BAP060 Teaching Older ELs to READ. The Basics!

Do you know how to teach a person how to read when they don’t know how to decipher text?  Maybe they can read in their first language… maybe not! Yikes!  Where do we start?  What do we focus on?

In this post, I have two ways for you to get this content.  You can watch the YouTube video below or scroll down to access the podcast.

In this show, you’ll get an overview of Balanced Literacy and some foundational understanding of how you can help a person gain the ability to independently read words in your target language.

UPDATE: LOOK FOR A NEW SHOW in 2022 that addresses The Science of Reading.

Science of Reading is an important shift in the field as we consider how the brain learns to read.  But it does not change how I approach non-English speakers and SLIFE.  They still need some language under their belt before we attempt to teach phonics.  And we can assess what phonics they DO know prior to a rolling out a scripted phonics curriculum.

This show is meant to explain how to teach someone how to decipher text.  We know that reading is much more than that.


Of course, it is.  But many upper elementary and secondary teachers get training in how to help students analyze text, think deeply and critically about the text.  We differentiate for students who cannot easily read grade level text.  But WHEN are they getting better at decoding the words?  When are they working on the ability to read words with automaticity?

Where do we start if the student isn’t able to read in their first language?  This is a training we would not normally get.  Or if we do, it doesn’t make sense in our reality.  This show gives you the understanding of best practice for teaching a person to read.   Let’s get the gist of that… and then I’ll tell you how I hack it!




I use these slides to explain Balanced Literacy (at a high level) to teachers.  I use slides like the ones below when I’m explaining to students why they need to read more (easy reading, shared reading, ANY reading..) and how they will begin to decipher text.  KEY is that they (and we) remember that they will understand more English every day.  I do a very basic phonics inventory at the beginning of the year and mid year to show them growth.  I take anecdotal notes when possible to see that they are progressing.  I don’t do any phonics lessons until the second semester.  We read together A LOT. They are flooded with low stress opportunities to speak in English with frames and read together starting on Day One.

I also assess students to get an idea of what they CAN decode about every 4-6 weeks.  I use assessments like this and also this so I can show them growth.  I also use nonsense words to get an idea of what they can do with letters and blends.   But it begins with their awareness.

I also want to be sure that you have access to this Rapid Literacy padlet.  It has many resources I use to help students grow their mindset, help them learn English and help them begin to read.

I want to also share the padlet we use for our Boosting Achievement workshop. There is a lot of overlap but the Boosting training is a bit more relevant for content teachers and anyone wanting to boost the achievement of the entire class while they include SLIFE.



Are you thinking something like….

But what should this look like in an ESL classroom?  (Check out Episode 26)

But my kids are not motivated at all. (Check out Episode 5 and then activities on the padlets above)

But my kids are not respectful to each other, the room is a zoo! (Episode 15)

But my students don’t believe that they can do it. (Episode 17, Episode 5, every episode really)

But I am a content teacher, what can I do to help with this?  Please check out all the other podcasts here! My PLN has helped me address these types of issues and so much more.


I will soon be doing a show that gives you more ideas of how I talk to the kids so they begin to take ownership of this process.

I use the slides above but I have some lessons that might be helpful to you.

Hope this was helpful, folks!  I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter.  I’m still learning and input from you would only further my journey, I am sure.

Please check out the Upcoming Events page to see where I’ll be in the near future:


BAP037 Older ELs Learning to Write while Writing to Learn

Writing!  ELs need to learn to write but they also need to write to learn. And every one of them can do that. Listen to the show here or read my thoughts on this below:

This podcast episode and blog post are all about writing with English learners.  My focus for reflection is about how any English learner (pre-literate or nearly fluent) can write… and also how all of them can use writing to propel their learning. This picture is a student in Emily Francis’ class in Concord, NC.  Emily is an EL teacher hero who began her career in Elementary and this year is teaching high school.  (You’ll want to check out her blog and her story!)

I have this picture because Emily and other Twitter PLN members contributed ideas about writing with SLIFE in our weekly twitter chat (thanks everyone!) Many of those posts are included in the Twitter Moment at the end of this blogpost.

In the show I mention Abydos International, formerly the NJ Writing Project.  So there is the link to their services. I’m not doing the trainings anymore but I keep my certification current.  You can’t get better training for your writing teachers than Abydos.

