BAP024 Not Just a Field Trip. Discuss, Discover, Connect, Reflect

Great news! I have a way for you to honor your students, help them produce and acquire your target language, make connections to content area standards and have a lot of fun at the same time.

Does it sound too good to be true? It’s not!  I just  recorded a podcast explaining this all in more detail and you can listen to it right here.

This episode is about a recent field trip we took but also about how we prepared for it!

This 3 min video shows how we did it:

These are the steps you’ll see in the video:

  1. Discuss: the site and determine what background the students have.  I found a 3 minute video of the Texas Revolution and used some of the screenshots to make a Kahoot with facts about the history of the historic site.
  2. Discover: Students created questions for Dr. Jonathan Lohse, an archeologist working on site with the Texas Historical Commission.  We had an opportunity to ask those questions of him in a quick 30 minute Skype session before our trip.
  3. Connect: We connected virtually with Dr. Lohse and then, of course, we visited the site.  The day of the visit, the students were very engaged in the hands-on activities and they also came with context for what they would be seeing.  Our classroom discussions had led to connections in their own lives. You can read more about that below.
  4. Reflect:  Students recorded who they met and what they wanted to remember about their visit.

The history of our first colonists in Mexican Texas, the U.S. revolution and slavery are concepts that are generally covered in middle school.  So my newcomers would not have that background.  I appreciate how much we could expose them to in a short period of time that lead right up to what they should be studying in US History now.  We will now discuss indentured servants, the civil rights movement, the cattle industry and more as they relate to this historic site in our area.

I am very appreciative that the Texas Historical Commission put together a great day for us to learn from different archaeologists and historians in the field.  I was thrilled that my students, even those with very limited English, were able to ask their very thoughtful questions and learn about real world applications of science and technology within a Heritage Learning unit.

My recommendation when planning a trip is to consider your students’ background and also what education partners are particularly suited to help you reach these learners.  For me, I keep coming back to archeology.  If we work with archaeologists, we are able to tie history and heritage directly with science, technology and math.  These professionals can demonstrate many real world uses of what our students are learning in their content classes.  Some examples I mention on the show are the mathematics of measuring dig units such as Pythagorean Theorem,  using data and plotting on a grid. The scientific process is used continually along with earth science and concepts learned in chemistry such as half life and carbon dating.

One of the most important reasons to expose our immigrant students to archeology is that it allows us to have discussions as to WHY we want to know about our past.  We are able to have conversations about honoring ancestors and we open the door for our students to share about their culture and heritage.

For this year’s study trip, we decided to learn about and visit San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site.  The Texas Historical Commission is a wonderful education partner who has always welcomed the unique perspective our language learners  bring.  The history of this site includes immigration when our area belonged to Mexico.  There were thousands of American immigrants crossing the border to become Mexican citizens at that time.  After many years, these settlers became unhappy with the Mexican government and so there was a Texas Revolution.  Instead of seeing this as content that is unique to Texas History classes, we can look at a broader view.  We have many parallels to US History and World history when we learn academic vocabulary and concepts such as “colonists,” “colony,” “revolution,” “constitution,”push/pull factors”, etc.  And we can take the history of the conflict and open a space for students to make connections to what is happening in their countries today.

One of the most important historical events at this location was The Runaway Scrape.   After the fall of the Alamo, the residents of the town of San Felipe de Austin were ordered to burn their homes so the advancing Mexican army would not capture it.  The terrified residents grabbed what they could carry and fled eastward.  This concept of citizens having to flee their homes in a time of war is all too familiar to my students.  Many are refugees or fled a place of violence.  They have shared stories of losing their homes and possessions due to a war.

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.

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.

You may also be interested in a blog post I wrote last year with step-by-step directions to a great ESL field trip.

Thanks for reading about our adventures. Keep your expectations for your ELLs high!



PS: Present at #MADPD!  We all need to be presenting there. Your proposal WILL get accepted.

PSS: Want more support? Please contact Kathy Belanger if you’d like me to come to your area to work with you or your teachers!  I’d love to!

PSSS:  Please join us for the Boosting Achievement Conference in Dallas/Ft.Worth area on 3/17.  Here is all the information:

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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!


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!


