Morning Work: My Favorite Part of the Day!

Sunday, April 17, 2016
My first few years of teaching, I would stand at the door greeting every student as they walked into class and began copying the objective and word of the day.  I thought it was a genius thing to do- we engaged, then they immediately had something to do.   My low-functioning students knew exactly what to expect each day, were independent, it was a no-stress no-prep routine for me, and I rarely gave it a second thought. When I moved to a new school, I followed the same procedure, and it was working great (or so I thought). But after a while, I realized my students were not learning from just copying, and the routine had become stale.  I needed something for them to do that was low or no prep, followed a routine, and could be done in the first 5 minutes of class. After lots of research, blog reading, and trial and error, I found my solution: morning work! 

I spent a few hours over the summer with my pacing guide and created an outline with the topics I wanted to focus on during each month.  They fell into the categories of writing, grammar, phonics, and vocabulary.  That was a perfect way to organize my week.  I decided to keep the format for each week the same in order to provide the structured routine my learners needed. I included things my students could do independently, as well as things they would need help with, as well as topics that would promote class discussion. 

After just a few weeks with our new routine, my students were able to greet me at the door like usual, then come in and get to work on something that tied in to what we had learned or would be learning.  I found myself re-arranging some of my lesson plans to better incorporate my morning work topics, and vice versa.  If there was something scheduled for Thursday but we were learning about it on Monday, then I just switched up the days.  

Each Monday my students added the week's prompts to their own notebooks, and each Friday they turned them in.  I didn't grade each day's work, but we always discussed the prompts as a class before continuing on with our work. 

I could print them 2 or 4 to a page, depending on the size of my kids' notebooks, which varied year to year.  But since we've gone paperless, the kids use OneNote or Google Classroom to open up each week's file of work. 

one of my students researches the prompt of the day using his tablet

Morning work time quickly became my favorite part of the day.  I found myself really looking forward to the discussions we would have or reading the 20 word stories the kids would write.  Sometimes I'd let my students work in partners or groups to complete the day's assignment and that was always fun, too.  

I made a version for Google Drive, too!
If (and when) my principal walked in during the first 5 minutes of class, he would see my students actively engaged in review or enrichment that was on their level, not just boring seat work.  That alone filled me with a sense of pride, and dare I say, *hoping* that he would walk in just to see it.

independent morning work, great for 3rd and 4th graders. get the bundle!:

There were some times when my kids got really invested in a prompt, such as the research writing prompts on Mondays, that we'd skip Tuesday and Wednesday morning work and just work on writing.  I'd often have students suggest topics for the writing prompts, and most of the sentences contained the names of their sisters, brothers, and friends.  This was more than just busy-work or seat-work- it was a framework for our entire classroom.  There were many times I'd hear "Remember, we talked about that in Morning Work?" 

Just this simple change revolutionized the way I teach, definitely for the better.  Have you revolutionized your teaching? Tell me all about it!

Newcomer ESL Curriculum Outline

Monday, March 14, 2016
To all the ESL, EFL, and ESOL teachers out there, thank you for the work you do.  It takes a big heart to shape little minds, and it takes an even bigger heart to help newcomers adjust to life in the United States.  Whether you’re teaching 5 year olds or 17 year olds, you know that some students come to school lacking the basic foundations of education.  It’s then up to us to bring them up to grade level in just a few short months. When I received my first class of newcomers, I searched high and low for a pacing guide, an outline, anything, and came up short. So I decided to share the one I created over the course of two school years.

This curriculum outline is just that- an outline.  I have topics divided by units, but these four units took us two full school years to complete. They may take your class one month, one year, or four years.  No two classes are alike.  


My students were 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 7th graders, and none had ever been to school before.  One had never even held a pencil before.  When I say we started at the very beginning, I am not exaggerating.  We started with learning to spell and write our names, learning the ABC’s, and learning to count to 10. Some things took us a week to learn, some things took us 4 months. 


In full disclosure, it took us almost two full school years to even get close to a third grade Common Core standard.  I can hear the gasps.  Go ahead and pick your jaw up off the floor.  Here’s why: students need to survive before they can thrive.  In terms of language acquisition, that means they need to be able to communicate verbally before they can become readers and writers. I always say, “If they can speak it, they can read it.  If they can read it, they can  write it.” It’s tempting to drill students on sight words and grammar structures to have them keep up with the class, but doing so without teaching strong verbal communication skills may delay a student’s progress. 

