Four Steps to Boosting Achievement with Visitors (in real life or virtual)

Language comes more quickly when we are compelled to use it.  Are there people in  your community with stories that mirror those of your students? Help your English learners (all students) realize how important they are with people who want to meet them and can inspire them.

Business professionals, restaurant owners, managers in your local stores, college students? They will likely come speak to your class and are usually flattered to be asked.

I am always on the lookout for  people who can connect with my students to open their minds to the world of possibilities that are available to them.

 Over the past two years, we’ve hosted many!

Our latest visitor is George Bamfo who works in sales for LESCO Architectural lighting.  My friend, Kristi Warren, mentioned to me that her coworker was from Ghana (many of my students are also from Africa).  George has an inspiring story that includes receiving a college scholarship for playing football.  Like everyone I have ever asked, he agreed to come speak to my students.  Check out this 2 min video of George Bamfo’s visit to our classroom:

To make the most of our visitor experience, I stick to a 4 step process we call DDCR or DISCUSS, DISCOVER, CONNECT, REFLECT.  These are the steps I follow:

  1. DISCUSS:  Tell your students that a special person is coming to speak to them.  Show your students pictures and give an overview of the guest, their profession, why they should be a good visitor.

2. DISCOVER:  Learn what your students know and also have students research the visitor’s profession or life. (We found out one of our students from Mexico was a champion chess player!)

  • Teach key vocabulary so students have comprehension and allow them to speak in their native language  to negotiate meaning.  (I  use Kahoot to teach vocabulary with visuals)
  • Solicit questions from your students!  Have students enter these into a shared Google Slides presentation (fixing up English spelling or grammar errors for them).  Practice their pronunciation of their authentic questions.

3. CONNECT: Connect virtually and/or in person.  Before meeting, share the presentation with your visitor virtually and ask that they provide you answers to be typed into the presentation.  Any pictures you can find together will be helpful to your ELs.

  • Create a Selfie Kahoot that incorporates questions about the visitor and also questions about your class.
  • On the day of the visit, allow your guest  to co-present with your class.  They can help read slides, choral read and come up with new questions.
  • Play the Kahoot with your guest after their presentation.

4. REFLECT:  After the visit, debrief with students orally and then in writing to cement lessons learned about perseverance,  growth mindset, teamwork, etc..

This method of DISCUSS, DISCOVER, CONNECT, REFLECT has been serving me quite well for authentic learning opportunities. I strive to help my students grow in a connected world.  I’m able to bring in others in person or virtually who can help guide my students in learning and in life.

Our #EduPartners give us hope, pride and many times their journeys are full of lessons they can share and messages that our immigrant students need to hear.

Wondering if people will come? Over the past few years we have had visits from ESL teacher Emily Francis, Champion’s Game authors Saul Ramirez and John Seidlitz, Doctoral Student and teacher Katie DiGregorio, Equine Archaeologist Dr. Carolyn Willikes, President of the Council of Texas Archeologists Dr Jon Lohse, historian  and authorDr. Paul Spellman, the founders of Pledgecents, Bryan McAuley of the Texas Historical Commission and  others.

Next week we will welcome Benjamin Yagan who was my nurse in the hospital and is originally from Kenya.

We have had more connections virtually, these are the ones who have physically come to our classroom.  It’s worth mentioning that I have paid nothing to any of these visitors.

One lasts thing is that I always make sure my students know that one day I will be calling on them to come back and tell their success stories to newcomers.

Just  as we say in this card, we appreciate George Bamfo and all the visitors who have taken the time to come meet our students.  

We have SO many people out there who are eager to help us educate and inspire our students.  I appreciate the visitors and also want to be sure to thank Ms. Paula Gomez who has been coming once a week to volunteer and also Georgia Henkel, a student aide that helps during 6th period in my room.  If you’d like volunteers, check out this post that includes a 5 minute video you can share with your community:  BRING ON THE VOLUNTEERS

One more huge thanks to the scholars for being amazing as always!  I’m super proud  of all of you! – Ms. Salva

PS: Would you like more support?  I’d love to come work with you and your staff! Simply reach out to me or Kathy Belanger:

PSS: Are you presenting at #MADPD?? Check out this request for presenters and know that your proposal WILL get accepted.  We should all be presenting at this “Make A Difference PD” online conference in May.  Stay tuned for a show all about this in a few weeks.

In the near future I will be presenting at the NABE conference,  as well as the ISTE conference and I’m a proud spotlight speaker at the Abydos writing conference. 
I’m attending SXSW as well so please reach out if you’ll be at any of these!