Content Area Writing

Content teachers, this first part is for you.  In this episode, I use Math as an example.  I get questions all the time from content teachers who are concerned for their English learners.  This is understandable because most assessments after a certain age are READING assessments.  What I mean is that the test needs to be read and comprehended for the student to be able to be successful.
I offer to you that, in my opinion, the math content teacher’s main goal is to teach MATH.
Don’t misunderstand me.  I realize that all teachers are language teachers.  We have to be.  But there is a slight difference in our main goal.  Too often I see our English learners gain enough language to navigate and assessment but they are lacking in the content mastery because they were not taught at grade level.
I fully realize that it is difficult to teach grade-level standards to a student who does not comprehend the language of instruction. However, it is totally possible.  As educators, we just deserve more examples of what it could look like for our grade level and content.   I have many examples elsewhere on this website and if you have a specific learning standard in mind, reach out!  If I don’t have an example, I know my PLN will.

 What can writing look like in the content class?

In Clearing the Way, Working with Teenage Writers, author Tom Romano stresses that content teachers outside of Language Arts do not need to teach writing, but they should all realize that writing has us using language- and that is what makes us think.

So writing in Math can look like a journal where students reflect on their learning.  That can be with frames such as “I noticed…”  and “I solved that by…” I had the pleasure of being a parent to a child who was in a language rich math classroom.  Anthony’s homework always included a reflection piece.  There were less calculations and more writing about math and thinking about how things can be solved.  The EL scores took a huge jump in that class because the teacher, Joseph Maurer, understood how to use language to teach math.  This is a video that includes reflections from a new math teacher and also some reflections from the students in Mr. Maurer’s math class.  They are talking about how much conversation there is in their math classrooms and why it is important to their learning. You can see how an English learner would be gaining more and more language and literacy (and knowledge of math) in these classes.  And how they should be able to write some reflections. The two big ideas for this PD video are reviewing your objectives with the class (with attention to the STUDENTS using the vocabulary) and a Social Contract so that students feel safe collaborating in class.  For more on these ideas, check out this blogpost.

The students in that video are explaining why it is important for them to produce the language of math with each other and on their own.  As I said, I have been in this classroom and there is a great deal of writing.  They are writing to learn.  Writing personalizes our learning.  Each student will come into the writing wherever they are.  
On the show, I promised to include examples in these notes and it so happens that Kirsten Foti just reached out and reminded me of how powerful Roving Paragraph Frames can be for ELs. She is even finding success using it with some of her students who have learning differences. I learned this technique from John Seidlitz and included it on p. 67 & 68 of Boosting Achievement.  If you don’t have the book, check out this post by Kirsten Foti that explains it all and includes writing samples from her ELs.

In the English Language Development (ELD) Classroom

As the ELD teacher, my goal is to have students so interested that they forget that they are learning a language.  We Skype with archeologists, we Skype with other classrooms, we connect with people in our community and other authentic opportunities.  The students do a lot of speaking before I ask them to write.  We use sentence frames for speaking and for writing and we often use paragraph frames.  This video shows how we wrote scholarship essays with SLIFE students that all turned out to be over 400 words.  Each became personalized essays because the kids cared a great deal about the topic.

When we think about the writing process, we should consider that every child can participate in all stages.  if you are not sure how to include them, look at this Booksnap of pages 86 &87 of Boosting Achievement.  (quick thanks to Tara Martin for the idea of Booksnaps!) The table in this photo offers a way for pre-literate students to engage in every stage of the writing process.

Sometimes teachers ask me how we can make students write in English.  Well, the kids have taught me that we are taking the wrong approach when trying to make or force them to do anything.  Another goal I have is to always look for opportunities where they REALLY care about their writing.  One way to do that is to give kids choice and voice in what they write.
THE BEST resource I have found for this is Noa Daniel.  She is a teacher, a consultant, and a podcaster out of Toronto.  Her “Building Outside the Blocks” approach to project-based learning has changed everything for me!  We now build outside the blocks of time and students are empowered by selecting when they will present their work to the class.  They care a lot about what they write because Noa’s projects honor students in many different ways.  Here are a couple of examples.  In this one, Personal Playlist, my students had to come up with songs that tell about them.  One is a song that makes them nostalgic, another is an identity song and the last is a motivator.  Watch this short video to see Natalia’s project. She was new to the English language this year:

Here are the planning pages for this project, with credit and thanks to Noa Daniel.  I have only adapted them slightly for language learners.
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I have three other projects for your students to consider.  ** Notice that I said for your students to consider.**   KEY to all of this is choice.  I would never force a child to tell about anything they did not want to tell or write about.  I always have a “free choice” option if a student wants to write and present about something entirely different.  We just need to support them with some frames and set expectations for the final product. Here are planning pages for a few other projects including the scholarship essay:
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Thanks for taking the time to reflect on all of this with me. I hope it is useful in helping you include SIFE and all ELs in the act of writing.

