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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 2, Issue 24

November 2006



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Communication Today 

by Mark Benn
Middle School Teacher

What is communication today, and has it changed? Do we, as educators, need to adjust our thinking, or continue to teach the same things we learned when we were young? Do students of today approach it the same way as we do? To find out the answers to these questions, we need to look at what today's students do to communicate.

Text messaging has become one of the most popular ways for students to communicate. It has a language of its own such as r for our and u for you. This form of communication happens anywhere they want through cell phones or computers. It can happen anywhere and at any time.

We need to decide how to handle it. Should we control it or make adjustments in our classes to integrate it into what we do? We live in the midst of a changing world, probably similar to what people felt like when the industrial revolution came along. This change takes a number of years as everyone adjusts. If we are going to prepare the students for their world we need to make some changes in our present world.

We grew up with communication being letter writing and phone calls. Today we have e-mail, cell phones, text messaging, blogging, podcasting, video podcasting, video conferencing, and who knows what else around the corner.

In the past, to become an author, you had to get a book or article published by a publisher. Today, anyone can publish on the internet. To make movies you had to be a professional. Now anyone can make a movie with easy to use software and upload it to the web.

So what does this mean to us as educators? Can we continue to do things the same old way, or is it time that education took a leading role in preparing students for their future? It might take a learning curve on our part, but if students are suppose to learn to be life long learners, we should become their role models.   

Mark Benn is a leading expert in using technology in the classroom.  You can feel free to contact him at his blog:  http://www.furtrader.blogspot.com/


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Teaching Literacy to ESOL Learners

©By Christina J. Riggan

Twenty three of my twenty five years of teaching in public schools was with ESOL students from all over the world—from Asia to South America to the Middle East . At one point I had students who spoke thirteen different languages in my classroom, in addition to the English-only speaking students. My job was to teach them English; and to teach them to read and write, learn math, science, social studies, etc. on top of the challenge of learning another language.

You may believe that I started out trained, certified, and with some experience with ESOL kids, or different cultures, but you would be incorrect. My first experience occurred in the second year of my teaching career when the Hispanic Kindergarten teacher next to me came to my room, and asked me to take the new student assigned to her class. He spoke only Japanese. She said, “I teach Spanish. I don’t know what to do with him.” Of course, neither did I, but I took him anyway.

I had no teaching experience with other cultures, or teaching English to others, but I had always loved history, cultures, and languages and their people. I taught the young boy that year for Kindergarten and his younger brother the following year, and learned “by the seat of my pants”. His parent invited me to dinner before they left to return to Japan . One valuable thing I learned about Japanese culture: Don’t eat everything on your plate. It means that they haven’t fed you enough food. Of course, to Americans it is meant as a compliment to the hostess. So therein lies the conundrum for cultural misunderstanding, and a good laugh, if everyone has a good sense of humor. These same parents have sent me a Christmas card faithfully for twenty years.  

Later, the next year, my district paid for twelve additional college course hours for my training in linguistics. I received my certification through training, not a test. To be fair to the district I worked in, they had little to no experience with ESOL students and their families. But when faced with an influx of students, they did the right thing and paid for training for their teachers. As unprepared and as untrained as I was initially, some situations I see occurring now are even worse. Usually they begin with districts unwilling to spend the money and time on training and preparing teachers properly, and teachers resentful of the extra burden from students who may need more than the teacher can supply.

Additionally, even though there is additional work, preparation, and training required for ESOL teachers, few teachers receive stipends. I have even heard some ridiculous folks say “Anyone can teach ESOL. It is simply good teaching.”

No, not just anyone can teach ESOL. It demands training and preparation. You needed a certified math teacher for your math classes; you need trained and certified personnel for one of the most important jobs in public school: teaching English and literacy.

So I will offer to you my Five Principles of Teaching ESOL Students, gained from twenty plus years working with these students and their families, my training, and my professional development and reading. This is certainly the short and sweet version—honed down for this article.  