You can also join me for two upcoming workshops in Texas.  The information for those is below.  We’d love to see you!

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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!


Community & Hope: Teaching Refugees and Immigrants after Hurricane Harvey

I’m writing this blog on the floor of an empty house in Northwest Houston. Hurricane Harvey has finally moved off to the east. (satellite image from

I’ve had days of being on high alert, with rising waters, constant tornado warnings, helicopters and boats rescuing people around us.  Waters are still rising at my house but we are relocated now. My nerves were shot for a few days and we are now about to start the long process of dealing with the aftermath of the storm.  But right now, before dawn, I want to reflect and plan how I will help my students process all of this when we return to school next week.

I have an interesting group of students for a situation like this. I am a newcomer teacher so I teach students who have recently relocated to our city.  My NELD classes (Newcomer English Language Development) are students who were attending U.S. schools for only a few days when this hurricane struck. Many are coming from places of war, where they were displaced from their homes and had finally found a place to feel safe and out of harm’s way.  The irony.  Others have moved to Houston for a better life from Latin American countries and still, others have relocated here with family because my school is located in an Oil and Gas corridor.

So what will I do for my class?

I’m still deciding on all the particulars of the lessons but I know what my overarching theme will be for this first unit. Community and Hope.


My principal, Chad Crowson, just sent a heartfelt email to the staff to let us know that we are supported by him and the district.

2017-18 is about community.  It’s about a group of people coming together to support one another in a time of great need.  Stratford is not just a school.  Stratford is people – administrators, teachers, counselors, staff members, students, families, and community members – working together.  Stratford High School will not be defeated by a hurricane.  We’re too strong for that.  We’ll be better because of this.”

I’m so grateful for his leadership. If I carry this message into my classroom and make sure the students hear it loud and clear, I’ve done what all teachers want to do. I have opened my heart to my students so they might lower their walls of anxiety and uncertainty. Our classes must always be a place of refuge.  No matter what is happening in that child’s life, they need to feel safe with us.

So I will start by telling them that I am so grateful. My situation is one of inconvenience only. Our home has not taken on any water yet but as of today, it is still inching toward the door.  This could still change but we are gone from that house and safe.  My mother’s home was not so lucky. She is safe and staying with us.  But I will show them these pictures of her home from Sunday.

We will review the facts that Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States, was brought to its knees after days and days of torrential downpours. Catastrophic flooding took so much from our neighbors and friends. I will allow any student to share what they might have lost or how they count themselves lucky.  No forced sharing and native language is fine. My home is located near them. It is right by the school.  We lost power, and the school is located dangerously close to Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which are at their limits and flooding neighborhoods around them today. (Reservoirs are outlined in green on in this image.)   By the time we are back in school, we will have more information about that situation to discuss.  It is worth showing the students how and why the reservoirs were established and how Hurricane Harvey affected this system.

When we go back to school I may still be staying in this empty house.  Going on the 2nd day of no power, and the threat of the dams near us, we left our home yesterday to take refuge in our old house about 10 miles away. We are in the process of selling this house so we can stay here for 2 weeks. It is empty but it has running water, electricity and wonderful friends who brought us bedding, chairs, a folding table and other necessities.  Again, our situation is a very comfortable one compared to many.  My husband and son are separated from us because the airports are shut down but I’m confident they will be back with us by next week and I can share that while we were very scared, we kept hope that we would be reunited soon.

Our district provided us with this link that includes lessons and resources for our families. I will definitely share these with the students and inquire about their own needs for shelter, food, and assistance.  Houston is responding in a strong way to each other.  Our mayor promised to personally defend undocumented immigrants who may be hesitant to seek assistance.   What a wonderful thing for all of our students to hear. They should know how their leadership feels about every resident of the city.


Once everyone has had a chance to share, and I feel that it is a safe time to do so, I want to draw on a feeling and mindset that many of us shared through this disaster: the feeling of hope. In that, we can discuss the feeling when you think that there is no hope. I want to honor their real situations and feelings. But most importantly, I want to bring it around to the real effects when you do have hope. I want to impart the strong power of hope to all of them.

Over the past few days, I was continually struck by the lift in spirit we would get when family or friends reached out to us. Many offered help for which I am so grateful. But even just messages of concern had a strong effect.

I feel as if our city was just taken through a huge, horrific empathy project for other displaced people in the world. There is so much we can learn if we draw parallels to what is happening to refugees and others. I think it will be good for my students to know that you can make a difference for refugees in many ways.

The UNCHR reports that 65.3 million people are currently displaced from their homes due to conflict or persecution. 

What Can We Do?