Many hugs,


PS: Please check out all the places I will be presenting!   I hope to see you at one of them.  Also, remember that I am traveling across the US and Canada to bring Boosting Achievement and Rapid Literacy training to you and your colleagues.  Reach out if we can help!

As promised, here is the Twitter Moment with even more ideas from our PLN

As teachers of English language or teachers of content, we should have a goal of engaging students in the writing process.  Many educators out there agree with me.  Check out this Twitter Moment from our last #BoostingAchievement Twitter chat.  And join us every Thursday at 7pm CT for a quick 30 min #BoostingAchievement chat about raising the bar and supporting all ELs.

Not at WIDA2018? Here Are All the Resources!

Want to attend my “Hacking Literacy for SLIFE” session at WIDA 2018?

No worries, I have all the resources for you right here.  Not everyone can get to these amazing conferences and I feel that it is important to make sure EVERY teacher of ELs has a way to find practical techniques that they can use immediately.  Your work is just too important.  (SLIFE: Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education)

Also! This is a great guide to offering this session at your campus or at a different conference. Spread the love!

Know what else?? Angela Goetz helped me record the session to Facebook LIVE.  Here it is:

So I only have about an hour and 15 min with the good folks in Detroit this Wednesday but I will make it worth their while to come to my session.  I’m going to squeeze in as many practical techniques as I can.  And my goal is for the majority of them to be things we can do in ANY classroom.  I want to model those strategies that are critical for our ELs but actually boost the learning of everyone.  When you offer PD, do your best to allow the participants to experience these things and have them reflect now and again on how they affect THEIR learning.   We could all use reminders!

I am going to start by acknowledging the challenges of SLIFE. The ones on this slide are the big issues I hear most often and they are valid.  But I’ll also remind teachers that we have a solution for each of these issues.  We just need some practical techniques that work for all kids and also build literacy for our SIFE.


First I’m going to post my objectives.  POST the objectives… not just show them on a slide.  I will need to pack some chart paper but this is worth it because those objectives are a visual for students.  There are plenty of reasons for doing this and I want to use just a few minutes to explain why and what I’m doing.

When I review the Content and Language Objectives on the wall, I will draw everyone’s attention to each word by pointing to it as I read.  I’ll use some gestures of pointing to my chest and my ear while I say “Listen to me first. This is what it sounds like…” Our first Turn & Talk will be about how I opened the session/lesson.  I’ll ask participants to consider if they use Exit Tickets and why they would do that.  What I’m trying to get to here is that there are several things we can do to build literacy and language in the first few minutes of every class no matter what you teach.  And those actions are important for all the students in the class.  Here is a great powerpoint by Burleson ISD that explains why you would want to frame your lesson.  It’s about helping all students filter information and have a clear learning target for the class.  It isn’t hurting anyone that I’m pointing to the words and modeling the pronunciation.  In fact, most participants agree that they would benefit from hearing new vocabulary like “Circumference of Circles” or “Homolugus Pairs” before they are expected to use those words in class.


Before we get started and put on our “student” hats, I will ask participants to think about the student(s) they support.  It can be one student or some characteristics of the demographic they are most concerned about.  If they are in a session supporting SLIFE, they might think about the students who are struggling in mainstream classes. Or they might think about the teachers who teach Newcomer English Development.  We need to focus on a specific group for moments of reflection so that we can take reminders or new learning and apply it to our own specific reality.

More on differentiation below.


Questioning Techniques I’ll be Using

At this point, I will have already modeled one or two QSSSA questions.  (You’ll see me do it again at the end of the session) . Seidlitz Education consultants ALWAYS model this questioning strategy.  Honestly, I can’t see it modeled too much.  As a teacher, I want to internalize this technique and see as many different examples as possible.  So the one I will have used for this group might sound something like:

Question:  Why would a teacher model the reading of the objectives?

Signal:  Show me a thumbs up when you can complete this sentence frame.

Stem: A teacher would model the reading of the objectives because…

Share:  Turn to your elbow partner and speak in a complete sentence and the word “model”

Assess: I’ll roll a pair of dice to call on someone.

There are several sheltered strategies wrapped up in the way I am questioning them.  I will show this slide and ask them to reflect on them.  Am I holding everyone accountable for conversations?  Am I offering a low-stress way to produce language?  Am I offering wait time with a signal to indicate readiness?  Is my question worth asking?  If you’d like more learning about this questioning technique, check out this #VirtuEL18 video by me & Tina Beene.  We break it down for a social studies classroom but it works in all classrooms.

