Cultural Patterns in Writing

In the article ELL writing skills: Cultural patterns stand out, Douglas Magrath illustrates how patterns in writing differ across cultures and how those patterns may influence an ELL student’s production in writing and speaking.  You can read his article in the September edition of the TESOL Multibrief.

Magrath, D., (September 9, 2015). ELL writing skills: Cultural patterns stand out, Retrieved from


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.



Homework Support for Parents

One of the biggest themes that often emerge when talking with parents is homework: Why do students have homework? Why don’t students have more homework? I don’t know how to help my child with homework.

As we work through clarifying these questions and trying to problem solve with parents, we begin by sharing the importance of homework.

  • Review and Practice
  • Extend Learning Beyond the School
  • Develop Good Study Habits
  • Critical Thinking

It is also important to affirm to parents that even if they feel they cannot help with the actual homework itself, there are many things that parents can do to support homework at home:

  • Setting routines
  • Providing an appropriate place to study.
  • Removing distractions like t.v and video games and providing supplies.
  • Provide Praise

Sometimes parents may need extra support in beginning the process of setting up healthy routines and positive support for partnerships in homework. Here are some examples of prompt cards that can be provided to parents to help them facilitate problem solving at home for reading, math and overall homework routines.

Translated homework prompt cards

Translated math prompt bookmarks

Translated reading prompt bookmarks

Translated retelling cards

Information about the importance of supporting academic talk in home languages

We have had the opportunity to present to family literacy programs throughout LPS. One group of parents developed a T-chart that highlighted some of the roles and responsibilities that parents and children have in completing homework at home.

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Colorin Colorado. (2010). Homework Tips for Parents of ELLs. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). Helping your Child with Homework. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). How to Help: Show that You think Education and Homework are Important. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). Checklist for Helping Your Child with Homework. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). Homework: The Basics. Retrieved from Colorin Colorado

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

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.