Wednesday, 29 May 2013

P is for Popsicles on Pinterest

Incredibly quickly Pinterest has become my favorite tool for research, ideas, and  solving problems in my ESL literacy class. So far, I believe it's the best place to go for a literacy practitioner. Said that, I came across some great articles of how teachers are using popsicles and craft sticks to develop literacy in children. I adapted these activities to the needs of my adult students and have never been happier with the results.


I have been using popsicles to teach ESL literacy students to space out words, not my idea, though. I've said it before and would like to repeat it: when you come into an ESL literacy classroom do not forget to clear off all your expectations. Expect the unexpected! I remember how one of my TESL trainees asked me why some of my students were drawing dashes between the words and I said that this is how they separate the words from each other. Not all of them can space out the words right away, some of them start writingallthewordstogether and then transition to separating-them-with-dashes. The problem here is that - and I remember my dearest Spanish teacher at university Mrs. Nadia P. telling me about it - re-teaching is much harder than teaching from scratch. I thought about it and tried to find an alternative solution to this. Instantly I found the answer on Pinterest in an amazing article  about the second grade classroom by a wonderful  teacher Amy (Crazy About Kiddos). I got the colored popsicles from the Dollar Store in crafts section. I showed how to use them to the students who were struggling with separating the words and here we go: the space between the words is ideal, just what it needs to be, not too big not too small. One of the students was able to abandon the popsicle in an hour or so and no more dashes!  Thank you very much, Amy!!!



My class and I, we just love wooden sticks: wood feels very natural and pleasant to touch and move around, they are compact and easy to organize on the table, fantastic for storage purposes, etc. We used them to learn the alphabet, first words, and develop letter to sound recognition. I buy them at arts and crafts section at Walmart and Target. First, I wrote the letters (capitals on the upper side and small letters on the bottom side) and then words starting with these letters on the other side vertically. It was easy for students to read and memorize the words but I decided to switch to horizontal presentation due to the fact that I noticed that some students copied the words from the sticks vertically in their notebooks which was very confusing. Remember, teach from scratch is easier than re-teach later on. I wrote the letters and corresponding words horizontally and some additional words on the other side. For example, C c - Canada on one side, and C c - celery on the other. When students arrive in the morning, I hand out a set of sticks to them to work on which is a fantastic practice and review exercise and it works very well for classroom management purposes as the students who come on time are busy working with their sets and are not disturbed by the late-comers.






I saw how successful the alphabet sticks were in my class and how students enjoyed working with them, so I decided to do more things using the craft sticks. They worked out ideally for learning and revising days of the week and months of the year. Similarly, I wrote a number and the corresponding day of the week or month - for example: 01 and January - horizontally on the sticks.

We also enjoy revising and practicing reading this way. My students have shown a special affection to reading stories about Sam and Pat which usually are 10-sentence long, so I transcribed the stories that we had learned on the sticks - one story making a set of 10 or so sticks - and also give them out to students every day when they arrive to class.

Conclusion: craft sticks is a must in the ESL Literacy classroom!!! 
Learn more about using craft sticks to develop literacy:


More ideas:




Sight Word Sticks


Story Sticks


What to do with used workbooks?







Saturday, 25 May 2013

toscon13 Hooray!!!

                              TESL Toronto Conference 2013 has been a major step in my professional development. I'd like to thank all those who attended my presentation today and supported me with warm smiles, reassuring nods, kind words at the end, and the most important, genuine interest in my work. I'd like to express special gratitude to John Allan who has been there for me all along.

Below you will find the slides for my presentation and detailed notes. 





Hello ladies and gentlemen: I am thrilled to present at TESL Toronto this year. My name is Svetlana and I am going to take you through an online course for ESL literacy learners that I have been working on for the past year. I am honored to present together with John Allan, who has been mentoring me all the way and due to his continuing encouragement and support I am here with you today.


I've been teaching ESL literacy at Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office for the last three years. I have a class of 15 at the moment (which is a huge number for a literacy class). Majority of them are non literate in their first language (my students come from a variety of backgrounds) and have no computer skills at all. Obviously, age is  a factor, and they all work at different pace. Some of them are scared of working on the computers (I had a case not so long ago, there was an elderly lady, who was shaking and telling me that she had never touched a computer before, and in fact we had to learn how to handle a mouse first, etc.), but others (especially younger ones) learn very fast and develop learner's autonomy in a couple of classes. Due to the  continuous intake nature of our program I always have someone new who just arrived with no literacy skills.

