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.

Translanguaging Before a Study Trip

You’d like to use theories of translanguaging in your classroom but it seems like too much work?   One click on a web page and many of your students have a native-language resource.

In Google Chrome it was just a right-click to bring up this dialog box.  (More on Chrome Translating) Pick a language and the translation may not be perfect (often is not) but it is a great support.  I have some international students and volunteers working with SIFE (under-schooled) students.  Offering the help of this resources is often very effective for helping build background.

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So yes!  We are taking a trip to a plantation!  If I give all of my students a bit of background on the site, the English tour and English class discussions will be so much more comprehensible for everyone.  (Native English students will benefit from this, of course.)  I want to have the students work in groups to discuss the major events that happened at this location so I will provide sentence frames for that.  But to make sure they understand the events, I’ve cut & pasted some of the events from the website to this WORD document.  I’d like them to do a quick illustration with an English sentence for each event.  I’ve highlighted 10 events in all, so we will likely jigsaw this activity or do it on posters for a gallery walk:


What I used to worry about:   Recent immigrants lack the background knowledge of our country when trying to learn about U.S. History.  Something I try to keep in mind now is that they have an abundance of background knowledge in other areas!  This adds to the depth of everyone’s learning.

History is a wonderful opportunity to look at over-arching concepts that can be applied and aligned to local history, world history and even current events.

Several of my newcomers had intimate knowledge of what it is like to be in a time of war.  Their perspective is incredibly powerful for our learning about things like push/pull factors, establishment of governments, conflict, etc.

We are all fortunate to have history all around us.  What places in your area can be visited to deepen the classroom conversation and learning across content areas?

At this point in the year (December) we have very few beginners for listening comprehension that started the year with us.  Everyone can understand basic English with support of visuals, gestures and other supports.  But we have new arrivals all the time.  I used to be perplexed at how to help my newest newcomers connect with what the class is doing.

I’m grateful research and findings in the area of Translanguaging.  There is now evidence that using the native language is  a powerful and effective way of deepening learning and helping ELs acquire both content and language learning in their second language. More by CUNY-NYSIEB, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York here:

Consider taking a trip to a historic site and look for a place that offers historical events that tie to historic events they will need to learn in other content areas.  (Bonus!  Archeology is a fantastic tie to science, technology and math – be sure to look for any connections or areas of interest your students show you.)

Happy language learning!








Great Visit to The Durham House!

IMG_3625We had an amazing visit to The Durham House on April 25th.  Owner Raj Natarajan, Jr. and Head Chef Mike McElroy gave us an inspiring talk about entrepreneurship and running a successful restaurant.

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We came ready with our questions.  We had been practicing them for many days.  Mr. Natarajan and Chef Mike answered all of them.  We learned about the benefits of owning your own restaurant and how much determination you need to rise to the top of a profession like the culinary arts.  Both men spoke to us about calculated risks, education, grit and perseverance.

They also let us present to them!  We had been using the upcoming trip to practice our language skills and make connections to science concepts like heat transfer. One of our students explained how to make an African dish using all the transition words we have been learning in class.  Cohesive devices (First, then, finally) are super important for our continued learning of the language.


We are very appreciative of The Durham House and their support of our education!

Thank you, Mr. Natarajan nad Chef Mike!