I can’t help but make this connection and discuss it with my own children at home.  We see these heart breaking images of families in Houston being rescued by boats and losing everything they have.  But we have to take some comfort in the fact that if they survived this storm, they are being rescued.  Even while some in our city waited on rooftops for the boats to come, they had at least the hope that a boat WAS coming.

That is not the case for so many people in the world right now.  I have students who spent so many years without running water or electricity.  I have a student who was in a Burundi refugee camp without these things for 11 years.  Others that escaped war, persecution, and denial of education to finally come here. How will their perspective add to the collective knowledge and understanding of our class?

And what about the feelings of despair that my students have for family and others that are still in camps or seeking a place of refuge?  We will discuss ways that we can authentically contribute to the problem.  Last year, my students drew pictures and wrote letters of encouragement to children in refugee camps.  This may seem simple but sending out some type of support message is something we can all do tomorrow.  A friend delivered some of our letters said that the messages made such an impact on the people there.  The children in the camp were in awe that children on the other side of the world were pulling for them.  Matthew Garder, a friend, recently recounted a story to me by the actress Arta Dobroshi who was a refugee in a camp in Kosovo. She tells the story of when Richard Gere came there. She couldn’t get to him but just knowing he was there gave her so much hope. And of course, now, she uses her influence to help others as a Goodwill Ambassador. Hope.

Letting refugees know that we stand with them is an opportunity I will give my students again this year because I am keenly aware of the tremendous impact it can have. These messages and gestures of concern can affect the life of the person in need of help…and they also bring hope to the sender.

I will also let them brainstorm other ways we can help.  One of my classes recorded videos of their learning.

The videos show the students learning quickly, some going from non-literate to reading and writing in English and point out teaching strategies and reflections from the students. Those are shared publically in hopes that UN teachers and students in makeshift camp schools can benefit.

We will also look at what others are doing for refugees.  I am so fortunate to know about Techfugees and I will be introducing it to my students next week.   Moved by the plight of refugees in Europe, a number of technology industry people have formed a voluntary team  (which includes Matthew mentioned above) to create the series of non-profit “Techfugees” conferences, hackathons, and work with a global network of collaborators. The U.S. efforts are headed up by Andlib Shah who I had the good fortune to meet and thank at SXSW last year. (See photo)  

I’m grateful to Techfugees because they may not realize the reach of their efforts. Just knowing about this effort gave my immigrant students SO MUCH HOPE over the past two years.  A 24 hour live event by Techfugees founder Mike Butcher, Editor-at-large of TechCrunch and next to me in the photo, was the catalyst for using technology in my classroom. That shift in pedagogy has had a profound impact on the lives of my students and their families.  And they will be happy to know that Mike and the rest of the Techfugee team are pulling for us.

Techfugees helps us see that there is hope. There is always hope.

Back to Us Locally & Our Classrooms

I think it is important to go over community and hope in a global sense because that is what will make all of this more than just lip service to our  newcomer students.  If you are not in Houston, you can still use the events to help your students do the lesson ideas in this post.  Many of my students are not refugees but these conversations are growing all of our students as global learners. Point out Empathy, Grit, Resilience and Growth Mindset. These are character traits all students can use if we want them to be successful in life.

Here in Houston, we have so much community and so much hope.  My students are likely affected by this disaster.  I am grateful to be in a city where we are rising up to help anyone that is in need. People are leaving their homes right now, at 5:30 in the morning to volunteer at shelters, donate clothes and food and help our families rebuild.  We also have the assistance of people from around the world with many funds coming in from kind hearted people far and wide and our residents are ready to make good use of it.  We are so very fortunate.

At some point we will list all the acts of kindness we see in our city right now like Free Ice from H Mart, the Korean grocer.

Or the Mexican bakers who were trapped for days at El Bollio Bakery and used their time to bake bread for victims of the flood. We have so many everyday heroes around us. We have so much hope. All of this can be captured in shared writing with Language Experience Approach so my newcomers can be reading and writing and speaking in English that same day with content that is compelling, culturally responsive and relevant to them.

My wish for next week is that my students feel a strong sense of community in my classroom, in our school and in their new city.  I also want to drive home the fact that no matter what the situation, what people need most, is hope. If a person has hope, they will keep moving forward.  And moving forward is what we all need to be doing.


What is Possible for S.I.F.E? Plus Week 1 Book Study Resources

Yes, the book study is starting! Questions are at the bottom of this post and this post ties directly to Week 1!

For the next 5 weeks, I will publish a post that will have new content for anyone serving English learners and will also offer more information and resources to go along with our Boosting Achievement #ELLChat_BkClub book study. I will include specific book study information at the end of each post (scroll to the bottom for specific questions).

