Posted by: Magistra | February 21, 2008


  • pouring (both to describe a hard rain and the motion from pitcher to cup)
  • drizzle
  • niece
  • nephew
  • strategy

Those are some of the words two of my intermediate ELL’s and I have discovered over the last two rainy day breaks. Okay, granted I knew the words, but I didn’t know where Guadalajara was (telling moment, or, in teacher-speak, a formative assessment: the girl born in Guadalajara couldn’t find it on the map, but the girl from Tijuana could). I also made them laugh by trying to roll an “rr”.

Generally, I try to avoid giving advice to other teachers, but if I were to tell teachers one thing about making it feel safe for ELL’s and getting them to participate in class, I’d tell them to get over their own inhibitions and use whatever limited language skills they have. Might sound easy for me to say with 90+% of my language learners speaking Spanish and me having grown up in California (and it certainly helps), but if you don’t have them, get the kids to teach you words. For example, “handisar” means geometry in Arabic (please read phonetically, I am not going to figure out how the actual Arabic letters would be transcribed). My students push me to use my Spanish (seeing if I can say the number in Spanish is a recurring “game”) and always want to answer my questions about vocabulary, conjugation, and article/noun agreement. In return, I think they are more willing to ask me questions when I say “convoluted” or “blunt” or any of the other hundreds of words I speak a day.

When I subbed (and on the first day of class), I had a similar approach to taking roll. I call it “Butcher Your Name.” Before I took roll, I’d tell them that I always hated roll because reading my first name never helps anyone pronounce it, and it’s painful to hear your name butchered. I tell them that if I screw up on their name, they’ll get the first chance at the end to screw up mine. Then I confidently announce each name (confidence is key, even if you’re clueless) and when I get to the inevitable Zxygrieman s/he generally laughs and the whole class laughs at the end when the “lucky” students get to butcher my name.

I may be new to this teaching thing, but I already know that just because something works for one teacher, doesn’t mean it will work for others. Nevertheless, I still think teachers should push their language boundaries. I think that if you can show kids you’re comfortable with mistakes, they’ll be more comfortable making mistakes. Of course, this advice comes from someone who told a student to write down “my teacher’s a moron” today.

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