Thursday, February 9, 2012

Favorite Lessons

Image: farconville /

Since so many of the WIDA states are in the midst of testing right now, I wanted to provide you with a little break and share a lesson I was reminded of recently.

As you know, last week was Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so six more weeks of winter are on their way.   What a strange and uniquely American day! As I heard the reports of our favorite national rodent seeing his shadow, I was reminded of my days as an ESL/ bilingual teacher.  I was teaching in a suburban district in a building where the overwhelming majority of the students spoke a language other than English at home.  Collectively, our students spoke over fifty different primary languages.  Most of our students were born and raised in the United States.  But every year we had some students in fourth, fifth and sixth grade who were new to the country.  Every
day I had the chance to work with these students – my newcomer group.  During our time together, we worked on academic language and concepts that my students would need for the mainstream classroom.  Occasionally we would take a break from content material to learn about a particular American figure, upcoming holiday or event.  In the fall we would make a Jack-o-lantern together.  Then I would have my students sequence pictures about the steps in the process and write about the entire experience.  In the winter we would spend a lesson or two talking about appropriate winter dress. (This was critical knowledge for my students from the Middle East and Central America.) After the first snowfall, I would have my students write about what it was like to experience snow for the first time. 

One year I decided to teach my students some tongue-twisters.  Groundhog Day was near, and I had planned a lesson about the day.  My students were fascinated.  They wondered what a groundhog was and why people would look to a large rodent to predict the weather.  Most importantly of all, they wanted to know how often the predictions have been right.  We learned that groundhogs are also called woodchucks.  So, I ended the lesson by teaching my students, “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”    They left my room repeating the tongue twister on their way down the hall.  Several of the students shared their tongue twister with any teacher that they ran into that week.  One of my colleagues then taught a few students the response, “A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.”  The next day, they returned to my class and taught all of us.  It still makes me smile just thinking about their excitement.  Some students even went home and taught their family and friends.  Who would have guessed that such a “simple” thing would captivate my students? 
What are some of your favorite lessons?  How have your ELL students surprised you this year? 

Written by: Tammy King

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