What is Possible for S.I.F.E?

Imagine that a non-English speaking student arrives at your middle or high school campus.  This student has little or no literacy in their native language because they lack formal education.  This young person has social emotional needs because they have had to endure war, displacement or a life of mobility. Their age dictates that they must attend school with peers regardless of their limited educational background.  Your district has no “newcomer center” or the center is full so they will be enrolling at your comprehensive middle school or high school.

These students are known as SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education) and their educational background may be minimal at best.

If this scenario seems overwhelming, we have good news.

It is true, due to events in our world, this demographic is growing in public schools around the globe and they need special attention for their circumstances. But these students can not only survive in regular secondary schools, they can thrive! And our pedagogy can grow to better serve the entire class because of researched based strategies we will employ to address their needs.

All we need to do this week is realize what is possible for these students.

Check out the Introduction to the book.  **Do not skip the introduction**  It is written by Tan Huynh.  He is arguably one of the most influential  educators sharing on Twitter and his story will frame what we can expect from this book.  It will also likely move you on an emotional level.  The questions at the bottom of this post align to his writing.

In addition to the book’s introduction, we can look around our world today.  Let’s just reflect on just ONE of the many examples of SIFE who are having success today.  This story goes a long way to help our mindset and that of our students.

Emily Francis

Emily Francis was a SIFE student who entered high school in New York with a 6th grade education from Guatemala.  At 15 years of age, she was a recent immigrant, a non-English speaker who was far below her peers in literacy and content learning. She was also helping to raise her siblings because mom was working all hours to support 5 children on her own.

Today, Emily lives and works in North Carolina as an ESL teacher (yay!).  Among other accolades, she was the Teacher of the year for W.M. Irvin Elementary in 2015 and Teacher of the Year for Cabarrus County in 2016.  Incredibly,  Emily is an ELL #FAB5Squad Teacher for the Teaching Channel. 

Just a few of her press appearances & mentions here:

2018 update!  Emily is on the Ellen Show!

Emily is an amazing example of how our Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education CAN overcome obstacles and they CAN succeed in life. They can, in fact, become some of our most important leaders.  Please check out Emily’s blog if you’d like to know more about her journey.  You can also listen to a recent podcast where she is interviewed by Derek Rhodenizer on Beyond the Staffroom.

Here is a 3 min video of how I met Emily & her students:

If you are reading Boosting Achievement, you can skip to p.41 to read about it. It is also detailed in this blog post.

Next week we will look at who our SIFE students are and what basics we should know to help serve them.


Week 1 Questions & More Resources

To support teachers of these students, Anna Matis and I have written Boosting Achievement; Reaching Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education.  It outlines best practices for serving Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (sometimes referred to as SIFE or SLIFE).  It is full of practical techniques that are resulting in success for SIFE and newcomer students in my current classroom. It is the result of our combined years of teaching experience as well as professional ESL and ELA consulting.


During Week 1, you may want to listen to Tan Huynh’s interview on the Rolland Chidiac Connects podcast. He wrote the forward that we are reviewing this week and he tells his story at the beginning of the show.  Tan is another ESL education leader so his perspective, coming to America as a refugee, is another important narrative for us to consider.


Participants are free to deviate from the following questions and post reflections, #BookSnaps, add insight and advice to the group over the current section.

WEEK ONE  Where we Are, Forward and Introduction

1Q1) Roll call: introduce yourself, name, role, grade levels, country/state etc. Are you a returning participant or a new to this group?
1Q2) What makes you interested in this book/topic?
1Q3) How is your school addressing the needs of SIFE (students with interrupted formal education)?  What are your desires for systemic solutions.  What are your concerns?  What are some things that you are proud of in terms of supporting SIFE?
1Q4) Please reflect on the forward by Tan Huynh (@TanELLclassroom). Tan is a leader in ESL education. What are your reactions to his story? His thoughts on the book?   How does his story inform what we do as teachers?
1Q5) Carol writes a reflection about her first experience with a large group of refugees. She has several years of experience as a specialist with a background in ELA, Bilingual Education, ESL and Special Education.  She was still worried that she would fail these learners.  How can teachers overcome self-doubt?
1Q6) Without romanticizing the situations of SIFE, every circumstance has something that can be used in a productive way.  One example is brain research showing that there are possible cognitive advantages when a person is not immersed in technology for years.  What are your take-aways from the work of Nicholas Carr & Jane Healy (found on p. 11)?

1Q7) As you flip through the Table of Contents, what section are you most looking forward to discussing? Why?