Helping ELLs Feel the Love

We wish it were not so, but many of our ELLs are feeling negativity right now.  More than ever, we need to share ideas to help our students feel welcomed, safe and loved.  They need to see examples of the people that are on their side.  Today’s post is my example.  It is a simple lesson but an effective one.

Content Objective: I will determine the theme of a text by summarizing the central message into one sentence.

Language Objective: I will write using newly acquired vocabulary.


So today we made Valentines.  (This could be done as a Random Acts of Kindness lesson any time of year.) We first went over a few more paragraphs in Michelle Obama’s Farewell speech for theme.

Thanks to Ms. McHale, awesome Eng III teacher, we had the text version of this so we could adapt her lesson for my newcomers.  We are just chorally reading the speach and discussing meaning/theme of each paragraph.  More on her speech & where I got the above photo here:

For paragraph 2 & 3, we decided that Ms. Obama wanted us to know that diversity is what makes our country great and that we all have a place here.

Then we reviewed a bit about Martin Luther King, Jr.  He had some great quotes about love so we made some connections to current events and history.  These are the ones we used:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness.  Only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”  

“I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”  

We then looked for examples of love and kindness around us.  1) The school newspaper did a very positive article on our class.   2) Parent Teacher Student Assn just named Ms. Salva their nominee for the School Bell award because “she makes our ESL program so welcoming.”  We all felt like that was very kind. 3) We also have volunteers coming a lot now.  Everyone agreed that they make us feel loved.

So we made a huge valentine for our school & community.

I was amazed at how the students worked on these and other valentines to deliver to people.  They used the English phrases we practiced.  Many used the MLK quotes.  But most importantly, they smiled and laughed and they felt good.

I love this comment on my Facebook page I just saw from one of the students.

“Today is a great day.”   Yes. Yes it is.

Thank you for reading through to the end.  And thank you for sharing love for ELLs and with ELLs.



Update on Gerson Dec 2016 and How He is Inspiring ELLs

Do you remember Gerson Bermudes??  This student is inspiring my current Newcomers to go around me and use technology to motivate each other!

Perhaps you saw his inspiring video in one of our Seidlitz trainings or here on this blog.  If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes to be inspired by this young man.  You’ll no doubt want to show that video to your students.  ELs and native speakers alike are motivated by how quickly a person can learn a new skill with focus, practice and a belief that it is possible to accelerate your learning.  (That first video is embedded below. )

So just before the December holiday break, I dropped by Spring Woods High School to meet with Gerson.  I know he had a successful first year in the US, but it was difficult for him as most of his family was not here with him.  He was living with relatives and trying to navigate our school system, high school academics, and a new environment.  I am so happy to report that Gerson is finding success as a Junior at Spring Woods HS here in Houston.  He struggles with Chemistry – but he tells me that is common among many 11th grade students. 🙂   I’m editing the video but I wanted to offer you this 2 min reflection from Gerson.  I think he says as few things here that are important for our beginners and our long-term ELLs to hear.

Thanks to everyone who asks about him.  I told him that he had quite a following of students and teachers.  He was astonished!

He was even more moved when I read him the questions from my high-school newcomers.  He answered them all in the video that we are editing.

To me, this is where it gets even more amazing.  One of my students, Sonbul, is in his 2nd year in the US after having to leave Sudan, Africa.  Sonbul is working hard and is very motivated by Gerson.   Sonbul took it upon himself to record a quick video for Gerson and send it to me.  He did it on his phone in my class when we were finishing an activity.  Sonbul really wanted Gerson to know about how much he appreciates his example and he obviously wanted to give something back to Gerson.  Gerson loved it!

Can you imagine how much fun that was for me to share with Gerson??  Later that week I got an equally inspiring email from another ELL who was moved by Gerson’s courage.  Wendhy is Intermediate to Advanced in her English but tells me that she struggles in academic classes because of language.  She wrote me an email about Gerson and it became a back-and-forth with Gerson getting to read her expressions of gratitude.

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I love this ripple effect because none of this was content-specific but these learners are obviously influencing each other to keep going and it is sure to have a tremendous impact on their motivation and their learning.

If you’d like to connect with any of these students, just reach out.  I’m sure they would be honored.