Later in the session, QSSSA will be a norm and I will try to remember to also use W.I.T. on someone to model how we can up the rigor of our questioning for any particular student.  I want to give teachers a way to differentiate in the moment.  So at some point, a participant will be called on with the QSSSA technique.  They will answer the question and at that point I might ask one of the following:

Why do you think that?

Is there another way to say that?

Tell me more about that.

This usually catches folks off guard and that is okay.  We always have a way to get support.  I’ll have the “What to Say Instead of IDK” poster somewhere in the room as well.

Instead of IDK Poster

Posters like these are important for every classroom.  We could do a whole PD on why that is.  But I like to have one up for these short sessions as a visual and also a support to participants.  It’s just another opportunity to model how our ELs & SLIFE can find success in any classroom with the same supports that are available and important for all students.  This one, however, is one that builds survival English right away.  These are some of the first sentences we learn in the ESL classroom.

I love to make this poster with my students so that we can discuss how to use it and why.  It also allows me to start with just a few questions and later add more complex responses such as “I don’t know the answer to that question but something I do know is…”

“Elevate the dialog all year!” – John Seidlitz

Ice Breaker

Some folks might skip an ice-breaker in a short session but having students feel comfortable working in your classroom is SO EXTREMELY important that I want to be sure to take a few minutes to do a ‘get to know you’ activity and have participants reflect on it.  The sooner your students feel comfortable, the sooner real learning can occur.  Look into Stephen Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis for more on that.  This is also an opportunity to again think about their own specific demographic of students and how they feel in their classrooms.

Fundamentals of Balanced Literacy

In order to “hack” literacy, we need a basic understanding of Balanced Literacy, in my opinion.  That training is something many upper elementary and secondary teachers just don’t receive. Or we get training but the techniques used with 5 year olds just don’t make sense for my middle or high school classroom. 

I do an entire day of “Rapid Literacy” training where we go deep into it and also lots of examples of how we can align most of our activities to the principles of Balanced Literacy.  In this session, my goal is to give an over-arching idea to participants about best practice (or remind those who have Balanced Lit training) and then help them reflect on everything I’m doing (including the things mentioned above) and how they support literacy development.  Decoding skills, specifically.

If we are going to hack this, the STUDENTS also need a clear understanding of Balanced Literacy and why we roll out instruction this way.  Like our secondary teachers, they don’t need all the details (morphemes, phonemes, phonological vs. phonemic awareness…).  But they WILL benefit from understanding what we are doing and why we are doing it.  I want to capitalize on the fact that SLIFE are older learners.  That means they have more capacity for metacognitive awareness.  That is huge when learning to read or learning anything.  This is where it is critical that we train our students to understand how a person gains sight words and how a person gains phonological awareness.

Sight Words and Phonemic Awareness

Sight words…they need these!  The more sight words they get, the easier it is to decode text.  They also need to start to internalize the sounds of our letters and the blends, and the crazy English patterns of spelling.  What seems to work well in Kindergarten, spending time with the alphabet and lists of  Dolch Sight words, isn’t engaging for older learners.  Also, those sounds and words are very confusing for second language learners.  But they are incredibly important to build so we will learn them in context!  They will learn so many words and sounds of English letters same way they learned the word “McDonalds” or the word “iphone.”  They got it with multiple exposures, in context.  They start to realize that the “m” makes the /m/ sound because they recognize it from that other word or when they see their friend Maria’s name in print many times.

Please remember that these kids know more English EVERY DAY.  So the difficulty of all of this is lessened the more we do it.

Co-Creating Text

I will model Language Experience Approach or at least a few sentences so participants can see how I create a piece of mentor text with my class.  If you want more on that, check out this post and video where I am doing it with my classroom and also modeling QSSSA.  It’s a great video because there is some bad teaching in there that I point out.  (Super important to reflect with our specific goals for students in mind.)

Back to Differentiation

One of my main forms of differentiation in my classroom is the reflection piece for students. Each of my learners are at a different place in their learning for content, language and background. I am constantly reminding students of their role in the acquisition of language and literacy.

If they JUST arrived, their main focus should be on getting the ‘gist’ and staying attentive when we are speaking in English. They should know that their will be stops & checks for understanding with native language if need be, but their main goal is to attend to print and listening for phonemic awareness (sounds of the letters) and sight word recognition (building more automaticity with high-frequency words).  If they just stay attentive, they will start to internalize all of it with multiple exposures in context that allow them time to think and have conversations about their learning.

