Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Some ideas on ESL summer homework

As promised, here you are some ideas on summer homework for the ESL class.

But before that, let me mention that I had a very interesting comment on my previous post: "About summer homework" made by Ana Garcia. (May you find interesting to have a look to her blog: Close your books, with resources for secondary students, teachers and families.

Homework: Help or Hassle?

She pointed out that we (in Spain) have got a long summer vacation and most of the children waste their summer time in front of computers, Wiis, TV or other technical gadgets. So, there is nothing bad about reviewing what they really have done for 30 to 60 minutes a day.

Probably, we must strongly think to change the traditional summer homework by using new technologies. We can engage and motivate children if we use the same tools they use in their daily lifes. At this moment only technology (or travelling to an English speaking country) can provide an extra exposure to English! And parents (in general people above thirties in my country) have a very poor average of English language... so, we can not count on them to help children at home!

Let's think about it!

Here you are a short list of links, you can suggest parents or students, to work English language at home.  

Activities for Summer School ESL by Judie Haynes
"Teaching summer school is often a challenge because the range of English language ability and grade levels in a single class can be very broad. You may find yourself with a mix of students who are not literate in native language with those who are. Second graders may be placed with 5th graders; non-English speakers with intermediate English language learners"
You can download some worksheets and activities based in a summer topic

Jobs, worksheets, and Flashcards for the ESL and TEFL Teacher.

Summer Reading: English Language Learners at the Library By: Kristina Robertson (2007).  A very interesting article about the importance of summer reading and some hot links about it.

ColorĂ­n Colorado is a free web-based service that provides information, activities and advice for educators and Spanish-speaking families of English language learners (ELLs).

Activities for primary and elementary level school kids. There are lots of lessons with videos or downloadable Powerpoint with embedded sounds. All the work has been done. Just let the children see it, hear it and say it. These lessons will easily teach (or review) new words (vocabulary), spelling, reading, listening, pronunciation and speaking. If you are a teacher or parent, this makes teaching your kids SO EASY!!!

Hobbies, Activities, Holiday Fun English vocabulary, printable worksheets... This page has printable vocabulary exercises related to hobbies, holidays and fun activities. Look at the worksheet and description and decide which one to print. Click on the thumbnail to print.

This summer will be held The Olympic Games in London. Why don't we take benefit of this?

If you are you looking for a summer reading list for your children or teens, here you are a selection of 2012 summer reading lists. These lists of recommended children's books and young adult books are generally organized by grade level. Many of the elementary reading lists include children's picture books. Many of the middle school reading lists include a mix of middle grade fiction and nonfiction and young adult books. You'll find both classics and recently published books here.

Have you got some more interesting web sites to work independetly ESL? Please share!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

About Summer homework

Are you ready for the summer holiday?
Or, still thinking what assignments do you will "suggest" to your students?
Are you on your way to select a summer holiday activity book?
Publishers fill your post box with new books and they claim to be the panacea?

Here you are a short article that can open your eyes or it will make you rethink about summer homework.

This is one of the articles published in The New York Times under the title The Crush of Summer Homework


What Homework Can’t Do

Nancy Kalish
Nancy Kalish is the co-author of “The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It.”

Summer homework sounds like a good idea…until you see how miserable a child looks as he slogs through that pile of book reports, math packets, journal entries, and other typical assignments. The summer load has grown significantly since we were kids. But a little hard work never hurt anyone, right?

Well in this case, it might. Schools should rethink summer homework, and not just because it stresses out kids (and parents). The truth is, homework doesn’t accomplish what we assume it does. According to a Duke University review of more than 175 studies, there is little or no correlation between homework and standardized test scores or long-term achievement in elementary school, and only a moderate correlation in middle school.

Some studies claim that students lose skills they don’t practice over the summer. However, if a child can’t regain his grasp of fractions with a brief review, maybe those skills weren’t taught well enough in the first place. Doing a mountain of math sheets without a teacher’s help — and perhaps incorrectly — is not the answer.