FIRST PRINCIPLE: Remember that they are scared to death, may cry, may vomit, tremble, run away, throw temper tantrums, or not speak for a year, OR MORE. You get the idea.


1.      Be loving, patient, welcoming, smile, and be friendly.

2.      Discuss compassion and empathy with your students beforehand.

3.      Create a learning environment that encourages success for everyone.

4.      Help them make friends.

5.      80% of communication is nonverbal, so you can communicate. Use nodding heads, hand signs, pictures, mime.

6.      If you resent the child, (or the extra work he/she requires) he/she will know.

7.      Art and drawing are the first written universal languages of communication--begin there, and use it as a tool to gaining language.

8.      Play, fun, games, and laughter are universal childhood pathways to learning--

       be smart and use them to your advantage to teach ESOL learners.

SECOND PRINCIPLE: Fear can paralyze anyone. Risk for a child might mean shame and humiliation in front of their friends, peers, family, and teacher, or school.


1.      Keep the task small, manageable, and successful. (90% successful-10% risk- especially at first)

2.      Nodding approval, smiling, “good job”, clapping, etc. show approval and offer reward and success for students. Most of them want to learn and are desperate for approval.

3.      Create a low-risk classroom where risks are encouraged and applauded, failures are minimized as paths to learning, and everyone helps each other learn, by respecting the process and each other.

4.      Encourage collaborative learning. It lightens your load and creates synergy for learning. Learning is then the responsibility of everyone, and everyone is responsible for each other’s learning. Besides, remember the adage that the best way to learn something is to teach it?

THIRD PRINCIPLE: Teach vocabulary, writing, and reading together and keep it simple.


  1. Gather teaching materials that help illustrate words and their meanings. Real objects are terrific. Models of the real thing work too. For example, it is fun to bring real food to school when you do the food unit.
  2. Pictures (realistic and in the correct color) with the matching word are essential tools to do your job. As are writing materials-paper and pencils, markers, crayons, notebooks.
  3. Dictionaries with pictures and words, and simple reading materials are also necessary. Use simply written books with either one word per page or one simple sentence per page.
  4. Start with a thematic unit that is universal—family, body parts, colors, food, transportation, animals, numbers, and the alphabet. I start with the family and the family names.
  5. Spend as much time as it takes to master the concept. Language learning occurs constantly, but usually silently. But then it may begin all at once like an avalanche. Be patient. Encourage speaking, by modeling. Speaking slowly and clearly, but naturally. Don’t try to force them to speak.  On this vein, make sure that you are speaking Standard English correctly. Do not use slang, or idiomatic expressions, and keep drawls to a minimum. Please do not use “fixin’ or getin’”. Students--all students--are hearing and learning English from you. While no one wants a teacher so prim and proper he/she can’t relax, nevertheless, remember that you are their model for many things.
  6. Teach them how to write and say their name first. Then work on a simple repetitive sentence. i.e.  I see my mom. I see my dad, brother, sister, grandma, grandpa, dog, baby brother/sister, aunt, uncle. Draw and illustrate one to a page and assemble into a book.
  7. Keep the books at school in a safe place for them to use as a source for spelling and as examples of vocabulary development. This will allow for transference to other sentence structures such as:  I see a tree, a house, a school.
  8. Over time, you will have created dictionaries for learning (colored and illustrated) evidence of teaching, learning and mastery for anyone to examine or view; and definitions of progress and growth.

FOURTH PRINCIPLE: Learning the alphabet, phonic sounds, and how to combine those sounds into simple words is a basic foundation for linguistic mastery. Spelling simple words (from word families) is essential to reading, writing, and speaking English. I recommend that you read Richard Gentry’s “Teaching Kids to Spell” for valuable information on this. 

