Compelling Desire for Assessed Standards? Step by Step for the ESL Field Trip

As an ESL teacher, we know that our students must produce the target language to acquire the target language.  I love Stephen Krashen’s Compelling Input Hypothesis which suggests students need reading material that is not just interesting, it needs to be compelling.  I have seen this happen in my classroom and I am also noticing that my newcomers will produce more English when the desire for output is compelling.

We are near the end of the 2nd semester now.  Quite a few newcomers have developed intermediate or advanced speaking skills and listening comprehension is advanced for most of my class.  They are more comfortable taking risks and so it is a perfect time to do a study trip. These students will need to take a US History state exam to receive a diploma.  So I am looking for compelling units of study that also align to their state standards.  My hope is to generate compelling desire for output with US History so that the students have an authentic desire to produce the language.

This is where our trip to Varner-Hogg Plantation comes in.  This was our only study trip this year but a lot of language acquisition and background knowledge were acquired before we arrived at the historic site.  This was not difficult at all.  We watched the video on the Texas Historical Commission’s site and I allowed the students to translate pages into their native language for discussion.  I also made a Kahoot with facts about the history of the plantation from the site. The history of our first colonists in Mexican Texas, the revolution, slavery & the civil war are concepts that are generally covered in middle school.  So my newcomers would not have that background.  I appreciate how much we could cover in a short period of time that lead right up to what they should be studying in US History now.  We are already discussing the indentured servants, the civil rights movement, the cattle industry and more as they relate to this historic site in our area.

The students are finding so many parallels in history to what they have experienced or what has happened in their countries.  All of this, plus a chance to ask their questions, created very high engagement and a compelling desire for output.

This 3 minute video will show  you some of our day.  The students were on their phones, sure.  They were snapping pictures and taking notes and many sent me pictures so I made this video with our combined collection. It is worth noting that one of the students asking a question in the video arrived 2 days ago.  He relied on translations of what he was hearing but I’m excited about all the grade level learning he was doing. His language will come as it is for all of these students and even our brand new student was building background for state assessed history concepts.

I would encourage ESL teachers to review standards that are being taught in content classes so that you can use what makes sense in your ESL classroom.  If you are unable to plan with content teachers, they might provide you with their scope and sequence, their standards to be covered or you may be able to find this information on your own (ie: Common Core standards, TEKS, etc.).

Our main priority is to teach English speaking, reading, writing and listening skills.  But if  you can make science, math or history compelling to your students, it will benefit them greatly to learn English within a unit that incorporates those standards.

Step by Step for an Awesome ESL Field Trip

Step One – Understand Content Curriculum. You can ask your content teachers, curriculum folks or look online.

Step Two: Get to know your students and their stories.  You will want to pick a venue that has some relevance for your students.  Historical sites are great for culturally responsive teaching.

Step Three:  Set the field trip out a few months to work in literacy practice.  Shared reading & read alouds with content area text books, curriculum materials and web information.

Step Four: Create & teach with a Kahoot about the venue.  You can review with this same Kahoot a few times.  10 facts about the venue introduced through a Kahoot is a great way to build anticipation and background.

Step Five: Translanguage!  Use their entire repertoire of language to learn about the venue. Any website in Google Chrome can be translated with a right-click.

Step Six:  Look for volunteers.  Use this video! It’s hokey but effective to send out to the community:

Step Seven: Practice, practice, practice the authentic questions your students have about the venue.  Offer them the correct English and model pronunciation.  Lots of role playing and practicing on sentence strips or any way to help them get comfortable with what they want to ask on the big day.

Step Eight: Don’t demand that they use English on the entire trip.  Ask that they use their English question but allow native language exploration.  Students should have a great deal of academic and basic language about the venue at this point.  The day will reinforce all of the learning.  (The day is just icing on the cake.  Much of the learning has already happened.)

Step Nine:  Debrief and write!  There will be lots of shared experience now to be able to write together and on their own.

Be open to any opportunities to help them make connections and keep your expectations for them very high!

Thanks for reading about our adventures.  Can’t believe it’s almost year end!  Let’s finish strong!


PS:  Need more support? Contact Kathy Ballenger, Director of Operations at Seidlitz Education.

SIFE, Beginners & Intermediates Reading at Grade Level: Differentiation Idea

We can teach high school Newcomers at grade level in most classes. Sometimes we just need to get them excited about the topic. Check out this 3 min video that will show you the incredible results of newcomers preparing for an author visit.  There are 4 readers in this video. The young man is SIFE. He reads from this page. It is incredible that he lost 4 years of schooling in Jordan and began reading in English 8 months ago:

Note in the video that all of my students are tracking print.  Even my brand-new students can begin engaging with English print this way.  My English reading selections can be on anything so why not align them to their content standards?  I looked for documents that supported the story and the historical time period.

And now the day has arrived!

Tomorrow we will host author Dr. Paul Spellman.  We hope he likes the video.  Paul has written several books on Texas History which may peak the interest of some of our teachers down here in the Lone Star State.

But I teach high school this year and our focus needs to be US & World History.  NO problem! My friend Bryan McAuley at the Texas Historical Commission introduced me to Dr. Spellman because he just wrote and amazing book, Until I Come Home. The book is an entertaining and informative true love story of Dallas socialite Vera Diamond and Cherokee born Roscoe Chittim.

Paul will come and do some storytelling tomorrow! And we are ready because there were many, many pages that I could use for shared reading with the students.  These excerpts were an excellent way to draw my newcomers into US and World Geography as well as key events leading up to, during and after WWI.

If you know me, you know that I created a Kahoot about all this. With the help of this high interest (compelling) text, they know more than the love story.  The Kahoot covers the Zimmerman telegram from Germany that prompted the US to enter the war, the number of US troops sent overseas to fight, the Treaty of Versailles and more.  Feel free to play it here:


No, I am not their history teacher.  But I certainly use content to teach language.   And I hope our content teachers are seeing the payoff when they do the opposite.

(ie: Use language to teach their content.)




I will likely update this post with pictures of Paul’s visit. I will certainly share the pictures on twitter (@MsSalvaC).  They should be very special.  Many of my students are bringing their lunch in order to spend just a little more time with this author!

Thanks for reading and for your interest in ELs!