A right way to learn English?

I just had a baby so I’m not currently in my own classroom.  I am however, still a mommy and I just went to the parents’ information night at my kids’ school in Denmark.  I think that parents who are teachers have the hardest time accepting academic decisions of other teachers and they live in a constant struggle to support their kids’ teachers and yet wonder how they would of done something differently.  This describes my relationship with my kiddos’ school in a nutshell.

At the meeting, they pointed out that English is now taught from the earliest grades but there isn’t really curriculum to help them teach effectively.  Now when they mean curriculum, they mean workbooks.  In Denmark, teachers do not search for their own materials, they are not expected to ever buy products to use in the classroom, and they do not print, laminate, and cut things to be used in their classroom.  I teach through games and dramatic play at all grade levels and use worksheets as a reinforcement only.


This leads to a dramatic cultural clash but, every Dane under 50 speaks fluent English – I struggle to think that their system is wrong if it works so well.  I’m currently partnering with the English teacher at my childrens’ school and not only am I creating resources for her but I am slowly coaching her on international teaching methods of center based learning and how to use games as both instruction and repetition.  Yet, even as I mentor her in my methods, I’m learning that there is something to be said for the boring but thorough slow workbook method.

I will still advocate for getting students to talk to each other and feel like they are in real-life speaking situations in a safe dramatic play environment.  I still believe that games do what worksheets do but in a more engaging way.   However, grammar is a beast and worksheets and their repetition are blessings to help grammar become more automatic.  Perhaps there is merit in old school methods.  Do other EAL teachers struggle with this intersection of ideals?

Little Vikings


Summer Literacy and EAL Fun

I’ll admit I had grand EAL-at-home plans for summer learning.  Except, this year in Scandinavia, the sky is all about rain.  So we’ve been playing lots of card games that we’ve played with all year.  We have plans for an English water balloon war on the next sunny day that we are blessed with.  We’ve taken balloons and written words or phrases in Danish.  The kids can’t throw them until they translate them into English.     I’d rather just get them talking but my kiddos currently need a confidence boost in their ability to speak and understand English so we’re going this way.  (Come on sun so we can post pictures!)

We’ve also got a candy store role play set up at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  The kids are the shop owners and are trying to sell us some candy.  This is because one: candy is their greatest love in the world and two: they are very convincing in Danish about why people should eat it.  We thought we’d give them a chance to translate their love of all things sugar into speaking English.  Plus: there is candy at the end for them!  (Pictures forthcoming)

To see some of our rainy day activities and others posted by great teachers, check out this week’s linky party.


Adventures in Elementary



Stop the Summer Slide Linky Party

Summer is about fun and rest both for students and teachers but, a little interaction with some basics is important. At my house we have a strict limit to the amount of screen time that each child can have. This worked brillantly on sunny days. Rainy days… well ….we discovered could use a little bump up in screen time. Our solution was to make the kids earn extra time by choosing to write, read, or do math. They surprised us by loving being back to the routine of some school work.

My kiddos are still learning English and the art of writing, so the prompts have pictures and words to make it easier for them.  Pick it up for free in my tpt store.

summer writing

Click on the picture to be directed to tpt link.

If you like this, check out more summer freebies to help with the rainy days from other teachers at both of these  linky parties.  Just click the pictures below to be directed to each one.

This one is for teachers

Adventures in Elementary
This one is for parents.

 photo Summer linky button.png

Little Vikings

Anytime Games for Rote Facts

I find helping kids memorize math facts, sight words (we call them tricky words), or even the basic phonics sounds in English is a long boring journey.  I have lots of games to help them practice and I invent stories to give a context but at the end of the day it often becomes a drill and kill flashcard run either at home or school.  I couldn’t really accept this so I went on the hunt for more whole class time filler games.

I’m ok with ‘Around the World’ but I hate that some kids never feel successful with it.  I started playing ‘Doggie, Doggie’ to help kids learn sounds and sight words and my wildest dreams came true … they memorized!  I used my sound or tricky words cards and asked the class to sit in a circle.  One kid would be the doggie (use name sticks to make sure you evenly spread this privilege out) and would pretend to be a sleeping dog in the middle of the circle.  While they were hiding their eyes, I would show the rest of the class the word/sound/math fact and then place on the child’s back.  I would then point to a student to take the card of their friend’s back.  My classes like to have everyone make little noises on the carpet to make it harder for the doggie.  When the card is safely hidden behind the new child’s back the whole class chants. “Doggie, doggie where’s your bone? Somebody stole it from your home.”  This is the doggie’s cue to look up and guess who has taken their card.  We give them 3 guesses and then show them the card.  Whether they guess who took it correctly or they are told, they get to take as long as they need to tell everyone else what is on the card.  If they want help from the class they can ask for it.memorize sight words

Kids love this.  My colleague, Mrs. Zahra, took this idea and also played it with “Heads Up, Seven Up”.  Her variation was that instead of pushing down thumbs, students would give out letter cards.  When everyone was able to look up the students had to first say what sound their letter was and then guess who had given them the card.  The kids love this as well.