  1. Pull your ESOL kids for ten minutes daily-- devoted to building background for learning, developing vocabulary, and reading.
  2. They should write and read every day.
  3. Ask for help from the administration, and accept help if it is offered. If parents or an assistant teacher offers to help, let them work with the most needy students.
  4. Sometimes the most at-risk English speaking kids are also in need of extra help with vocabulary, sentence structure, phonics mastery, spelling, and reading and writing skills. Consider how you could expand your lesson to subtlety include more students who may need it.

FIFTH PRINCIPLE: Be respectful in every way of other cultures, their customs, beliefs and values, or food, especially when they differ from yours, the schools, or even the United States .


  1. Learn something about the cultures of the students you are teaching.
  2. Many cultures teach their children to never look adults in the eyes.
  3. Many cultures do not like to shake hands. A slight bow or a nod may acknowledge one another.
  4. Some cultures find it highly offensive to touch their child’s head. Safe advice is to not touch any child anyway.
  5. Food is culture specific. Teach your American kids manners about civility when eating together. No offensive comments like “Ew! That’s gross or disgusting!”
  6. Discuss cultural preferences with respect and an interest in learning. I have found that most Americans have a great deal to learn about the history, contributions, and value of other countries and cultures.
  7. Encourage some cultural experience days when your class might learn a dance, new words in another language, or taste food from a different culture.
  8. Advocate respect for other cultures with your fellow teachers, other students in the school community, and the community at large. It seems ridiculous to me to argue whether it is proper for women to wear their head covered. Generally speaking, I have found that the more respect you evidence for other cultures, the more respect you will receive for your own, and this will allow honest communication and clearer understanding between cultures.


My experience with other cultures and ESOL students has been one of the greatest rewards of my teaching career. I have learned so much, and my experiences have deepened my interests in all cultures and their histories. The more I have learned about other people and their history, the more respect I feel for different cultures; and it helps me realize that America could learn something of value from all people. I suggest that if you have the opportunity to teach ESOL students, that you try it, and see if it is not one of the greatest rewards of your life.

Christina Riggan, a twenty-five year veteran of public schools, and a former teacher in a primary (K-5) school in Austin, Texas, has worked with a variety of grade levels from Kindergarten to adults. Her certifications include Kindergarten, Reading, ESOL, Language Arts, and she holds a Principal's Certificate and a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She is currently a full-time writer, her chosen area of focus in writing books (fiction and nonfiction) and articles that might help parents, teachers, and students. She is married to David, her husband of thirty-eight years, has two happily married sons, and four wonderful grandchildren. 

StarTeaching Featured Writer

You can contact Christina at criggan3@sbcglobal.net  or at her book's website www.howtobeagreatteacher.com

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Book of the Month Club:

Teach with Your Strengths: 
How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students

By Rosanne Liesveld, Jo Ann Miller, and Jennifer Robinson 

Our December BOOK OF THE MONTH award is presented to Teach with Your Strengths: 
How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students
by Rosanne Liesveld, Jo Ann Miller, and Jennifer Robinson. 
This is an excellent resource as well as being a great inspirational text for teachers

Are you inspired by your greatest talents and strengths?  Do you apply your intuitions, talents, and personality traits to your everyday teaching?   Are YOU in your teaching?  This book helps you to identify your strengths and balance them with skills and knowledge necessary for student  success in your classroom.  

Amazon.com Editorial Review

Now, Discover Your Strengths introduced millions of Americans to the unique, personal strengths that they could use to succeed in life. Teach with Your Strengths expands upon the best-selling Now, Discover Your Strengths and shows how anyone who teaches — from classroom instructors to coaches to business executives — can get the most from their students. Focusing on the central insight that all great teachers make the most of their natural talents, Teach with Your Strengths shows teachers how to avoid the pitfalls that lead to mediocrity and work best with what they have. The book is written by two teachers with a combined 70 years of classroom and consulting experience, and it includes real-life examples of how great teachers use their strengths to solve problems, battle bureaucracy, and reach all of their students. For anyone who has ever wanted to be a better teacher, Teach with Your Strengths offers proven techniques to help readers get the results they want.