The long-term language learner should realize that their role is to continue to build sight words and phonemic awareness but they are also to analyze the structures of the language and to be on the look out for elevated dialog.  I will use words & phrases such as “significant” and “in a similar fashion” in my language objectives and in my co-created text.  I will quickly point out their meaning but the walls are my co-teacher for much of the year.

This is very important.  It is critical that the students realize their role and also for our content teachers to be aware of all of this.  That way the math/science/social studies teachers can do simple things like reading the objectives aloud and pointing to the words.  The student knows why they are doing it and the teacher can feel good about moving literacy forward.

Tracking Print

I am excited to use Tan Huynh’s forward to model tracking print and also an activity where I read aloud and stop for students to say the next word.  It is a compelling piece of writing and you have it here on the handout.  I will model a few other ways teachers can have students tracking print during this session.  Using Kahoot, News In Levels, My cellphone to record myself reading aloud… there are many ways to read WITH students that don’t seem “baby-ish”

Many of those techniques are on this website.  In fact, here are the notes from last year’s WIDA conference.

Here is the handout.

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My hope is to open the session with this video.  I think it is the perfect example of what is possible when you partner with your SLIFE students and with other EL teachers. (thank you Emily Francis!)

I’ll also be sharing some books by Saddleback Educational Publishing.  They are like GOLD!  They’re at booth 218 if you are at the conference. Otherwise find them at

If you are going to do a session with your faculty, I would also suggest this video by Valentina Gonzales.  In 4 minutes, Valentina Gonzalez shows the power of Comprehensible Input.

Thanks to everyone who shares information with me like what you see above.  If you have any questions or input, please just reach out. I’d love to hear from you!



PS:  What are the needs of your teachers?  We can come to your district and help you inspire your learners and your teachers.  Just reach out for a free consultation.  I’m at  or on Twitter at @MsSalvaC.

BAP034 – Part I of Activities for the Newcomer Classroom with Kenzie Twitchell

So what do we do in the Newcomer classroom after the first days of school?

Kenzie Twitchell is here to help us work through some standard routines that will have your students speaking, reading, comprehending and writing in English as quickly as possible.

You can listen to the show on Soundcloud, ITunes or right here:
Listen to “BAP034 Part I of Activities for the Newcomer Classroom with Kenzie Twitchell” on Spreaker.

Kenzie is going to be the person in charge of the ESL program at her campus.  She has experience working with language learners in general education classes but this year she will have an entire class of Level 1, Beginners.  Kudos to Kenzie for reaching out and trying to find the best practices for her new class!

Kenzie and another new teacher, Brianna Christine both watched a Beginning of the Year video I released on Youtube.

If you are new to teaching emergent English learners, you’ll love that video because it includes the five things I recommend to get your year off to a great start.  I highly recommend you watch that video if you have not already seen it.

Both ladies had the same question.  “So then what??”

So Kenzie and I set out to discuss what I believe to be the best practices for engaging and inspiring ELs to use the target language while building literacy as well.  Of course, you should be following the curriculum for your class.  But there are ways to deliver the content that honor what your students bring and align with Balanced Literacy.

For the last several years I have had students with low levels of literacy in their target language.  Kenzie also has had some experience with SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education).  So our discussion was one that takes those students in mind and also differentiates for the learner that has high levels of literacy.

In this show we discuss free voluntary reading (FVR) and how critical it is for our ELs (all students) to read for pleasure and read as much as possible.  The issue is that our students may not be able to read independently yet.  So we can use Language Experience Approach to help students gain literacy.  This approach is a way to engage students in reading and writing in English and offers a great opportunity for oral language practice.

Brianna was somewhat familiar with LEA but had more questions. Here is a video of me doing LEA.  This video actually offers a non-example and an example lesson:

The goals for English Language Development students are

  1. Get as many sight words as you can
  2. Get as much phonemic awareness as possible.

The goals for me are to

  1. Make my content comprehensible (grade level content)
  2. Develop their academic language
  3. Support grade level learning with opportunities for higher order thinking.

The text we read together needs to be somewhat comprehensible and we can do that by stopping and negotiating meaning in their native language or using other comprehensible input strategies such as visuals and gestures.  In these ways, we can help make text understandable to the student.  But we also need them to track the print so that they can start acquiring sight words and phonemic awareness as they acquire more English.

We can do a lot of grade level debriefing with language experience approach.  Those shared writing texts should remain available to the students for other purposes.