One of the greatest challenges for me as a teacher is dealing with the continuous intake. At the literacy level, the gap between students who have learned the ABC's and mastered letter to sound recognition and started developing initial reading skills and those who just arrived as a result of the continuous intake and haven't had any exposure to the written text or schooling in general is humongous. As a teacher, I have been looking for solutions how to accommodate those students as fast as possible so they do not feel frustrated and are able to integrate smoothly. At the same time, it's very common that students who have some reading skills actually read more and those with reading difficulties read less, and therefore are left behind. In professional literature this phenomenon is coined as "Matthew Effect". I came up with two solutions to deal with these problems...


Read the complete notes


Sunday, 19 May 2013

C is for Color...


On Twitter, I came across a wonderful post about Pronunciation Techniques and discovered the Color Vowel Chart which is  AMAZING. When I saw the chart designed to develop learners’ awareness of vowel sounds I realized how valuable it would be in my class.


I have been using colors to teach reading in my literacy class in a variety of ways. I have been trying to find alternative solutions to develop reading skills as not all ESL literacy learners respond well to phonics. One of the ideas working with colors is to associate a color with a particular sound. It worked well with my students and it seems a pretty fair method. The biggest confusion that literacy learners experience at this stage is that first they spend a long time studying the ABC and they finally learn that /ʌ/ is not /ʌ/ as they used to pronounce the letter “A, a” but //. As soon as they learn it, they have to learn that // is not // it’s actually /æ/. Isn't it ironic?! In this case using colors for sounds is a less confusing way to do it.

I used red paper in the form of the circle glued to a craft stick so it is easily held when showing sounds and told students that we were going to use it to identify the sound /ʌ/ in words such as “bug”, “mug”, “rug”, etc... They learned it pretty quickly. Then, I introduced a green color as the prompt for /æ/ sound in words such as “bag”, “man”, “cap”, etc... I also used yellow for /ɔ:ll/ in “ball”, “call”, “mall”, etc... and white for /ɪ/ in “kiss”, “miss”, “in”, etc... In the beginning, I introduced sound one by one, but later on started comparing them.  Colors sped up and greatly  enhanced my learners’ transition from letters to sounds.


Resolution: by September I am going to purchase one poster of the Color Vowel Chart and a teacher’s book to go with it and in the new school year I will experiment using it in developing initial reading skills in literacy learners. I will share as soon as I have any results...

Monday, 6 May 2013

R is for Rubber Band...




It’s going to be the first post in a series dedicated to my dearest literacy students. I’ll have to confess that it’s been long overdue and that for the last three years I kept postponing it. Three years ago, I got a job as an ESL Literacy instructor and so far consider it to be the best thing that happened to me in my almost 10 years in adult ESL. When I started teaching literacy, I was terrified by the mountains of challenges ahead of me and I realized that I knew nothing and had to learn everything from scratch. Then, I didn't know that my very best teachers would be my own students. Today, I appreciate every single moment spent in the classroom with them...


I chose this post to be my first one because I think it will be pretty short.


Some time ago I came across a very interesting video Straight Up English - Teaching Word-Stress  on YouTube about teaching word stress using rubber bands. I liked the idea but I did not know how and when I could apply it with my students. I bought a pack of rubber bands at the Dollar store to keep them handy for the right moment. I did not have to wait for long: I noticed that some of the students could not pronounce /f/ sound instead it sounded more like /p/. For example, instead of ‘flash’ it was ‘plash’, or instead ofcoffee’ more like ‘copy’. Students often make this mistake, and the key to correct pronunciation is that the sound /f/ is a longer sound and /p/ is short. I gave a band to one of my students and took one myself, together we stretched the band each time there was the challenging sound in a word. It was magical: so easy and fast. The students instantly grasped the difference by feeling the extension with their hands. We loved it and enjoyed experimenting with it for a little while.

Conclusion: a pack of rubber bands is a must have in ESL literacy classroom. Every time there is a need, just give one to the students and have fun stretching together.








#LINCchat turns two!

2 years ago today, @nathanghall & I facilitated our 1st #LINCchat . Since then, it’s become an important part of my professional learni...