Gamify Language Acquisition with Kahoot

Didn’t make it to SXSWEdu? Here are some highlights from what I shared daily from the Kahoot Activity Lounge.   I shared ideas on using Kahoot to promote authentic language production by newcomers (and all kids).20170304-113630.jpg
We caught the first few minutes of my presentation on video: 

So are you familiar with Kahoot? It is super easy to make an online quiz and students don’t need to create accounts to play.  You can even search the millions that are already made & play one of those.   Students LOVE Kahoot.  If you try it, you’ll find that students actually request that you review content this way.

So now… how do I use Kahoot to promote language learning?  Well, let’s remember that as an educator, my goal with language acquisition is to provide sheltered learning opportunities.  My two big objectives for this are to

1) Make Content Comprehensible

2) Develop Academic Language

Making Content Comprehensible

Visuals and gestures are high on this list of things that help a language learner comprehend your message.  For example, if I am telling my class that the earth is the third planet from the sun, I may get some blank stares from my students who are new arrivals.  It likely sounds like “The blah is the blah blah blah the blah.”  But if I point to this image of the earth and count over with my fingers 1, 2, 3 and then point to the sun while I say that… there is usually instant comprehension from anyone who is watching.

(Image from

Know what else?  Many of my native speakers benefit from this visual as well!  Most of my students are not auditory learners.  Take a look at that picture and tell me if that wouldn’t be helpful to any child who is learning that concept?  So here is what it looks like in the middle of a Kahoot game.

But look at this quiz. WHY would I wait to use this after I have taught a concept?  Why not use this highly engaging activity to TEACH this concept?

There are some amazing Kahooters out there creating “Blind Kahoots” that offer an example of how to build a lesson with Kahoot.  Stephanie Castle, (@castlestephanie) High School IB Bio teacher in New York, pioneered this concept and her Mitosis Blind Kahoot is a great example.  This is so successful with students that Kahoot now offers a template for creating your own Blind Kahoot.  Everything you want to know about this is here: The Art of Blind Kahooting

We know that our language learners are going to benefit from learning concepts this way. If you allow students to take a stab at the answer, and then pull the image back up before you go on to the next question, your Kahoot becomes a super engaging, interactive presentation with visuals and opportunities for more sheltered strategies by the teacher.  It is pretty great to have the undivided attention of your class while you bring everyone back to the image to explain why the answer is what it is.  Not only is this powerful for all your visual learners, it is a great opportunity to work in test taking strategies.  How many of our students are missing standardized test questions because they are not attending to the image?  Be thoughtful about your images and point out the power of attending to them.  Teaching the concepts this way has been working extremely well with my newcomer class.

Developing Academic Language

Making your content comprehensible and engaging for the class is a huge win. But for us, we are getting even more mileage out of our Kahoot lessons because we are intentional about building the students’ academic language.  We know that we internalize concepts more if we verbalize them.  I want my students feeling comfortable with the language as soon as possible.  I want all students speaking academically because it will cement learning and open doors for them if they get into the habit.  Therefore, I am a big proponent of newcomers reading in unison for practice with pronunciation.  Most language learners are very fixated on how they sound when speaking in their second language.  According to Stephen Krashen, we will get a lot further with our students if we can lower their anxiety about participating in class. (  If they feel comfortable pronouncing words like “homologous pair of chromosomes,” we have a better shot at getting them to use that language when we ask them to speak authentically about our content. This is why we always read the question stem and correct answer all together before we move on to the next question.

See these examples of what we would practice learning AND saying through a Kahoot on explorers:

All of my students are benefitting from the learning of content this way.  My newcomers are practicing complete academic sentences and also comprehending the content because I am teaching with visuals & gestures.  In that example, I made both “ship” and “vessel” correct answers so we could point out that new vocabulary for all students.

Marie Heath (@ELLatPISD) of Plano ISD recently gave me a great idea for a variation on this.  She suggests turning all of the questions into True/False statements.  Your answers could be changed to “I agree” and “I disagree.”  Kahoot allows  you to turn off the points so that it is not a competition but rather a springboard for discussion.  Marie’s idea is to use this “Agree/Disagree” Kahoot as an anticipatory set.  Jennifer Gonzalez (@cultofPedagogy) has a great blog post here about the power of the anticipatory set.   I love this idea because you are using the engagement of Kahoot to have students critically thinking, they are practicing the language and using it in authentic conversations.




Practicing the new language will lead to more comfort USING the new language.  Here is a video of a day that I had EIGHT newcomers arrive in class and I wanted a way to review our social contract.  Kahoot to the rescue.  Newcomers practicing their new language on Day one:


Another feature that I know I will share is the new way to use Kahoot called Jumble. You are basically re-ording words or phrases so that they are in the correct sequence.   This is an example of the game screen for a jumble I am using:

The players have a screen that looks like this on their device:

They are to drag the colors/shapes into the correct order.  There are obvious benefits here for second language acquisition.  You have visuals and opportunities for oral practice as we stated earlier.  You also have the advantage of creating sentences that are aligned with your grammar goals.  And don’t forget that you can throw in sentences that are inspirational or meaningful to their learning.

This is a practice jumble I made for staff development:

What about your newcomer #ELLs creating Kahoots?? Yes! They can. Check out this blogpost on how:

Holiday Traditions Selfie Kahoot = Authentic Writing & Global Learning

I’m only scratching the surface of what we do with Kahoot to inspire students to use language authentically.  Below are a few other posts I have done about Kahoot.  Check those out our just start using the free platform.  I’m sure you will be inspired to think of even more innovative ways to facilitate academic conversations while you have the undivided attention of every student!

Happy Kahooting!


Kahoot with Brand New ELs + Skype with Krew

Heritage Learning with Day of the Dead Kahoot

News in Levels and Kahoot