Thank you to everyone reading this blog.

I’m inspired by how many educators want to spend time reflecting on our SIFE. I feel strongly that as we get better at serving them, we get better at serving all students.

Stay awesome,


What Tech is in Your Pocket?


This week I was invited to do a remote professional development on “Easy Tech for Language Learners” for Westboro Academy in Ontario Canada.  We used YouTube Live & it was AWESOME!

One of the “easy tech” ideas I would suggest is the tech you have in your pocket or your purse.  Do you by chance own a phone that takes video?

Here is an example of a 2 min video I made when I was recently in Austin, Texas.

I used to show these in class.  I still do but now I am asking students to check the class Facebook page to see if I’ve made any videos for them to think about.

This opens the class with a lot of questions! Many of the students have been thinking critically about topics before they come to class.

One more example of a video I made for my ESL students when I was in Galveston recently.

I work with language learners so an added benefit here is that some of the students have begun making their own “pocket videos” and sharing them with the class.  Here is Sonbul who was making a video DURING class.  I wasn’t upset because his video was for another student at a different school who had sent a video to us for inspiration.

The digital communication has been fun!  Recording video messages seems to work better for my ESL students than live video chats.  They are much less nervous and lots of payoff from the practice.

There are, of course, many other things you can do with the record feature on an ipad or phone.  Authentic messages of communication for ESL students are just one that is working for us.

Hope that is useful!

Happy Teaching!

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!


Preparing for Upcoming Author Visit!

paul-spellman-love-letter-1918-1919   paul-spellman-old-300  

Who is Coming?

Dr. Paul Spellman, author of several celebrated books on Texas History as well as Until I Come Home, the True story of Roscoe and Vera Diamond Chittim, during Roscoe’s service in the U. S. Army during World War I.

How Are Newcomers Preparing?

Students are practicing passages from Paul’s book to create a short video for him.  The video will be made from students reading parts of his works aloud.

This activity is highly motivating for the students.  One girl said “It is really incredible that he is coming to see us.” That is all we need sometimes.  Students to feel valued and appreciated.

The topic is especially important for recent immigrants as many of them are lacking the background knowledge of US History that Paul can help me provide.

I have to thank my friends at the Texas Historical Commission, again.  I met author Paul Spellman through mutual friends there and he enthusiastically agreed to visit our class for some story telling

Is there a topic your students would be fascinated by because of their age or experiences?  I bet there is an author willing to connect with your students in some way!  Consider making a video for that author of your students reading from his/her work.  You may ask the author if they wouldn’t mind responding by email to the class.  Or who knows… maybe you will get a visit!

Language Experience Approach

NELD:  Newcomer English Language Development using LEA  (Language Experience Approach)

our-messagesI have to say that a lesson we did two weeks ago is paying off huge dividends.  There was a LOT of English language production in our class discussion because the topic was real and relevant and meaningful to my immigrant students.  Some are refugees from different countries and some are just new to America and can identify with people in the world making a journey for a better life.  My focus was a speaking ELPS (3.B).

But we are going to turn this into a writing assignment now that we have a shared experience around it.

Summary of what we did:   I knew someone who was going to visit a refugee camp in Greece.  Younger children were drawing pictures to send to give to the children there.  My high-schoolers talked about this for a while with frames (ELP 3.b, check!) and were given the choice to draw a picture and send a message if they wanted to.  Everyone wanted to.

content-lang-objective-on-refugee-messages refugee-messages

So now I’m confident that we can do a nice writing assignment about this together.  A shared writing that will be very meaningful to them.  It will be an essay they can read because they will help write it as a group.  One more thing they can read at home!

Will share that soon!

The New History & Archeology Club


Club sign up day was last week and we had a TON of students sign our “I am interested” sheet.  I’m super grateful to our archeologist friends at Coastal Environments, Inc and The Texas Historical Commission.  Dr. Lohse loaned us a few artifacts and we had many pictures of student engagement that we could share with prospective kiddos.  This will be my first experience with students who are not obligated to sit in a classroom and listen to me.  I have to work with Mr. Knapik (World Cultures & US History teacher at Stratford) to create activities that are of genuine interest to a young person.  With a club, they have no obligation to come and this at this age (high school) they have a social life to think about.  What a nice test for us!

MANY of our international students and Newcomers expressed interest.  Our hope is that this club provides a way to help them connect with their new school and community and that it has the added benefit of providing a motivating topic to encourage the use of their second language.  Our first gathering will be September 20th to get interest information from the students.   I have reached out to CEI and the THC to see what they might be able to provide in the way of experiences.

Stay tuned!!!