Engaging Learners, Igniting Minds

The topic of engagement is a hot one, and many ELL teachers recently gathered to explore ways to motivate students. We began the session considering the question, “What is engagement?” Afterward, participants visualized two memories they had of themselves as students – one memory as an engaged learner and one as a compliant one. We then discussed observable differences between engaged versus compliant behavior in ourselves and in students.

The rest of the presentation was framed by four keys of engagement as proposed by researcher and educational consultant, Robyn Jackson. Ms. Jackson asserts that if educators want their students to be truly engaged, teachers need to use strategies that address the keys – clarity, context, culture, and challenge. Accompanying each of these keys are four questions which Ms. Jackson claims are on every student’s mind. They are as follows.

  • Clarity – What am I aiming for?
  • Context – Why should I care?
  • Culture – Who is invested in my success?
  • Challenge – How is it working for me?

As a next step, we discussed guiding questions educators can ask themselves as they plan to address students’ needs.

  • Clarity – What am I asking students to do?
  • Context – Why is this important to students?
  • Culture – How do I show my support?
  • Challenge – How do I balance challenge and skill for this student?

Finally, teachers participated in self-directed learning experiences to further explore one of the key questions and an accompanying teaching strategy.

To see the full presentation, click here.

To learn more about each of the four keys and accompanying teaching strategies, click here.


Jackson, R. (2014). 4 (Secret) keys to student engagement. Educational Leadership, 72(1), 19-24.

Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2011). The highly engaged learner. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory.

Pink, D. (2014). Motivated to learn: A conversation with Daniel Pink. Educational Leadership, 72(1), 12-17.



Supporting English Learners’ Academic and Language Development

With an ever-growing number of English Language Learners in schools all across our school district, many are eager to learn how they can support students’ academic growth. According to Bresser, Melanese, and Sphar, “Every part of learning is mediated through language – from the arousal of a curiosity, to the teacher’s explanation of a concept, to the formation of an understanding of that concept, to the verbalization or written expression of that understanding.” (2009, p.  1). This being the case, we need to intentionally plan our instruction and assessment taking into account the language students will need to first access the content we are teaching and to later demonstrate their understanding of this content.

A critical component of our planning process is knowing what to expect of ELL students at each stage of language proficiency. The five stages of language acquisition are preproduction, early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency, and advanced fluency. These stages do not directly correspond to the five ELL levels to which students are assigned in the state of Nebraska. See below.

  • Level 1 – preproduction, early production, speech emergence
  • Level 2 – speech emergence
  • Level 3 – intermediate fluency
  • Level 4 – intermediate fluency
  • Level 5 – advanced fluency

To learn specifics about what one can expect students to be able to understand and do at each of these levels, click here.

To learn about strategies for supporting student growth, click here.

If you have questions or would like support in implementing any of these strategies, please do not hesitate to contact your building’s ELL Instructional Coach.


Bresser, R., Melanese, K., & Sphar, C. (2009). Supporting English language learners in math class, grades 3-5. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications.

Gottlieb, M. (2006). Assesing English language learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hill, J., & Miller, K. (2013). Classroom instruction that works with English language learners (2nd ed.). Denver, CO: McREL.

Writer’s Workshop: An Introduction

Writer’s Workshop is a transformative approach to teaching the practice and the art of writing. Students engage in the act of writing in the same way as published authors. They choose topics of interest about which to write, they write consistently, they share their writing with others, they receive feedback about their work, and they publish their writing for a variety of audiences. The teacher acts as a mentor and coach for students, guiding them on their journey to hone their skills to effectively express themselves using written language.

A teacher seeking to use this approach should strive to provide student writers with the following necessities:

  • Time/Space
  • Personal Choice
  • Structure
  • Writing Materials
  • Purpose/Feedback

The basic structure of a Writer’s Workshop includes:

  • Whole Group Writing Time (Mini-lesson)
  • Independent Writing Time
  • Sharing/Structured Response Time

To learn more about the ideas mentioned in this post, click here.

Classroom Management and ELLs

Reflect on a moment in your life when you walked into a new environment for the first time. Any number of events might spring to mind—entering your high school cafeteria as a freshman, attending your first college course, or the first day you began a new job. As you take this trip down memory lane, try to recall any feelings you had in that particular moment.

Discomfort. Uncertainty. Confusion. Embarrassment. These are emotions that many English Language Learners feel on a daily basis in our classrooms. What can we, as educators, do to make them feel more comfortable in the learning environment? In his book, Explorations in Language Acquisition, Dr. Stephen Krashen explains that when an English learner feels anxious about her surroundings, a block (termed the ‘affective filter’) may prevent her from understanding the language and the content of a lesson (2003). One way we can decrease ELLs’ unease is by having a well-managed classroom.