This outline is in no way intended to replace an existing curriculum you may be using, nor is it intended to ensure student success for all learners.  It’s just what worked for me! And if there’s someone out there struggling with newcomer students, then I hope it works for you too!

Teaching Kids to Rhyme

Monday, February 22, 2016
You and I grew up with our moms singing nursery rhymes- Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, and Little Miss Muffett.  For us, rhyming comes naturally and doesn't require much strenuous thought.  Even slant rhyme comes easily to people who have grown up immersed in rhyme.

Starting in Kindergarten, the Common Core expects students to recognize and produce rhyming words. (RF.K.2A) But what can we do about the students who didn't grow up with nursery rhymes, or whose nursery rhymes were proverbs or folk tales, and didn't rhyme at all?  What about ESL students who speak languages in which there is no equivalent translation for "rhyme?" I've got some ideas to help you- read on!

1. Expose and immerse

We all read read-alouds in our classroom, so from day one, point out words that sound the same. Over-enunciate for your listening learners and color-code for your visual learners. Walk down the hallway or enter the room to a chant. Put up a bulletin board with word families and add to it throughout the year. 

2. Narrow your focus

Pick a book like "Hop on Pop," or "One Fish Two Fish," something with a great rhyme scheme.  But don't read the whole book! Pick the page with the word family you want to work on, such as "at" "ish" or "op".  Stick with that sound family until your students are ready to move on.

3. Recognize that some words sound the same 

Provide copies for each student, re-copy onto an easel, or project the page on your SmartBoard.  Read the page a few times: once by yourself, once as an echo-read, once as a choral read, then ask for volunteers.  (We're building fluency and prosody skills, too!) Highlight or point out two of the rhyming words, and ask students what the words have in common.  

4. Identify in context

Once students identify the pattern (same ending sound), create a chant or a cheer to highlight the sound. For example, if I were using this page from One Fish, Two Fish, I would teach the kids to clap each time I land on a rhyming word.  I might leave some words out of my highlighting, and ask them to search for the word I missed. 

5. Produce independently

I would give each student an index card with -ook on it, and we would go through the alphabet trying all kinds of combinations.  In my room, it sounds like this: "A-ook, not a word.  B-ook, book- that's a word!" (Think about your pattern before you start!!!) Once we've generated a list of rhyming words with our sound family, I'd ask my students to create a rhyme.  You can give them a sentence frame like this to fill in if you need to: 
I see a _______
I like to ______
She eats a ____
He has a _____

5. Stick with the pattern

Keep practicing with the same word family.  For students in your class who aren't exposed to rhyme at home, the repetition of one sound family is going to be crucial! Sometimes students will understand that top, mop, and stop sound the same, but cannot understand that wish, fish, and dish rhyme as well.  It's important for them to grasp the concept that words can rhyme.  Starting with one family will give them the foundation they need to make connections with other word families down the line. 

6. Practice makes good

If you're looking for rhyming homework, morning work, or center work, try these great units from some of my friends! 
Word Families - A Pin & Spin Activity

Rhyme Time

Word Puzzlers

The Comfort Zone Challenge

Tuesday, February 16, 2016
I can't.
I don't know how.
I don't want to.
I'm afraid.

We've all heard these phrases uttered from the mouths of students young and old.  Although some kids are fearless risk-takers, that can't be said for everyone.  As teachers, we are tasked with instructing in the content areas, but we're also responsible for shaping the minds and souls of the leaders of tomorrow.  Students need to learn that taking risks in the classroom, at home, or with friends can be a safe and positive thing to do. How can we deliver that message in an effective and engaging way? Try a Comfort Zone Challenge!

The Comfort Zone Challenge is a 5 day activity geared towards facing fears, enhancing mindfulness, and reflecting.  It works for students, social groups, or even faculty. 

I start the lesson using quote from NASA Astronaut Anne McClain, "If you don't face your fears the only thing you'll ever see is what's in your comfort zone."  

Then, we discuss as a group the meaning of a comfort zone.  You'd be surprised how many kids think it's a pillow! Students often think that stepping outside their zone is a big, bad, and scary, so I give them plenty of time to talk about their fears before moving on.  

As a group or individuals, students visualize themselves IN their comfort zone, and then visualize themselves OUT of their comfort zone.  Then comes the challenge- a series of activities students choose on their own to complete for 5 days straight.

