Thursday, January 22, 2015

Using Hand Signals in the Classroom

Did you get that?

Do you understand?

Easy peasy, right?

Raise your hand if you've ever said that to your students.  {Raising hand wildly over here!} I'm also guilty of calling on the same 3 kids over and over again.  It's so hard to change, especially when you've been saying the same things for years!  I have been trying a few different ways to break those bad habits, and I hope some of them can work for you!

Checking for understanding is something we are constantly doing before, during, and after lessons.  It can tell us which students are on the right track, which are the wrong track, and which kids are on Platform 9 and 3/4.   But when does checking for understanding become a tool we can actually use to drive instruction?

Enter the Marzano Scale.  I started using this on the first day of school this year, and am so glad I did.

After I've conducted direct instruction and before we move on to independent practice, I stop and say, "Show me how you understand."  Sometimes I'll use it as a quick pre-assessment as well.  My students will then raise anywhere from 1 to 4 (sometimes we get silly and raise 10) fingers to show their understanding.  From there, I can assign partners or groups based on what I've seen.  This strategy has worked out well for both my high and low proficient students; the physical response lessens any speaking anxiety they have.  

The next strategy works really well for my low proficient ELL's, and would work for any student who is on the shy side.

When I ask a question to the whole group, I wait to see my student give me a thumbs up on the table before calling on him.  

Earth shattering? No.  Easy? Not always, especially when we are holding a group discussion.  Effective?  Absolutely!  Waiting for that thumbs up avoids unnecessary speaking anxiety for my student, and saves the rest of the class from a overly long wait time. It's not a very visible signal, and it's just between the two of us.  He can lay his fist on the table with his thumb to the side, or he can hold his thumb up (like in the game Seven-Up).  

None of my students have asked about it , but if they did, I would simply tell them that's how I know their friend is ready to answer.

I use lots of hand signals on my part as well. They help a lot when I have very new newcomers at school who are unfamiliar with classroom rules or spoken directions.  
Finger to ear- listen
Finger from mouth - speak/tell me
Brush two fingers on one hand against two fingers on the other - Stop/Don't do that
Hand from chest in a circle- everyone

Do you use any hand signals in your classroom? Share in the comments!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

5 Tips to Get Your Students on the "Write" Track!

Teaching ELL's (or any) students to write can be a struggle!  Finding the words and syntax to put on paper can be frustrating for students and teachers alike.  For a second language learner who is new to the country or does not have a firm grasp of writing in his first language, writing can be downright awful!  Over the past few years teaching Newcomer students, I've found some ways to alleviate the stress that writing causes, while allowing students to develop their own thoughts and ideas.

1. Use picture prompts! 

I have a go-to prompt that really open up a student's path of expression.  I use it with high and low proficient students alike.  It gives them a sentence frame to start their writing, as well as a reminder to dig deeper into the prompt.
When I assign this prompt (usually with a picture from Google or my Pinterest board) I ask students to say their sentence out loud before writing it down.  It's a simple trick that helps them organize their syntax.  Here are samples from two of my refugee students..  

For a higher proficiency student (first example) I will go back and correct some grammar or spelling if those concepts have already been taught.  For a lower proficiency student (second example) I do not correct grammar or spelling, rather, I focus on revising syntax. 

2.  Write in sequence!  

If there is an expository question, I always provide my students with the first/next/then/last/finally prompt.  
click to grab it from my TPT store!

For a lower proficiency student, I again overlook spelling and grammar- I am more interested in the order of events and getting words from head to paper. 
For a higher proficient student, I leave things more open ended: this is an example from my How to Eat an Oreo pack on TPT- click the pic to check it out!

3. Make it simple with a Can/Have/Are chart.  

Use this as a pre-write, or as the finished product depending on proficiency.  

4. Start at the very beginning... 

Use Beginning, Middle, and End as your jumping point.  Using illustrations to help narrate isn't just a primary tool- I used this example with my upper elementary students. 

5.  Choose your own adventure.  

I love to give my students a prompt and let their imaginations run wild, but some kids just have a hard time coming up with material.  An easy way to get around that is to have them pick and choose from story elements you provide.  Here's my favorite example- and it's free in my store- just click and download!

