Thursday, November 27, 2014

Our Milagro Tree

Do you decorate your classroom door or a bulletin board for the holidays? For a few years running, the organization for which I work held a door decorating contest. Now I'll admit to being just a weeeeee bit competitive. I wanted our project to win. Well, it didn't win, but the experience left an impression on me so lasting that I want to share it now, two years later.

I will admit that were I to do this again, I would bring the learners on board earlier and facilitate a more collaborative and democratic process from the very start, including the decision making process re how to decorate the door. But sometimes I am little miss instant gratification. Must do it NOW. The Friday night I decided to do this was one of those impulsive moments.

After much browsing through Google images using every keyword combination I could think of to render pictures of award-worthy decorations on classroom doors, I gave up. Later the same night, while drooling over yummy material possessions I neither need nor will ever actually purchase, I found this image.

That Monday morning I arrived at school with $3 worth of wooden dowels, a roll of aluminum foil, some red tissue paper, a sheet of silver bristol board, a package of 50 ornament hangers, and several pieces of thick cardboard dug out of my recycling bin.

The LINC 2/3 students who had been left in my care while their instructor attended a wedding on another continent joined me in cutting out symbols of peace and of our respective religions. With crinkled up red paper as a backdrop, we wrapped the "bones" of the tree and each little ornament in tin foil.

I wish I could share photos of the students of different faiths working together on our Milagro Tree.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Power of Realia

realia in the classroom photos
I can remember starting a collection of realia before I'd landed my first teaching job. No longer did my junk mail go into the recycling bin. Solicitations from credit card firms, flyers from rent-to-own companies with their usurious interest rates, forms in clinic waiting rooms--they all went into my "might need that someday" realia file. I'm sure glad we have ample cabinets at work since my big bag of flattened food wrappers and containers takes up quite a bit of space.

In ESL literacy, I continually ask myself how I can incorporate realia into the week's lessons. If we're doing a unit on shopping, you'll find me running around town collecting grocery store flyers, discarded receipts, and bags.

Though paper and plastic classroom money comes in handy, during our unit on money, I passed out ziplock baggies with actual coins in them. While studying shopping, learners found and circled the HST and totals on real store receipts. When we studied food and used Eye On Literacy's set of wordless picture books called "Pancakes," I brought in measuring spoons, flour, oil, sugar, baking soda and powder, a measuring cup, eggs, and buttermilk. We made pancakes.

Today in my multi-level seniors' class, realia truly brought the lesson to life. The students have unanimously voted to return to the topic of health/medical and talking to medical professionals. They want to dig in deeper, this time learning how to communicate with specialists, with technicians during a variety of diagnostic tests, etc. So today we extended a lesson about diabetes using an actual Ontario lab requisition form. When I asked a coworker in another department if she could spare a few cotton balls to make our role plays more realistic, she not only came up with those, but also offered band-aids and gloves. One student turned a retractable pen into a convincing syringe.

Do you use a lot of realia in your teaching? What is your favourite lesson involving a lot of realia? Do you feel a lesson that incorporates realia is more effective?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Animated Short Film Illustrates the Flu Vaccine

You and the Flu -
This short animated video (click to go to page then scroll down to view) is, I think, an amazing tool to help our newcomer students understand what the flu vaccine is, how it is made, how safe it is, and why those who opt to get it must get a new shot annually. The film doesn't just debunk common myths (such as that the shot can give you the flu), but provides the science behind that--illustrated with charming and captivating cartoon images.

In my multi-level seniors' class, we first used a lesson plan and materials from LINC 1-4 Classroom Activities before viewing the video. One fun activity involved turning down the sound and having students attempt to reconstruct the language. Next time I'll probably have them do this in groups, or perhaps as a dicto-gloss.

On computer lab day, I offered a link to an audio text and quiz from Queen's University's "English for Your Health" series.

What do you use to teach this topic?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Transit Windsor Worksheets

Yay! I've just uploaded my first set of worksheets for levels above literacy. You can find the set under the Free Resources for Settlement Themes--Travel and Transportation

When I teach this topic, I first visit the central terminal downtown to pick up enough transit maps and reader's guides for my class. I have also created a bus stop sign and a timetable of the sort you find inside the bus shelter. At the end of the week, the students use these props to create a simulated bus stop in one corner of our room. Three chairs side by side make a great bench for waiting for the bus. 

It takes me at least a week to teach this topic, and more if the task analysis with the group indicates they need more skill building or revision of vocabulary, such as for telling time, days of the week, etc.

On computer lab day, I offer students this ESL Podcast about reading a bus schedule and links to, where I had pre-loaded our vocabulary words and sentences. Here are the links I provided to another class for the same topic. If you use these materials, I would love to see a photo of your students at their bus stop!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Excellent (Free) Health Literacy Materials

For a couple of years now, I've been relying heavily on a resource I stumbled upon during one of my frequent evening Google marathons. This week I had the opportunity to share the URL with two colleagues, and their enthusiastic thanks prompted me to post the link here, as well. 

Are you aware of Queen's Library's Health Literacy Curriculum for ESOL Learners, available in two versions: for beginner and for intermediate level students? Although the site can be a bit daunting to find your way around if you forget to bookmark it, I have found the materials themselves to be so very helpful and appropriate for a settlement English classroom. 

Not only are there complete lesson plans with answer sheets and student worksheets as a separate PDF, but there are also high quality audio recordings for listening practice or assessment. For example, in the unit on filling out a health history form and discussing one's health history with a medical professional, you can play an audio of a number of different patients, each participating in a very brief exchange with a practitioner. The worksheets include a graphic organizer for checking off which disease each patient mentions, which family member has/had it, and so on. This is only one of many topics covered, some of which include audio files and all of which include the lesson plan and worksheets.

I hope you will explore Queen's Library's materials and let me know if they are helpful to you and, if so, how you use them. Happy teaching!

UPDATE: fall of 2019, the website is found to have been reorganized with our beloved resources nowhere to be found. Years ago I downloaded the PDFs and audio files, so I am going to try to make those available as a zipped folder you can download from  Please let me know if it works or does not work.