But there are a few things summer homework does accomplish effectively: It steals time away from other important aspects of learning such as play, which helps kids master social skills and teamwork. In addition, writing book reports means kids spend fewer hours being physically active, which is essential for good health and weight control, not to mention proper brain development.

Perhaps worst of all, summer homework affects how kids feel about learning and school. Do we want our children to start the year refreshed and ready to learn? Or burned out and resentful? It’s something every teacher should carefully consider.

Do we want our children to start the year refreshed and ready to learn? Or burned out and resentful?

Do not miss my next post about some new ideas on ESL summer homework.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A puppet show as an oral resource to exploit stories

As a teacher of English as a second language to very young children you know (of course!) the value of using stories in the classroom. They are a powerful tool not only for enjoyment and motivation, but also for learning British culture, traditions and festivities.

Children are usually interested in finding out the differences between their own culture and the culture of children in the UK. The legend of St. George and the Dragon has a strong connection between the British and the Catalan culture, as it is a story with deep roots in both cultures.

Illustrator: Cristina Costa
In general children know this story very well, and they can perform it in their mother tongue with some minimum effort. But the challenge comes when we want to play it in English.

There are many different ways to approach the story. Younger learners or learners who have a lower level of English will want to read or listen to the story several times, before to perform in front of an audience.

Older students, upper primary ones, with a higher level of English can be stimulated for creative writing. They could write more complex stories, for example, their own story based on the legend of St George, transforming the characters, creating new ones or inventing new situations.

Role-Play and acting out

As a spring time project, in year 5, we wanted to do a quite ambitious class project: interpreting the legend of St George and the Dragon with puppets as a way to take English out of our classroom, and perform it in front of a much selected audience (children of year 1 and 2).

They wrote a free version of this legend, they illustrated an enormous castle as a puppet theatre and, of course, they learned new vocabulary and grammar structures. Moreover, they practiced movements with the puppets as a comprehension support of the story, they read aloud the dialogue of the characters and the narrator in different voices, they did a lot of pronunciation and intonation, and they had a lot of fun while learning English! (This is probably the most important issue!).

But it is better to have a look at the full process in the following PowerPoint.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Scaffolding Children's Learning through Story and Drama

Scaffolding is a well-known metaphor widely used in education and language teaching to describe the guidance, collaboration and support provided by teachers to lead children to new learning. As the metaphor implies,scaffolding is a temporary construct which can be put up,taken down, reinforced and strengthened, or dismantled piece by piece once it is no longer needed, and as children develop language and skills which enable them to act in an increasingly competent, confident and independent way (Read, 2006).

I like to suggest you the reading of the article "Scaffolding Children's Learning through Story and Drama", written by Carol Read.  It is about integrating and combining storytelling and drama techniques in different ways to provide "robust and flexible scaffolding".

Carol points the idea to naturally integrate stories and drama as a way to scaffold learning during language lessons with young learners of English.

The main futures of stories and drama are at the base of this scaffold:
  • They build on children's capacity for play
  • They deal with significant issues
  • They engage multiple intelligences
  • They appeal to different learning styles
  • They suspend norms of time, place and identity.
  • They are social and communal
  • They have rules and conventions

"In an integrated approach the aim at a global level may be that the children will come back to the story three or four times. During this period, their initial receptive understanding of the story will be scaffolded in order to enable them to act out and re-tell the story, to explore relevant issues it raises, and to personalise and transfer some of the language it contains to their own lives" (Read, IATEFL, 2008)

My next post will be an example of a puppet theatre play performed by children learning English as a third language (do not miss it!).

Monday, May 14, 2012

How to facilitate speaking in the ESL classroom

Upper Primary Level. 

How difficult is to teach conversation in the ESL classroom! How difficult is to stir spontaneous speaking!