Happy 2017!


PS: Here is the original video that we did a few years ago… the one that started it all.  Gerson was only in US schools for 7  months but he took it upon himself to make sure he learned as much English as possible right away.  Just try not to be inspired!

Update Dec 2016

Holiday Traditions Selfie Kahoot – Like Magic for My Newcomers

If you don’t know about Kahoot, please go check it out.  It is super easy to play one with your class and if you know me, I don’t share anything here that isn’t very practical.

We play Kahoots all the time. Some I make for the class and some I just grab from the millions that are already out there.  But my favorite thing to do is to take the paper templates and ask my students to come up with Kahoot questions.

This flips the activity so that the students are doing the creating.  The templates have a place for an illustration which supports writing for all levels of ELs.   We made a class Selfie Kahoot at the beginning of the school year that went a long way toward building community and getting to know each other.

Just before the holiday break, I gave each student a paper template to come up with one fact about how they celebrate a special holiday in their country or culture.  Many of my students are coming from countries with conflict and they liked to be able to show something nice about their country and customs.  It was fascinating to see what the kids eat in Venezuela on Christmas!  Who knew that many families in the Congo go to church on Christmas, they eat cake and dance in the evening.  And all of our Muslim students stumped us with dates and customs about Ramadan and Eid al-Adha.

I wish you could have seen their pride when they saw their questions come up in the game.

Now that would have been great enough.  But thanks to the world of Twitter and Facebook, we were able to share this Kahoot with teachers all over the world.  And not only did we share it… classrooms that played it connected with us to tell us what an enriching experience it was for them.  See this tweet from the awesome Ms. Francis whose class played even though they are over 1,000 miles away  She sent a video clip!

So great, right?  And all I did was make a quick Kahoot and share it.  Thank you, Emily Francis!  What a fun thing for us to see!

But that’s not all!  Another amazing outcome from this one Kahoot was that Ms. Krayvenger’s class in Maryland not only played (and she said her kiddos LOVED it and pulled out the world map right away) they also sent us some questions.  Now, let’s remember that I work with newcomers and several are SIFE (minimal or interrupted formal education).  So you might think that this is going to be a challenge for us to respond.  Not at all.  They were so awestruck that these children almost 1500 miles away wanted to know things about them!  They were so interested in responding that I decided to introduce some new tech tools while I had everyone’s undivided attention – Google Docs and Edmodo.  (I’m going with Edmodo because this class uses Facebook a lot to communicate with family back home – it is just so similar that I think this is a good place to communicate for students new to tech) They logged into Edmodo to get the link to the Google Doc so we could share one document to respond.  My students spent so much time with bilingual dictionaries, translators and what English they had learned to be able to respond.

I want to thank Ms. Francis and Ms. Krayvenger for connecting with us.  I can’t tell you what this did for a group of students new to our country who sometimes feel marginalized.  It honored us all so much!

Here is the letter we turned around to Ms. Krayvenger’s super fantastic 4th graders.  I will forever be grateful to them!

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Newcomers writing so much without being forced to do so!  For me, the big take away here is that I can’t underestimate the power of motivation.  Real world relevancy is like gold because it changes everything for a learner.  We know that authentic language production is key to learning your L2.  And we know that games are engaging.  And we know that culturally responsive lessons are vital to the health of a diverse classroom.

I don’t share lessons that flop (for obvious reasons).  But this one was no flop.  I’m thrilled to share it because thanks to my PLN, it was a home-run.  And I hope it inspires you to try Kahoot and then try letting your students come up with some questions so you (or they) might make one about who they are.  If you do… send it to us so we can play it!  I bet my students would have some follow up questions.  😉

Happy Holidays all year long!


Day of the Dead Kahoot for Heritage Learning

Play this quick True/False Kahoot as a way to get kiddos talking about traditions in their countries or their ancestry.  We can have some wonderful discussions and writing assignments from this.  Any traditions can be illustrated and then we can work on cohesive devices such as “First”  “Then” “Next”   Also complex sentences with “because.”

Big thanks to Kahooter: SraD_FHS.  I copied and modified her Kahoot and took me only 5 minutes to simplify it for newcomers.