Students can reflect in an interactive notebook, share with a friend, or share with a teacher. At the end of the challenge your group will have faced some of their fears and will have the courage to take on some more! If you're ready to try the challenge yourself, then click here

Teaching Writing with Super Bowl Commercials

Sunday, February 7, 2016
Using picture prompts to teach writing is a great way to get kids to write about a multitude of topics, but have you ever tried to use videos instead?  I've got some great ways to get kids writing, speaking, and collaborating using high-interest and engaging Super Bowl commercials!

For this lesson, I'm using my very favorite Super Bowl commercial of all time: the Darth Vader Kid Volkswagen commercial.  You can use any commercial you want, or have students choose their own.  It's super simple to find them on youtube after the big game.

For this lesson, I was trying to reinforce sequencing, and writing with a consistent stream of thought.  But this strategy will work for teaching dialogue, problem and solution, character development, really any writing trait!  

I like to follow the I Do, We Do, You Do method for teaching writing.  I started by giving each student a graphic organizer for the skill we're learning. So, since my students needed a lot of work with structure, I modeled a simple story like Cinderella, but mixed up all the actions.  For example: first, Cinderella went to the ball, next, she was sad because the stepmother ruined her dress, then she tried on the glass slipper, and last, the prince came looking for her.  We discussed how even with the transition words, my story didn't make sense. I then modeled a simple story like the 3 Little Pigs, using our organizer and making the actions sequential.  We talked about what happened first, next, then, and last, and how the story flowed, compared to my Cinderella story, which was all mixed up.

For the We Do part of my lesson, I showed my commercial.  But here's the kicker: I showed it on MUTE! Leaving the sound off allows students to process the action without the distraction of music or dialogue.  I really wanted them to develop their own ideas about the story without the influence of sound.  As a group, we discussed the first and next part of the video and all filled in our graphic organizers together.

For the You Do part,I had each student fill in the remainder of their graphic organizer. You could easily do this in small groups or as one class story, depending on your objective. And since we're 1:1, I gave each student the link and allowed them to replay the video as often as they needed to come up with their story.

As a closing activity, I invited the students to turn and talk to a partner to share their stories.  Everyone had the same first and next part, but their then, last, and finally had been written independently. We regrouped and watched the video one last time, this time with the sound ON.  An extension or homework activity would be to compare and contrast the original version to the version your students wrote.

There are so many ways to use commercials in your classes- this is just one of them! Have you used ads before? If not, definitely give them a'll be the MVP of your school! For more great writing prompts, check out my Writing Pinterest Board! Follow Everyone Deserves to Learn's board ESL Writing on Pinterest.

No Name Calling Week (Ideas and Resources)

Thursday, January 14, 2016
Imagine this: a week free of name-calling, teasing, or taunting...sounds heavenly, right?  Many teachers focus on community building at the beginning of the year, but the "honeymoon phase" of a new classroom or teacher can quickly wear off.  Whether it's a few weeks or several months into the school year, a refresher course on being kind may be just the thing your classroom needs.

  There are many many factors which influence name-calling and bullying, which can lead to severe academic and social consequences.  In an attempt to provide a solution, (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) co-sponsors a week of kindness and antibullying each January. It has a whole host of resources  for teachers, counselors, and administrators that are ready to implement.  For a quick and easy list you can share with students or parents, check out this list

Here are some other ways to #celebratekindness in your school or at home.

1. Challenge students of different demographics to work together to solve a problem.  This can be peer tutoring, volunteering, or even a STEM challenge.  Let students realize that they become stronger when they put their unique talents together.

2. Try teaching iMessages! I've used this strategy for years with my classes.  I've found that sometimes my kids need to be taught the explicit words to use to solve a problem.  Check out the full lesson and activity plan here.

3.  Build up your classroom or school community with some team-oriented icebreakers.  I love the hula hoop challenge, as well as the Save Sam activity.  They get kids up and moving and provide an ongoing conversation starter! 

4. Share inspirational quotes or posters.  We all have them hanging in our rooms, but do we ever actually discuss what they mean? Kids look at these posters for 180 days in a row, so take one off the wall and talk about it.  Just watch the insightful discussion unfold! Here are two of my favorites to discuss:

Cinderella Have Courage & Be Kind Free Printable:  Child at Heart Blog:

How do you celebrate and promote kindness in your classroom? Share in the comments!

New Year, New Look!

Saturday, January 2, 2016
If you're new to the blog, welcome! I've got lots of ways to help you work with English Language Learners, so put your feet up and look around!

If you're not new...notice anything different?

From this...

 To this!

Megan from I Teach. What's Your Superpower and A Bird in Hand Designs just gave my blog a facelift, and I love it! I hope you do too! 

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