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Card and Board Games for English Language Learners

7 Oct

Shameful Secret

Let me just say before I begin my confession, that I have been a teacher for over twenty years.  I have taught multiple grades, self-contained special education classes, and many English Language Learners over the years.  I have even taught teachers which is a unique experience all on its own.  For the most part, I have been pretty successful.  I’ve had commendations from former students, parents and administrators.  I’ve never been fired from a teaching job and I am not afraid to take on a challenge.

Yet, there is one sentence that makes me forget every positive experience that I have ever had in this field.  I hear that sentence and the sweat breaks out all over my body.  My stomach starts to churn.  My eyes begin to dart wildly around hoping to find some form of escape even knowing that there is nowhere to hide.

What is this sentence? (I shudder even writing it.)  It goes something like this…

“Mom, can I get some help with my homework?”

You might not think that the sentence itself is stomach-churning but you have to look at it through my lens.  This sentence is followed by a painfully long time of my repeatedly (and lovingly) attempting to explain how to complete the homework.  Throughout the explanation, there will be eye-rolling, sighing, and the constant statement of “My teacher doesn’t do it like that.”  In all likelihood, tears will finish the episode- either hers’, mine, or both.  (Criers gotta cry.)

There was a forewarning even before homework came along.  My child might have been about three years old.  We were playing together and she said, “Mom, pretend you are a teacher.”  I innocently responded with, “I actually am a teacher.”  She stopped what she was doing and looked me up and down doubtfully.  She must have seen the look of fear on my face because she gently said, “Pretend you are a real teacher.”

I do try to console myself.  There is a long held belief that the shoemaker’s kids go without shoes, and so on for other professions….but seriously, a teacher’s kid who can’t get help with her homework??  Shameful.  Luckily, she has another parent.  Maybe, next time, he can pretend to be a real teacher.

Sometimes, it is better to stick with kids who don’t know you outside of school.  Even better, my students are often new to the country.  They don’t have long-held expectations for me.  They are generally just happy to see me when I show up.  Part of that happiness might stem from the fact that I play games with them to develop both conversational and early literacy skills.


Using Technology to Support English Language Learners

10 May

Recent technology has really helped some of our English Language Learners with developing literacy skills and content knowledge.  One of the challenges is that there are so many websites and apps available that people don’t know where to start.  It is also tricky to find sites that are good for elementary-aged students so many of our recommendations were created for all students.

These are some of our top picks at the moment for early learners of English in elementary schools.  Many of them work well with any student who needs these skills.

For Literacy:

Unite for Literacy – – This site has numerous books arranged by categories.  Most of the collection is non-fiction so it can be used with more age groups.  The books are narrated in English but there are also 37 other languages that can be chosen.  The student can hear/read the book in two languages to help with understanding.

Epic- – There is a vast collection of books all separated by subject.  The books have a suggested age range for interest.  The books can be read aloud.  Audiobooks and some videos are also included.

Pebble Go- – Non-fiction books are sorted by categories.  The books include narration and there are related articles about the different subjects.

Reading a-z –  – There is a yearly fee to use this site but it has a complete levelled library of resources for 29 reading levels.  There are worksheets to go along with each of the books.  Flashcards are included.  Spanish and French books are also available.

Early Literacy Skills:

Starfall- Still one of the best for teaching the names and sounds of the letters in the English alphabet.  Graphics and music are engaging.  The games are great practice for early learners.

Endless ABC (app) – The individual letter sounds are highlighted with fun graphics and sounds.  Higher level words are illustrated and practiced.

Phonics Island (app) – The student gets to practice upper and lower case letters and traces letters to learn the formation.  There is also some identification of animal names.

Early Writing:

iWriteWords (app) – For practice in forming the letters of the English alphabet, this is great.


Vocabulary Builder (app) – There is a series of these apps.  Body parts, verbs, and shapes are only some of the categories.

Rewordify- – English text can be placed in the text box.  The text will then be simplified so that students can more easily understand the content.  Students can also get definitions of unknown words. – For older students, this is spelling practice in the form of a video game divided into categories of vocabulary words.

For current events: – This site provides articles at different reading levels for numerous current topics in the news.  (Easily adapted for the whole class.)

Content Knowledge:

Britannica School-  – Articles on topics can be selected and then three different reading levels can be chosen to reflect achievement level.  Images and videos are realistic.