Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Texting to Teach Reading and Writing

Purpose: To incorporate text messaging into reading and writing instruction for ESL or general literacy/ABE learners.

Tips for using texting with students:

· Ask students to read a text and then summarize it for you in one to three text messages. Compile the summaries, if working with a group, and ask the students to choose the best summary.

· Send out a word of the day. If you are studying workplace skills, send out words related to those lessons. Ask student s to respond by sending you a definition of the word. For more information on how to do this, visit

· Share grammar tips. The article above will tell you how to do this. Ask students to write back incorporating the grammar in context.

· Ask students to text you their opinions related to a discussion or an article covered in a lesson recently, or ask them to text you and tell you something that they learned in a recent lesson.

· Create a glossary to help “translate” text message abbreviations and acronyms. Sites such as Sharpened Glossary ( allow users to type in an acronym and find out what it means. Try sending out a message with various abbreviations or acronyms and encourage students to use a site like Sharpened Glossary to decode the meaning.

· Share announcements. If class is canceled due to a blizzard, students may be more likely to respond to a text message than an e-mail or phone call.

Note: Be aware that keyboards can be very different and someone with a normal keypad (non-blackberry or qwerty) will be much slower than someone with a specialized keyboard.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Frame It

Purpose: This activity encourages students to think about how they make decisions and to explain those decisions to others. Explaining decisions is a form of critical thinking.

Prep time: 5 -10 minutes

Materials: pens and paper

Prep: Choose an easy topic for the example that you will show to students and another topic for students to try. Ideally the topic the students write about should be related to today’s lesson.


I do it:

1. Write the name of a topic that is easy for your students on the board and draw a circle around it. For example, the word food.

2. Draw a larger circle around the first circle. Think out loud about associations you have with the topic. Then write these associations in the space between the two circles. For example, you could say Food makes me think about shopping, cooking, and being healthy and then write shopping, cooking and being healthy in the outer circle.

3. Draw a third very large circle around the other two circles. Think out loud about factors and people that influence your decisions about the topic. For example, you could say I think about what my family likes to eat when I buy food. Then write family in the outer circle. Continue giving a few more examples.

We do it:

1. Write another easy topic on the board and draw a circle around it. For example, write the word English.

2. Draw a larger circle around the first circle. Elicit associations that students have with the topic. You might ask them, What does English make you think about? Write their associations in the circle.

3. Draw the third circle around the other two circles. Elicit ideas from students about factors and people that influence their decisions about the topic. For example, you might ask students Why do you read in English? Why do you come to English class?

You do it:

1. Now assign a topic related to today’s lesson. Tell students to write it in their notebooks with a circle around it.

2. Instruct students to write what the topic makes them think in the next circle.

3. Instruct students to write people and things that help them make decisions about the topic in the last circle.


  • Students can share their answers with a partner or in a small group and discuss decisions they make (related to the topic) and why they make them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Celebrating the New Year

Purpose: To share cultural information about New Year’s celebrations around the world and to encourage students to set goals by making resolutions.

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes, not counting food preparation, which is optional

Materials: 2011 calendar, copies of chart for conversation activity, envelopes, greeting cards for New Year’s (if desired)

Prep: Prepare chart, if you intend to hand it out to students; think about specific vocabulary you’ll want to pre-teach and how you want to illustrate it; think of examples of resolutions to share


I do it (Part I):

1. Find out what students have observed about New Year’s celebrations in the U.S. This conversation could include reviews of top news stories from the past year on TV, as well as foods typically eaten in certain regions, such as black-eyed peas, a southern tradition. (A recipe for New Year Peas is included at the end of this tutor tip.) New Year’s Eve celebrations, in modern times, often involve fireworks, music, alcoholic beverages, and noisemaking, with a countdown at midnight. New Year’s Day tends to be quieter and more family-oriented.

2. Ask: When do you celebrate the New Year in your country or culture?

What kinds of food do you eat on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day?

Do you go out or stay at home to celebrate?

Do you decorate your homes?

Do you wear special clothes?

Do you give or get gifts?

We do it:

1. Draw a simple chart on the board or on a piece of paper if you’re working with one student or a small group. The chart should look something like this:



When do you celebrate New Year’s?

What are two things you do to celebrate?

2. Interview a single student and fill in the chart.

3. Now ask that student to interview another student in front of the class and fill in the chart, with your assistance if needed.

You do it:

1. Give your student or students a copy of the chart or ask them to reproduce it on a piece of blank paper.

2. Now ask them to interview four other students and fill in their charts. If you only work with one student, you could share information about different traditions, for example Persian New Year, Chinese New Year, Jewish New Year, etc. and have the student take notes to fill in the chart.

Note: Emergent readers and writers may be able to do the first three columns after lots of modeling. They can interview two students instead of four and ask the fourth question orally.


Ask for volunteers to report on what they’ve learned. Now encourage students to find some commonalities amongst all the traditions. Make a list together.

I do it (Part II):

1. Using a calendar, point out that January 1 is the day that marks the beginning of a new calendar year in countries that use the Gregorian calendar. New Year’s Eve or Old Year’s Night is always observed on December 31. The image of a new baby is sometimes used to represent the New Year.

2. Find out which calendar students use and are familiar with.

3. Explain the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. Be prepared to share examples.

4. Find out if other cultures do this, too.

We do it:

Elicit examples from students. What might they encourage their friends, family members or classmates to set as goals for the coming year? Why? What resolutions might they set for themselves? What would help them keep those resolutions?

You do it:

1. Students talk in pairs and share at least one resolution with their partner.

2. Give each student an envelope. Depending on literacy levels, each person writes his or her name on the envelope, then writes his/her New Year’s resolution on a piece of paper and places it in the envelope. Alternatively, one student dictates to the other and the higher level student writes for both or the tutor/teacher assists.

3. Seal the envelopes and put them in a safe place. Agree on a date in the future when you will bring out the envelopes and see how people are doing with their resolutions.

Wrap-Up: Wish everyone a Happy New Year. Share expressions that are used in the U.S. or show examples of greeting cards and talk about images and words associated with the holiday. Eat some black-eyed peas!

Recipe for New Year Peas:

· 1 pound dried black-eyed peas

· 1 pound link sausage, or your favorite

· 1 small onion, chopped

· 3 tablespoons brown sugar

· 1 tablespoon prepared mustard

· 1 teaspoon salt

· 1 cup prepared barbecue sauce

Preparation: Rinse, prepare, soak, and cook peas in about 3 cups water, following directions on the package. Drain and reserve half of the cooking liquid. In a skillet over medium heat, brown sausage and onions; drain off excess fat. Place peas in a 3-quart casserole; add sausage and onions. Stir in reserved liquid, brown sugar, mustard, salt, and barbecue sauce. Bake at 300° for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Serves 6.