When Students Become Teachers

As an ESOL teacher teaching multi-grade levels with kids of different abilities, I sometimes have this crazy idea of wanting one or two of my kids to “morph” into me so that there are three of us in the classroom teaching at the same time.

When all strategies fail, don’t we just want to turn into a wonder woman with cool super-powers?  Believe it or not, we have students that will drive us crazy the entire year.  Like Marcus who whines at every little thing.  Or Kyla whose attention span lasts only five minutes or so.  I remember an instance when upon entering the room of a first grade teacher (one who I consider to be one of the best in the building) to pull out my ESOL kids,  I noticed that she was having one of those rough days as her students were behaving like they were from outer space.  And it was uncharacteristic of her to exclaim,  “You’re all giving my grey hair right now!”  To my complete amusement, our principal who happened to pass by overheard her and jokingly reacted, “What’s wrong with grey hair?”  Hint. Hint.  She clearly needed those super-powers that day.

Ok, so going back to wanting to have cool super-powers, I actually felt like I had one when last Thursday, two of my kids volunteered to handle one of my centers.  They turned my reading center into a spelling bee station.  And because I have done spelling bee with them three or four times, they assured me they know what to do.  Here’s what happened:

  •  Kevin and William took charge of the kids in what was supposed to be the Reading station.
  • They handed out mini-whiteboards, dry-erase markers, and mini-erasers.
  • They asked me for a copy of the high-frequency words that was on our list for the week.
  • They quizzed the group on each of the words.

Here’s the most amazing thing that happened:  They actually did it as if they were ME!  They copied the way I would do the spelling bee, even the way I would count from five to zero and say, “Hold up your boards!”

Kevin and William as ME

(Kevin and William as ME)

 And I was free to just be moving around to see what was happening at the other centers.

Isn’t it incredible to have students “morph” into you?

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A Letter to Yonathan


Two years ago, I had the privilege of having Yonathan as a student in my fifth grade ESOL class.  He came from Eritria as a refugee who barely spoke English.  He was, at first, often misunderstood by his classmates and he also did not understand much of the culture in the U.S. classrooms, which was why there were a few instances when he would be involved in a fight, especially during recess.

It was about this same year that I was completing a graduate certificate course in bilingual special education.  In my Immigrant Experience course, I was asked to complete a journal with one entry being to write a letter to one of my immigrant students.  I thought that in writing this letter, I realized that I, and any other teacher of English language learners, have so much to learn from this unique experience of having to teach students like Yonathan.

Below is my letter:

 Dear Yonathan,

         A few weeks ago, you were a mystery that I was trying to solve. Now, as I get to know you everyday, I am very grateful for your presence in my classroom. Your classmates thought at first that your name was misspelled until you told me in your “broken” English that in your language it is spelled correctly. Then one day, when I gave you a world atlas to use as part of our lesson, you excitedly leafed through the page, and showed me where your country, Eritria, is. The truth is, if I had not read your ESOL file, I would not have known it even existed, blaming it to my lack of geographic knowledge.  I had to actually google your country and your language, Tigrinya, which you said is similar to Arabic.  Just like me and the rest of your teachers,  your classmates were also dumbfounded that there is a country named Eritria.  Now they know that it is a small country that is bordered by Ethiopia and Sudan because you pointed it to them in  the world atlas.  Now, we all know that before you came here, you lived in Sudan and Germany as a refugee. And that was how you started to learn English.  

     You told me you are tough, and I believe you. You have seen people die. You have seen kids fight in a war that was not theirs to fight, much less understand. And I could not do anything but listen. You are proud of what you have gone through, and are proud to remain alive. You have every right to feel such.

         Thank you for being my student.  Thank you for sharing your story.  Most of all, thank you for allowing me to learn from you.


                                                                      Your ESOL teacher


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Digital Tools to Use as Warm-up or Extension Activities in the Classroom

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     What an amazing school year it has been! My ESOL kids had lots of fun with their International Day projects.  I was able to use a number of digital tools in my classroom that my students truly enjoyed and shared the resources I used with my colleagues in one professional development session.

     And so my Summer vacation officially begins. This is the best time to do some gardening, to clean out closets, to get rid of the clutter in every nook and corner of the house, (which I hope I never have to do!), but most of all, to spend some quality time with my family. But not quite, because right now, I am in the process of compiling some apps and sites that I thought would be useful in my class, either as a warm-up or an extension activity. This, however, requires that students have access to a mobile laptop or a tablet. Here is a list of five digital tools that I thought any teacher could use in his/her class:

1. AnswerGarden – This is best for brainstorming activity where you ask one question and students answer in 20 words or less. To create an AnswerGarden, type a question, then share it with your class via a direct link to your AnswerGarden so that they can post their answers.

2. Tagxedo – turns your text into a word cloud with different shapes, which is perfect for visual learners. For example, you might ask them to list down synonyms of the word “love,” then turn these different words into a heart-shaped tag cloud!

3. Wordle – This is another word cloud-generating digital tool that is similar to Tagxedo, but without the shapes.

4. Padlet – This tool lets you build a wall for your students to post answers live in the classroom. This is perfect if you want to immediately gauge their writing skills as they post their answers in one sentence or two. All they have to do is double-tap on the wall and type in their answers, which everybody can read.

5. Popplet lite – This is a mind-mapping tool that allows students to sort out their ideas visually using texts, drawings, or photos. I am quite sure students would enjoy thinking about words or ideas that are associated with a certain concept and sorting them out using this app as compared to just using a traditional concept mapping template on a worksheet.

     So, whenever you’re ready to plan for the next school year, visit their websites to find out more details about how to use them in the classroom.

     Let’s all enjoy our Summer!

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