"The first thing to know about great teachers is that they are, in the best way, unorthodox.  Great teachers' methods and intuitions are different.  They don't operate like other teachers, and they don't believe everything they're taught or told.  They work by instinct more than even they know, having worked out the strategies and approaches that succeed for them in reaching different students.  In an extraordinarily high number of cases, their instincts lead them to the results they want - better educated students"  (P.15)

You can order a copy of Teach with Your Strengths: 
How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students
by clicking the link to our affiliate, Amazon.com 

Have you read Teach with Your Strengths: How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students?  Do you have comments you’d like to share with our readers about this book? Email your responses to editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB READER RESPONSE in the subject line. Responses will be posted on our website with the StarTeaching Book of the Month Club.  All responses will be proofread, and may be edited for content and space before publication.

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"An Old Tree"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

The Power of Patience...

Once upon a time there was a leafy tree in a field. Leaves grew densely on the tall branches. The roots were deeply into the ground. The tree was the most remarkable among the rest.

The tree then became the home for some birds. They built their nests and they lived on his branches. The birds made holes on him, and they hatched their eggs within the greatness of the tree. The tree felt so delighted because he was accompanied as he walked through his long lasting days.

People were grateful for the presence of the tree. They often came over and sheltered under him. Under his branches, they sat down and opened their picnic baskets. “This tree is very useful,” that’s what the people said every time they went home from shelter. The tree was very proud hearing those compliments.

However, time went on. The tree was beginning to be sick. His leaves and twigs were falling, then his body became thin and pale. The greatness he used to have was fading away. Birds felt reluctant to build their nests there. No one would come to sit under the tree to shelter anymore.

The tree wept, “Oh God, why is it so hard for me? I need friends. Now no one would come close to me. Why do you take all the glory I used to have?” The tree cried loudly, so it echoed throughout the forest. “Why wouldn’t you cut me down, so I don’t have to bear this suffering?” The tree kept on crying, and his tears were running down his dry body.

Seasons came and went, but his condition had not changed. The tree was still feeling lonely. His branches became drier and drier. Every night the tree wept and cried, until the morning broke.

“Cheep...chirp....cheep” Ah, what was that noise? Oh, it’s a little baby bird who has just pipped from the egg. The old tree woke up from his daydream.

“Cheep...chirp...cheep”, the noise became louder and louder. There was another baby bird. Not long after that, the tree became noisy because of the birth of new baby birds. One...two...three...and four baby birds have been born to this world. “Ah, He has answered my prayers,” exclaimed the old tree.

The day after, there were many birds flying to the old tree. They were going to build new nests. The dry branches have turned out to attract their attention to nest there. The birds felt warmer to stay inside the dry branches instead of their place before. The number of birds was increasing and there were more kinds of them. “Wow, now my days are brighter with their presence here”, murmured the old tree gladly.

The old tree was back to cheer again. And when he looked down, his heart was flowing with joy. There was a new little tree growing near his roots. The new tree seemed to smile at him. The tears of the old tree has grown a little tree who would continue his devotion to nature.

Dear friends, that’s the way it is. Is there any lesson that we could take from the story? God always has secret plans for us. The Almighty God will always gives answers to our questions. Even though it is not always easy to guess what the resolution is, be certain that the Omniscient God knows what’s best for us.

When there are times He sends temptation for us, in other times He gives us His overflowing blessings. The test He gives us isn’t something that can’t be overcome. When God gave the temptation to the old tree, actually He DELAYED in giving His glory. God didn’t choose to cut the old tree down since He kept some secrets. God was testing his patience.

So, dear friends, be sure, whatever temptation we are facing is a part of the chain of glory He is preparing for us. Don’t give up, and don’t be discouraged. God is always there beside patient people.

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Communication Today

Teaching Literacy to ESOL Learners

Book of the Month Club

Themes on Life:  
"An Old Tree"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Holiday Book Sale for Teachers

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