For low proficient students, I may have them make their selections and complete just the BME, but for higher proficient students, I would ask them to complete most of the page.  Pre-writing can be tedious, but choosing one's own pieces can make brainstorming fun!

This is just a sample of the many ways to get your ELL's on the "write" track.  I hope you found something useful!  Do you have another tip or trick to share? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Scoop

Hello friends!

I'm linking up with the Teaching Trio to share a bit about the coming week.

This week in ESL, we'll be working on finding textual evidence, studying the work of MLK, Jr., and learning about seasons, clothing, and weather.  Here are the resources we'll be using:

We'll be working on a Martin Luther King diary, told from the perspective of his son.  This is one of my favorites!  It's historical fiction, biography, and non-fiction all rolled into one. I just added an audio file for your listening learners- click the pic to check it out. 

P.S. It's on sale until tomorrow!

P.P.S I'm giving one away on my facebook page- come say hi!

My firsties are learning about seasons and weather.  We'll be using one of my best sellers, Seasons, Clothing, and Weather (Oh My!) over the next two weeks.  Click the pic to check out a freebie from the pack!

Now on to the Sunday Scoop!


My dog likes to dig, then roll in her hole.  She needs a bath desperately. 

We have off for MLK day and President's day in February- time to schedule those routine dentist, physicals, etc.  Not my favorite thing to do!

Here's how I menu plan: I look at the coupons while pushing the cart through the front door of ShopRite.  I am trying to get better at planning ahead.  Tell me you do that too?


I am the Maid of Honor for my friend's August wedding.  I'm finding that coordinating bridesmaid schedules is like shepherding rowdy first graders.  Enough said!

One of my best blogging friends is attending a workshop at my school on Friday- that's the perfect excuse to go to happy hour after work!


Sinus and ear infection 1, Maria, 0.  I was sick from the time we got home from our cruise (Sunday night) until Saturday morning.  I spent three days at home on the couch and I'm ready to get back into the swing of things.  

I'll be back with some classroom updates soon.  Have a great week!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Melting Snowman Craftivity

Happy New Year!

Are you ready for the first day back? Of course not- I'd rather stay in my PJ's for another week too!

I may not be ready to leave the comfort of my PJ's, but at least I'm not stressed about my lesson plans.  I started this craftivity with my class before we left for Christmas break, knowing that we would just pick up where we left off in January.

This craftivity includes two optional glyphs, which I had my firsties start last week. There are three options for the craft- one to cut and color, one to cut, color, and arrange some of the pieces, and one to cut, color, and arrange all the pieces.

They each have their own personality! How adorable!

There are also quite a few snowman-themed printables and writing prompts- this one is my favorite! 

I displayed the finished products on my door, which serves as my bulletin board. #bulletinboardlessteacher 

I found chalkboard style wrapping paper at Target and backed it with cardstock to make it stay stiff.  

I'll add the rest of the snowmen around the door once my kiddos are done working.  Early finishers can work on the printables while they are waiting for their friends to finish.  Lesson plans done! 

If you have older students or are looking for something a little more rigorous, check this out: 

My latest diary is a science-based informational text, which teaches about the formation of snowflakes and Snowflake Bentley, all from the perspective of one little snowflake.  Click the pic to grab it from TPT!

I hope you have a great New Year with your class! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An ESL Christmas

This week we held our 3rd annual ESL Christmas Party.  Each year our party gets bigger and better...I'm not sure how we can top it next year!  Here's a photo re-cap of the fun.

We asked the students to make wishlists for something they want, something they need, and something to read.  We compiled that information into a google drive spreadsheet and sent it to our faculty.  Teachers were able to put their names next to items/students they would donate to.  We also included some supplies we needed, like wrapping paper, tape, plates, and napkins.  We sent the spreadsheet out the week before Thanksgiving, allowing plenty of time to shop. 

My teammate had the brilliant idea to pick up the red Target bags you see in the picture above- she bought 50, and we could have used 50 more!  They were so perfect for holding all the presents, as well as canned food and clothes that were donated also. 

My teammie and I constantly get donations brought to our classrooms, so we allow the parents to "shop" twice a year.  We had four long cafeteria tables filled with clothes.  Our Student Council spent over an hour sorting, folding, and displaying each article of clothing.   There were also 3 long cafeteria tables full of canned and non-perishable food that was donated by the Student Council around Thanksgiving.