Both of these games are perfect fillers for odd chunks of time that come up in the school day.  I use them as an incentive at the end of the day or sessions.  Both games get kids excited about memorizing which in turn makes me excited that we’ve found an effective way to kick some of the boring bits out of school.free math facts game

At home, we play a lot of War or Top It with math facts. The best part of this is that the games are easily differentiated for the differing abilities of my son and daughter.  He plays with multiplication; she plays with addition.  He has the adult wait 5 seconds before calling out the answer of the two cards that have been laid down; my daughter has the adult wait 10 seconds.  It works wonders and the kids forget that they are learning – a win.Little Vikings




Everyone reads and no one has self-diagnosed dyslexia

My son diagnosed himself with dyslexia this past week.  It came out at bedtime when we were reading to him and he confided in us that he doesn’t always get the words right. In fact, he was reading in front of the class for a Reader’s Theater project and he thought his peers might have laughed at his reading.  We hugged him and promised that he didn’t have dyslexia but that we would help him more at home.

As a teacher of early readers, my heart sank.  This is what we work so hard to keep kids from feeling and it is why I’ve tried a radically different approach to my guided reading lessons.  I’ve been opposed to Round Robin reading where each kid takes turns reading for a long time but often struggled to find other methodologies to hear early readers in their decoding.  I tried to have individual conferences and couldn’t find the time. Choral reading is good for early readers until someone starts decoding faster than everyone else and gets bored.  Shared reading and reciprocal reading is still good for comprehension strategies but how do I help early readers practice decoding skills on their own and give them feedback to learn from their mistakes? I decided to try something stupid.guided reading differentiation

Have them all read out loud at the same time but not together, each at their own pace.  So now I pull a group over and we talk about the book and set the stage for the phonics or comprehension strategy we will work on.  We usually take a picture walk together and make predictions and then they open their books and all read to themselves out loud.  The weird thing is … this works beautifully.  They all go at their own pace and it is oddly easy to listen to 6 different readings at the same time because it is easy to cue into fluency mistakes or the sound of a kid’s voice when they are confused.  So each kid ends up getting individual reading and conferencing for every book but in a fraction of the time.

I sometimes have kids reading the same book to themselves and at other times each will be reading a different book.  The kids love it and our running records data shows that the kids have jumped in their reading levels- even though everything else we do is the same as other years.  Other teachers have tried it too and we all love it. To paraphrase Sam I am from Green Eggs and Ham, “Try it! Try it! And you may like it.”Little Vikings


Recess the school nemesis

Kids love recess… well at least most of them do.  Recess is an inherently tricky time for anyone who struggles with making friends or has social issues.  All kids have break times that are less than ideal and it can be a taxing part of the teacher’s job to help them navigate these important social issues.  As a parent, I know that at the end of the day I hear about what happened on the playground and not the amazing math lesson that the teacher planned.  (How unfair right?  Why can’t kids go home and explain in detail how awesome their teacher is? ) break time book

At our school we wanted kids to start developing the social problem skills to navigate the ups and downs and break times.  We also wanted documentation over time about how breaks were going for kids so we could pick up negative trends early. Also, it helps to have lots of documentation of positive breaks for parents that are worried about their child’s transition, friends, etc.  We created a recess book, a reflection journal truly, to help kids think about who they played with, where they were, how it went, how it could be better next time, or to make a plan for a great break.  recess reflection

I have to report that it works.  It does take some class time to do on a fairly regular basis, but it cuts down on teacher documentation.  It also lets the kids’ own words speak for themselves which is probably much more powerful than a teacher’s interpretation of events.  Try it – we highly recommend it.  you can get it in my tpt store and it is 50% off for a week.

Little Vikings


Authentic Ways to Write in English at Home

As a teacher and as a parent I know that writing is hard.  You have to first know what you want to say, then hear the sounds in a word and lastly match the sounds to a letter.  Whew!  No wonder kids find it hard.  EAL kids need even more support as they rarely are taught the phonics of English and they are thinking in their native language first, then translating, and finally spelling their memorized translated word.   That is a lot to do and the more we can encourage authentic, non-worksheet driven writing at home the better.authentic writing PYP

On a  recent visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house we decided to set up a family pizza parlor.  We figured the kids could practice English, writing, math, and responsibility.  We started by going through the fridge and cupboards and writing down all of the ingredients we could find.  We eventually wrote them in both Danish and English, though this pictured list also has some Swedish environmental print thrown in.  early writing at home

We then went to everyone and asked, “What do you want on your pizza?  We have …..” and they would read the list.  They had to listen to match the spoken word with the written word in the ingredient list.  We made tickets of everyone’s ingredient lists so we could make their pizza correctly and set to work.  The kids had to measure out all of the ingredients and though there may have been a few eggshells in the dough, the pizza turned out delicious.  English at home

We’re always looking for ways to get them to write and to practice English in a way that makes them think they are playing.  We’re thinking of running some other family restaurants so that we can try out other menus and practice more writing.  Just beware of letting your kids write restaurant reviews.  My daughter wrote a review of tonight’s dinner that I made and while I’m proud of her initiative to write and her sounding out of new words ….. let’s just say my meal only got two stars out of five.  Jenny (banner)