Repetition kills motivation!
If you are using a textbook you will realize that the material found in ESL textbooks are dry and lack the variety and authenticity of real-world conversations. Teachers need something that can stimulate students and get them motivated to speak English in the classroom.

A good way is using video clips as a conversational prompt. They provide students with authentic situations in which the English language is used and can help them speaking in the classroom. 

First problem:  To find one that is appropriate. Just ask you few questions:
Is the content suitable for the students?
Does the content appeal to the students?
Is the length of the clip too long?

Clips shorter than two minutes may not provide enough substance from which students can create a narrative. On the other hand, clips more than five minutes in length may be too challenging for upper primary students.

Second problem: Where to find suitable video clips? You can search popular video sites such as, or Google videos for the video clips.  In these sites, video clips are abundant and are easily accessible in the classroom (type "animated short films" or "animated commercials"... you will get some good stuff to use in the ESL class).

Personally, the ones I like the most are: the YouTube Pixar channel and Ringling College of Art Design channels in Vimeo. 

I recently used this video from the YouTube Pixar channel in Year 5, just after reading the Heinemann book "Castles. King Arthur Treasure"

Third problem: What to do with it? It is a good idea to create a worksheet that has sections in which students can write down ideas, single words, new vocabulary, actions (verbs), and things they don’t know or they do not understand, that will later be used in speech. At the bottom of the worksheet, just add a few lines so that students can write a short narrative, both in L1 or L2, depending on the level.

My students usually work in small groups. I distribute a specific worksheet and introduce briefly the video to them. Take care to not give away what is happening in the video, otherwise they will not have much to write and later narrate. Simply inform the students of what are they going to do, the name of the video and some clues to watch it.
The first time I play the video, I ask children to do nothing: just watch and listen. The second time I ask them to write down, on the worksheet, what they see in the clip.
This video is from the student gallery of Ringling College of Art and Design. Carrot Crazy! from Ringling College of Art + Design on Vimeo. Once the video clip has been played I ask some questions regarding the clip: What did you see in the video clip (objects, places,)? What was happening (actions, verbs…)? What emotions, do you think, the actors felt (feelings, adjectives…)? Why did the characters do this or that? … Now, here it comes the most amazing part of the activity: students are asked to write a small narrative that will accompany the actions in the video.  Students can write the narrative in the third or the first person: just they are different ways of expressing what is happening in the video. Play the video again without sound. Give ten minutes to groups to come up with a narrative for the video clip. While students are writing, walk around and assist as necessary. When the groups have completed their narratives, choose alternative groups to narrate the video clip while it is being played. Make sure each student from the group has a chance to read a few lines of the narrative. You can conclude the session by asking their opinion, comment or just giving an adjective for the video.
With a little extra work you can add the narrative to the video by using Overstream or another subtitle adding app. Watch an example in vimeo

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open&Share: Concentration. A five minutes warm up activity

Open&Share: Concentration. A five minutes warm up activity: "Concentration" is a 5 minutes warm up activity to foster concentration and to involve children into oral production. It is a very good way ...

Friday, May 11, 2012

100 Ways To Use Twitter In Education, By Degree Of Difficulty

"Twitter may have started off as a fun social media site for keeping up with friends and sharing updates about daily life, but it’s become much more than that for many users over the past few years as the site has evolved and grown".

This is a wonderful article that focuses on how schools can integrate Twitter into the classroom. If you are a "techy teacher", do not miss it!

Read the full article in

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Open&Share: Three minutes teacher

Open&Share: Three minutes teacher: "Three minutes teacher" is a warm up activity that can be done in upper primary ESL class. It is an activity to promote speaking, oral auton...

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Olympic Games come closer!

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well."
Olympic Creed

This is a very nice quotation that points the importance to use this topic in any primary or high school class... in any subject!

But this year, as the Olympics take place in London, it brings to the ESL class an extra relevance and motivation.