Those red bags really came in handy!  

This is one of our newest sweethearts; she had never received a present before.  Watching her clutch those bags made me teary-eyed.  (I held it together this year until after the party...then I bawled in my car!)

The food for the party was donated by a faculty member's husband who works at Texas Roadhouse.  He also happened to help us out as the big man in red.  The same family also donated for about 6 of the students.  They're just amazing- proof that there are good people in the world.

We had some gifts donated that weren't specific to students, so we held a raffle.  Everyone who came  (big and small) received 3 tickets; they could enter their ticket for any prize they would like.  Some of my littles were confused with this process, as we had done raffles before in the "you get what you get" style.  They stood guard at each cup, watching to see how many tickets went in.  One sweet firstie came up to me and said, "Someone put their ticket in my cup!"  Then I understood why they were standing guard! #itsnotyourcup #stepawayfromthecup

We wanted to dress up the cafeteria, so I picked up some white bags from Michael's and tossed in some battery-operated tea lights.  Of course I had to make them pretty!  My teammate jokes about how I couldn't live without Pinterest...she's right! I searched "Christmas hand-lettering" and just copied the ones I liked the best.  These were so easy and came out great- I'm keeping them for next year!

Lucky for us, there was already a set and Santa chair left over from the chorus concert, and I put up our little tree next to it.  

We had a fabulous party.  We couldn't have done it without the help of our faculty and family "elves."  We are so grateful for all the help and donations we received.  Now that the party is over, "It's time to get started on next Christmas!" (From Elf!)  Just kidding.  I need to sleep!  

I wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of New Years!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hosting a Pinterest Party

Have you always wanted to make some of those crafts you've had pinned for 3 years on Pinterest?  How about cook up some of those mouthwatering dishes from your favorite food bloggers?  I decided to host a Pinterest Party for some of my girlfriends, and boy, did we have a blast! Come along and see how I put it together...get ready for picture overload!

I invited my friends for a mid-afternoon party, knowing that it would take some time for paint/glue to dry.  I planned a menu that was cocktail-inspired, including lots of heavy apps. I created a Pinterest Party board on Pinterest- all the recipes and crafts we made are there.  Click any picture to go to the board.  

My menu included:
Buffalo Chicken Dip
Subs from a local place
Cranberry Brie Bites
Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
Caprese Salad Skewers
Prosciutto Pesto Pizza Twists
Chocolate Mint Bundt Cake
Grinch cookies
Cornmeal cutout cookies
Holiday Sangria

I set up all the food in our dining room; our buffet server opens up to accommodate more serving dishes.  The globe is an antique bar cart that came from my parents' house.  I always loved decorating it when I lived there, and am so glad it was passed down to me.  I did some chalk art to dress up the space.  The small chalkboard easels came from Walmart, the others from Michael's. 

I am a sangria lover, and this was one of the best I've ever had.  I combined two different reds since I didn't have time to run to the liquor store, and it came out great. 

I made some caprese salad skewers and shrimp cocktail.  I tried to keep my menu based on finger foods that we could eat while crafting.  I promise I'll get to the crafting part in a little bit!

These prosciutto pesto pizza twists were a hit!  I was able to make them the morning of the party and pop them in the oven right before my friends arrived.  These are definitely going on my must-make list for future parties!

I made cranberry brie bites as a crossover between app and dessert- they had just the right amount of sweetness to balance the other savory apps.   Not pictured are the subs and buffalo chicken dip- they were quickly commandeered by the husbands and taken downstairs where the football game was on.

I made my favorite chocolate cake with a mint twist.  I also made grinch cookies and cornmeal cut-out cookies.  

Once we had eaten our fill, we settled in for some crafting.  I asked each attendee to bring enough supplies for everyone at the party to make one craft.  We started with the craft that needed painting...but that one was a craft-astrophe and we didn't finish.  It was fine, because we had 4 other crafts to work on.

We made mason jar candle wreaths.

We made Christmas clothespins.

We made wine-cork trivets.

And we made melted-crayon ornaments.  

We laughed, we ate, we crafted, and we ate some more.  It was a wonderful party and so easy to put together.  I am planning to host another one for the summer- there are so many great 4th of July and outdoor crafts we can work on.  This is a great and inexpensive way to get your friends together, and everyone leaves with a goody bag full of crafts.