According to Dr. Jacqueline Ancess from Columbia University, “Classroom management is setting up an orderly and safe space where kids can learn what you want them to learn (2011).”

Here are 3 tips for effective classroom management.

1. Teach, Review, and Monitor Classroom Rules

The essential purpose of classroom rules should be to keep all members of the learning community safe. They are meant to protect students’ feelings, physical bodies, and their right to learn. When creating rules, we should try to limit the number to five or fewer. We also need to use positives rather than negatives (Wong, 1991). Examples might include:

  • Be respectful.
  • Be responsible.
  • Be safe.

For ELLs and native English speakers alike, it is critical that we explicitly teach the rules. If we are asking students to be respectful, what should this look like? What sort of language should students use when talking with peers or with adults? One effective technique for teaching rules is to use classroom scenarios with modeling to demonstrate how we would like students to act, talk, and move.

The most effective classroom managers know that they need to monitor students on a daily basis to ensure that they are adhering to the rules. Rules should also be revisited and reviewed after schools breaks. We also need to display the rules in an easily viewed location. For ELLs at lower language levels, consider using visuals alongside the written rules.

2. Teach, Review and Monitor Classroom Procedures

Procedures differ from rules in that they are meant to help a classroom function in an organized manner. Procedures include things like how students should enter and exit a class, how they should pass in assignments, or what to do if they need to leave to go to the restroom. When introducing the difference between rules and procedures, it may be helpful to talk with students about procedures like how to make a phone call or how to get on and off of an elevator. For a more complete list of suggested procedures to teach and have in place, click here.

Like classroom rules, it is important to model and review them on a regular basis. Students will only follow procedures if we set the expectation that they do so. For example, if a group does not enter the class in the manner we envision, we should practice this procedure until they understand that there is only one acceptable way to do so.

Check out the videos below for examples of how to teach and use some procedures in your classroom.

Entering the classroom

Seating procedure

Starting with a Do Now

3. Use an Effective Attention Signal

In all classes we teach, there are times when we need to get our students’ attention. Explaining and consistently using a specific signal lets students know that we have something important to share with them. Students should know that all movement and conversation ceases when the signal is used. We should refrain from giving any directions until all students are quiet and focused. English learners, in particular, need to be in an environment where they can see and hear the messages we are delivering.

Check out the video below for an example of how to teach and use an attention signal.

Attention Getting Signal


Knight, J. (2013). High-impact instruction: a framework for great teaching. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Krashen, S. D. (2003). Explorations in language acquisition and use: the Taipei lectures. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.

New Teacher Survival Guide: Classroom Management. (n.d.). Teaching Channel. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/new-teacher-classroom-management

Sprick, R., Reinke, W., Knight, J., & McKale, T. (2006). Coaching Classroom Managment. Eugene: Pacific Northwest Publishing.

Wong, H. K., & Wong, R. T. (1998). The first days of school: how to be an effective teacher ([2nd ed.). Mountainview, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.




Reading Comprehension: Jigsaw Cooperative Learning

Jigsaw Text Reading

This reading strategy is a powerful way to support ELLs as they are challenged to comprehend difficult texts about new or unfamiliar concepts.  It also provides a setting for interaction among students which is an important component of effective instruction for ELLs.

Steps in the Process:

  • Form cooperative learning groups called ‘home’ groups. Students in this group will then be assigned to an ‘expert’ group.  All students will eventually return to this home group.

  • Each expert group is assigned a different section of the text to read.  They can take turns reading orally as a group, to partners, or as individuals (tailor this to the needs of your students).

  • After reading, assign roles within each ‘expert’ group for students to take notes, identify essential vocabulary, and/or answer key questions about the text.  A graphic organizer can help keep students’ thinking in order and make it easier for them to later present to their ‘home’ groups.

  • Ensure that each ‘expert’ group understands the materials they have read in order that they may share it with their ‘home’ groups.

  • ‘Experts’ share their learning within their ‘home groups.’  The same or a different graphic organizer may help students with this process.

Planning for the Reading Continuum 6-12

Though LPS has not adopted the Common Core State Standards; we are, as a district , working to ensure that all students are becoming critical thinkers who will be successful in college and in their careers.  As a result, many content areas are using close reading as an instructional strategy.  This session focused on how to use this strategy in the ELL classroom.

Please see some of the resources used in this session.


Reading Continuum 6-12 Presentation

Close Reading Strategy Steps