Just let’s imagine some questions to research about:

  • What is the significance of the 5 rings in the Olympics emblem?
  • When do the Olympics start and where? The reason, the history, the context...
  • What are the Olympic sports now? What were the Olympic sports in the ancient Greece?
  • What are the main traditions? The torch relay, the medals... 
  • What countries do participate? Continents, working on maps, geolocalisation...
  • What is the Olympic Creed? What does it means?
  • Why it is one of the few times that the World tries to get together peacefully?
  • Differences between Summer and Winter Olympics.
  • What are the Paralympic Games?
The Telegraph. Photo: GETTY

Or some other topics around you can use to implement the project as:

  • Schedule and Results
  • Description of the sports
  • Flags
  • The Olympic Anthem
  • Knowing the athletes and their best performances
  • Tickets and prices

Just let you fly your imagination and thing in the many possibilities you’ve got to work the curriculum with an interesting and motivating topic like this.

Here I offer you some nice web sites to work with your students.  
If you find some more, please share!

The Official website for the London 2012 Summer Olympics

Activity Village. Find printables, colouring pages, medals, flags, maps, and links to other interesting materils to work with children. A very useful page of a French teacher with lots of resources to work out on the history of the Olympics, the Olympic charter, cliparts, listenings, interactive activities, activities to print, lesson plans, webquests, interactive games, paralympics, and much more!

A full olympic Project presented on a PowerPoint by David Deubelbeiss. You can get more Olympic resources on EFL Classroom 2.0. The Official website of the Olympic Movement: Athletes, sports, olympism, and lots of videos and photos.

Edmonds School. A good collection of links to elementary resources for working the Olympics. Do not miss the teacher section with printables and lesson plans.

ABC Teach. A full Olympics Theme Unit with worksheets and printables, certificates, reading comprehension activities, posters and crosswords.

In Woodlands Junior School you will find a very interesting page about sports and the ancient Greece Olympics.

Finally, one of my favourites: Escola Ruiz Amado Wiki in which the students have made a project on Amazing Olympic Athletes.  It is worth to have a look!

Friday, May 04, 2012

More on bilingualism...

"... a growing body of research now offers a further rationale for bilinguism: the regular, high-level use of more than one language may actually improve early brain development.
Photo from Multilingualkids
According to several different studies, command of two or more languages bolsters the ability to focus in the face of distraction, decide between competing alternatives, and disregard irrelevant information. These essential skills are grouped together, known in brain terms as “executive function.” The research suggests they develop ahead of time in bilingual children, and are already evident in kids as young as 3 or 4".
Full article available at The Daily Best "Why it's smart to be bilingual" by Casey Schwartz, Aug 7 2011

Three children, three languages
The benefits of multilingualism are definitely much more than the opposite. I personaly speak three languages on a daily basis, in a country where the great majority of people speak an average of ONE!

When I learnt English as a late teenager I failed to comprehend its usefulness, but in later life it has certainly made the germanic languages easier to deal with. I have also found that multilingualism is a huge plus in the University where discourses in foreign language bring a very different linguistic feel, or ambiance to understanding very different conceptual issue.

It seems to me an odd topic to talk about the benefits of bilingualism, in a multilingual environment. In my country some people still consider that monolingualism is the only way to teach and learn, and the only way to socialize children for democracy. Strange way to do it!

I also found this article very interesting: 

Life as a Bilingual. The reality of living with two (or more) languages. By Francois Grosjean, Ph.D.

"I have achieved greater stature in my work environment; I have developed my lingual capacities; I have become more open-minded toward minorities and more aware of their linguistic problems; I have enjoyed various forms of literature and felt a certain amount of pride in being able to read in three different languages . . . Life never becomes boring, because there is more than just one language available."

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The benefits of Bilinguism or Trilinguism or...

Why Bilinguals Are Smarter

A very interesting article published in The New York Times (March 17, 2012) written by Yudhijit  Bhattacharjee.

"SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age".

"The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be more basic: a heightened ability to monitor the environment. “Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” says Albert Costa, a researcher at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.”

Read the complete article in The New York Times