Above all, the students need to understand that it is critical that they read, read, read.  They should understand how many sight words they can gain by tracking print and how much those sight words pay off.  To get buy-in from the students, I show them the graphic above from Samson’s Classroom.  They need to see how much of the typical text is sight words or little high frequency words.  This video shows how my students work together to use our walls to gain English literacy and language.  Like all classes, they are awkward at first about working collaboratively, but you can see how engaged and empowered they become.

If they understand the techniques that build literacy… and they are gaining English comprehension every day… they start to be able to read and speak sooner verses later.

We also discuss the value of the following:

Following Twitter hashtags such as #Ellchat, #Ellchat_BkClub and #BoostingAchievement

Following Larry Ferlazzo on Twitter and also subscribing to his blog.

Finding anything that you can on his book, The ELL Teachers Toolbox .  Get the book or follow Larry for a ton of free resources.  The #ELLTeachersToolbox hashtag is also a great follow.

Follow Valentina Gonzalez, Tan Huynh, Carlota Holder and Emily Francis.  They are all masters at sharing research based, best practices for teachers of English learners!

I mention my training with the Gomez & Gomez Dual Language Model

I mentioned Stephen Krashen and this video by Valentina Gonzalez:

After all of this, Kenzie and I KEEP TALKING for another hour!  So we have a Part II of this topic coming out tomorrow.  In that episode, we talk about where you can take your students now that they are beginning to read and write in English.  We want to make the most of our time with the to support content area learning but also continuing to build their literacy and decoding skills.

Stay tuned for Part II!

I hope this has been helpful.  Thank you again, McKenzie Twitchell and Brianna Christine.

See you in Part II!


PS: Please reach out if you’d like to bring Seidlitz Education training to your district. We have thousands of happy teachers who can tell you that our trainings make a huge impact on their practice.  I’d love to tell you more about the different offerings.  My email is

Also! I’ll be in Houston, South Carolina and Kansas City in the next few months!  Hope to see you at one of these functions.

Join us in Houston, Texas on Oct 4th for Rapid Literacy.

Join me in South Carolina on Sept 12 & 13 for Boosting Achievement with Carolina TESOL

Join me at MidTESOL18 on Sept 28 & 29th.


BAP028 – Rigor for the Beginning English Learner

Newcomers and SIFE can analyze and participate in rigorous lessons with grade level content.

You can listen to this week’s podcast right here:

Listen to “BAP028 Rigor for Beginning English Learners” on Spreaker.

I saw evidence of this in Thames Valley DSB (TVDSB) last week.  This show recaps some of what I learned and what I shared with these amazing teachers. I start this show with learning about a language vs. acquiring a language. I’ve learned a great deal from John Seidlitz and Stephen Krashen on this.  I talk about my understanding of second language acquisition research along with the work of Daniel Pink on motivation.   You’ll also hear about the QSSSA questioning strategy and Language Experience Approach.  If you’d like to see these, you can watch this video I released a few weeks back where I model these techniques with newcomers.

In the show, I mention being in Mr. Chams math class at Cartier Elementary.  I was delighted to see the engagement of these refugee students who had missed years of formal education. They are in “LEARN” classes which address their needs for missing years of education and also beginning stages of target language acquisition.

Mr. Chams was working with the students in a way that built their language and also honored their culture.  I was there with Jeffery Robinson and we were both blown away by the support and instruction being given to these very capable students.  In the show I discuss the reasons that we are able to accelerate the content knowledge and also language acquisition of these ELD (English Language Development) learners / SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education)

In the podcast I point out some of the high impact strategies I observed.  First and foremost, this teacher believes that the students are able to close their gaps quickly and has a high bar for academic learning in this class.  He has spent a significant time making sure that students comprehend the math concepts and also uses the academic terms during instruction.  He offers students opportunities to explain their thinking and he is scribing the math language they use so that the entire class has a visual of the language of math they are using.  I was delighted to be in this class with Natalee Wales and Jeff Darling who support the LEARN teachers in TVDSB.  I had the opportunity to watch Natalee teach and also the chance to work with these students in literacy work stations.  Hats off to everyone in this program!

In the afternoon I worked with all of the LEARN teachers to break down the challenges we face with this demographic but also to identify the advantages these students have.  We reflected on Mr. Chams lesson and I modeled the QSSSA questioning technique because it has been very effective in my classroom.  I offered some other techniques regarding objectives and Language Experience Approach.  I was happy to see PLN friends like Lynda Balcom.

The following day was my 6 hour, standard Boosting Achievement training.  It was wonderful to be with so many passionate teachers of English learners.  The  training was very well received and we were all thrilled to have an authentic African lunch as well as beautiful dancing by some students who have  come to Canada from Nepal. These Bhutanese refugees amazed us with their talent and confidence.  They are a perfect example of how we must first look for the gifts SLIFE students bring to our communities.  We can honor and even leverage those gifts to partner with students in ways that will help them with their academics and their acclimation to their new land.

Thank you Stephanie Morrissey for this great tweet:

My final day was with Denise Taylor-Edwards at Westminster Secondary School.  What a great campus! It was heart warming to see how happy the students are in their classes.  I was happy to model strategies for helping students produce English and gain literacy especially in a classroom with such a positive classroom climate where students felt safe.  The modeling is always tricky because I don’t have a relationship with the students yet.  But I believe strongly that we need to offer teachers more opportunities to watch other people teach.  My approach is to offer a lesson with their students and record that lesson so that we can all debrief together.  My hope is that we will see some things that will be helpful to the teachers and also discuss things I might want to try differently next time.  One of the biggest benefits to this is that we are opening a space for teachers to reflect on teaching practices with their own students in mind.  The lesson doesn’t need to be flawless, the point is to be vulnerable so that we can all start taking that approach with our practice. We want students to embrace failure and grow in reflection.  That needs to start from the top, I think.  In the show I cover the “wins” &  some of the debrief with the teachers.

Thanks for tuning in this week.

If you’d like to bring Seidlitz Education consulting to your district, please reach out.

Also, connect with me on Twitter and please come out to see me if you are in one of the locations below in the near future.

Stay Awesome,


PS:  Don’t forget that #MADPD happened last week.  You can find all the free YouTube video PD sessions here.  Shout out to Jennifer Hunter-Dillon!  Her session was amazing.  You can find the ones I did with my students here.


Where you can find me soon:

June 4-5: ESC7 Summer Conerence.  Kilgore, Texas (Breakout sessions)

June 19: ESC11 Boosting Achievement Full Day Workshop

June 24-25: ISTE in Chicago, Ill. (Breakout Tech Sessions)

June 29: Keynote at ESC10 BIL/ESL Conference

Summer & Fall 2018: Carolina TESOL Workshops

Oct 4: Rapid Literacy Conference – 1 day workshop in Houston, Texas

Sept 28 – 29: MidTESOL in Kansas City (Breakout Sessions)

NCTE18 in Houston, Texas  Nov 2018. Presenting breakouts with Emily Francis & Katie DiGregorio

AbydosCon19, Literacy Conference

BAP026 Language Experience Approach, QSSSA and Filming

This week I have a video of my teaching. At first I thought I had pulled off a great lesson.  Later I realized it was a non-example!

If you’d just like audio, the podcast version is here & in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts:
Listen to “BAP026 Language Experience Approach and QSSSA (complete with non-example)” on Spreaker.

There is always room for improvement so we might as well embrace the fact that lessons will not go as planned. The video I embed for this podcast has a teaching “fail” in it.  That makes me cringe but reflecting on the way we teach is what will help us improve.  So instead of beating myself up, I tried the lesson again with strategies that I know offer the students more opportunities to speak.  This show is primarily about Language Experience Approach and also the QSSSA questioning strategy that John Seidlitz put together for us.

To read more about Language Experience Approach, check out this article from the Center for Adult English Language  Acquisition on the website:

In the show I mention Abydos International several times.  I recommend their training to everyone who teaches writing.  You can’t go wrong bringing them to your campus for the summer institutes.

I have a trainer’s certification that I like to keep current because the program is so never let it lapse.

So on to Language Experience Approach (Co-Creating Text) and QSSSA:

I used to be uncomfortable with watching myself teach, but I started doing it so frequently, that the benefit outweighed any negative feelings I have about the errors that I see when I review the footage. ** Be sure to get the proper permissions for any filming you may do in class.

So yes, I’ve gotten quite comfortable with the fact that no lesson will ever be 100% perfect.  That’s just impossible because we are human beings.

There will always be room for improvement. So why not embrace that? Why not challenge ourselves the way we challenge our students every day? “Put yourself out there.” We tell them.  But how are they supposed to believe us when we say that failure and errors are part of improving?  That they are opportunities to learn and get better?

I feel strongly that if we want our students to develop a growth mindset about their learning, we need to model that ourselves in our own craft.

This all happened in a super busy semester so I’d been periodically filming myself teaching but hadn’t had as much time as I would like to review the films.    That changed when I made a conscious effort to do a Language Experience Approach lesson so that I could show it to another teacher. I was so happy with how the lesson went until I watched the film.  Now I’m actually using it as a non-example! Ha!

I got some great advice from a former instructional coach, Curtis George.  It was something like “When you watch the film, don’t rip it apart for everything. You will see many errors because you are your own worst critic. Hone in on one thing and keep filming & tweaking your instruction to do your best to improve that one thing. Don’t show the film to anyone until you think you can’t  improve any further on your own.”  That was very freeing advice and has served me well.

After watching my Language Experience Approach lesson, my “one thing” is obvious to me. I needed to give the students more opportunities to speak.

And I live and breathe this stuff!!

The point is, I know I’m decent at sheltered instruction.  For example,  I know the benefit of students speaking and I value the 10-2 strategy where I don’t speak for more than 10 minutes before I allow them to speak for 2 minutes. But sometimes even that is just too long! I’m an ESL teacher for goodness sakes.  I saw a few missed opportunities for them to practice the language or talk about what they think. I saw many opportunities where I could have stopped sooner.

What I realized was that it’s important for me to watch myself teaching more frequently. Seeing myself on film is always going to give me a different perspective. That perspective is valuable and I would highly encourage everyone to give it a try.

The great news is that of course, I started putting things in place so that I gave my students even more opportunities to own their learning. And if you watch the video, you’ll see that it really did pay off.  The student that fell asleep is super engaged when I repeated the lesson with more student talk.

I used QSSSA and it never fails.  Watch the video to get an idea of how that technique goes. Essentially, you provide a sentence starter for answering the question.  But you first offer wait time with a signal.  Then you offer a low stress opportunity to talk/share before you randomly call on someone or have students write something (formative assessment).  QSSSA is widely used and extremely popular among content and ESL educators at every grade level.

QSSSA was definitely the answer for engagement and it was KEY to making this lesson more meaningful.  Newcomers, SLIFE or any EL will improve their decoding skills with more reading.  Their fluency improves as they gain more language and have more exposure to text.  But if they are bored, they are often fake-reading.  But when we co-create text, they are engaged because as a class THEY are the authors.  We just need to be sure they all had a chance to talk about it before we write about it.

Hope this was helpful.

Thanks for reading!


You Don’t Need to Buy More Resources or kill yourself making them.

Do you teach an ESL class?  Do you teach a content class with newcomers? You don’t have to spend endless hours creating materials for your Newcomer ESL classes.

Take a look at this 4 min video. It is an overview of what my NELD (Newcomer English Language Development) high school class looked like last year.

What do you notice?  Many things jump out to me. Authentic opportunities to use English. Collaborating with peers. Reflecting on their learning. Co-created, high interest text and more.  Support for decoding while we also support critical thinking.

It’s no wonder they are highly engaged and making great progress.

For content teachers, the highest priority needs to be your subject and grade-level learning.  But we also need to move language in content classes.  If you haven’t seen this video with Ms. Stokes of Spring Forest Middle School, please check it out.  These 3 minutes underscore one technique for teaching SIFE students in state assessed classes.  And they actually help teach the others!


Are you at a loss for how to structure a class like this? Are you or your teachers frantically creating worksheets because there isn’t enough out there?  That used to be me but let’s reconsider what our students really need:

They need opportunities to listen, speak, read and write in the target language

They need to be involved at grade level.

They need to be engaged and participating.

They need to collaborate with others outside of our classrooms.

They need to feel important.

This blog has many ideas to help you achieve these things for your students.  Check our the videos page to see more examples of how this can look.  Nowadays I am constantly challenging myself to find ways to have my students connecting with others and then reflecting on their thinking.  I also want to create opportunities for cross curricular learning. Our upcoming field trip is an example.  This blogpost outlines the steps I’m taking. 


I hope these videos and step by step outlines add to your ideas for how to move away from formulaic curriculum materials and more toward authentic learning.  Reach out if you have any questions!



PS:  Sometimes we need someone to come look at our situations and help develop a plan.  We need to look at our scope and sequence (or develop one) and then see practical ways to help students engage with the plan. We need examples of these activities and how they can boost grade level learning without exhausting the teacher.

I am now working with districts to show teachers how to do these thing.  I can work with you to structure the newcomer class. Or help with inclusion for newcomers or SIFE in content classes.   If you are interested in consulting, just reach out or send this blogpost to your director or ESL support team.

You can email me at

If you have read this far, I know you are doing great things for your students or your teachers. You are the type of person that goes the extra mile to find more resources to support them.  My purpose with this participar offering is just to make your life easier in that endeavor!