Using Sesame Street to Help Refugee Children

sesame street

We all know what a wonderful success story that the children’s program Sesame Street has been over the last few decades. Not only has the show been fun for children to watch, but it has also served as a way for public television to help reach impoverished children who may not have access to preschool and help them to learn literacy skills, math skills and even about culture and inclusion. Researchers are trying to figure out the best way for Sesame Street to be culturally appropriate and help refugee children who have experienced trauma and displacement. This would be a wonderful opportunity for the refugees if the developers can be culturally sensitive in their planning, especially since Sesame Street is already broadcast in hundreds of countries around the world.

Check out this NPR article When Elmo and Big BIrd Talk to Refugees – NPR for more details.



Migrant Students

Image result for migrant children

My first year of teaching I had a migrant student in my class and I didn’t even know about it (or what migrant status meant) for several months. I later learned that this meant that “Danny” could very likely have interrupted schooling experiences based on his parents’ work schedules, which revolved around crops. Migrant workers only have opportunities to work when they are needed to help with seasonal crops. This could mean that these families move frequently. This is a serious problem facing many ELL families. The good news for Danny and other migrant children is that there is support for them. This article at NPR Schools Hustle To Reach Kids Who Move With The Harvest, Not The School Year summarizes how Migrant Preschools work to meet the needs of these families.

Fayette County Public Schools – Newcomer Center

I was very excited to read about the proposed Newcomer Center for 6th-12th graders for the 2017-2018 school year in FCPS! According to the Lexington Herald Leader, “Superintendent Manny Caulk said the newcomer center would, for about six months, provide intensive support for students whose families are new to America and who speak little or no English. Some of these students had their education interrupted in their home country because of war, Caulk said. Some of the students have not had formal schooling in their native language. And some students will need help because of the trauma they suffered in their home countries, school officials said.”

Sentence Frames

I shared one of my favorite strategies for helping ELLs increase their speaking opportunities this week at our faculty meeting: Sentence frames. Sentence frames, sentence starters and summary frames are all similar concepts that provide students with modeled language to scaffold their oral and written language. Although it is good to do this strategy for all students, ELLs benefit because it models correct syntax and provides a comfortable environment to practice speaking. Sentence frames also provide support to lead to increased academic discourse. There are many, many resources available online, but I chose to share two with my coworkers: this video Using Sentence Frames to Help ELLs and this amazing  Scaffolding Toolbox of Sentence Starters from Heinemann

My suggestions for procedures for using sentence starters are to model aloud how to use the sentence starter, provide opportunities for partner practice (especially through engaging Kagan structures!) and then have a few students share their ideas aloud. This is a perfect strategy to use to review concepts at the beginning or end of a lesson or right before an exit-slip to check for understanding. By providing students with opportunities to practice academic language in a safe environment, they will begin to internalize this language and begin to transfer it to their writing. I am including some examples of pictures of the sentence starters (I also shared these pictures and information on Sentence Starters in To Reach English Proficiency, ELL Students Must Have Opportunities to Speakand I will embed the video I mentioned above.

Examples of Sentence Frames from Pinterest

Inference Sentence StartersMath Sentence StartersSentence Frames

Using Sentence Frames to Help ELLs – YouTube Video

Strategies & Resources for Teaching ELLS

Being an ELL teacher can be so overwhelming, but I LOVE it!!!!!

I say it is overwhelming because we are acclimating little people to a new culture, while also making sure they feel safe and secure. We are trying to teach them the same content that their peers are learning, while facilitating the acquisition of an entire LANGUAGE! Some days it feels like there is too much to focus on with our students, but some days we see students making connections and we feel on top of the world.

In an effort to learn as much as I can about best practices for working with ELL students, I have found some amazing articles and resources from Edutopia (Apparently George Lucas has an Educational Foundation… Who knew?! It’s awesome too!) By browsing Edutopia, I stumbled upon four beneficial posts:

(1) In Do’s and Don’ts For Teaching English-Language Learners, Larry Ferlazzo emphasizes the importance of modeling, increasing wait time, using non-linguistic cues, providing written and verbal instructions, checking for understanding throughout the lesson and encouraging the development of L1. These are good practices for all students, but are especially important for our ELLs.

(2) Another insightful post is Strategies and Resources for Supporting English Language Learners by Todd Finley. This article discusses how critical vocabulary instruction is and how teaching grammar out of context (through drills) is ineffective (for ANY student). Like the Do’s and Don’ts article (see #1 above), it reinforces how banning students’ native language is actually a negative thing because it limits cognitive connections. Another important part of this article explains how because many ELLs are quiet and compliant (because of cultural differences and/or low language levels), this can cause them to be overlooked in class. Finley also includes links for ELL websites and other articles.

(3) Check out 50 Incredibly Useful Links for Learning and Teaching the English Language for tons of great resources (reference materials, professional organizations, articles, learning resources and teaching resources.)

(4) Because our district is training teachers in SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) and plans to roll out SIOP district-wide over the next three years, I wanted to learn more about it (I will be trained at some point, but not yet.) I knew that SIOP was a way to intentionally and systematically plan all of the best practices teachers know to do in their classrooms and that SIOP is extremely beneficial to ELLs. I discovered this AMAZING resource by Heidi Messbarger called Effective Strategies for Content Teachers of ELLS (Using SIOP)This virtual flyer is great because it not only provides an overview of the 8 components and 30 features of SIOP, but she includes resources and links within each section.



Making Progress in Learning English

Learning English is extremely difficult! There are outdated spellings, irregular words, silent letters, irregular phonics rules, borrowed words, homonyms and multiple meaning words. It’s amazing that people are able to learn it as a second language at all! However, people successfully learn English all the time. Through listening and speaking practice over time, English language learners can be successful. At times, as they learn new grammar rules, they may appear to be doing worse rather than better. As this video shows, there are stages to language acquisition and what we see happening is not always indicative of true understanding. Check out this video for more.


Facilitating Language Acquisition through Comprehensible Input

According to Genessee (2016), when teachers incorporate the native language of their students into instruction, there is greater academic success, including literacy and other content. Students who are literate in their first language generally become literate in English easier than their illiterate peers. They are also able to make more connections when teachers draw upon their background knowledge. Teachers should be familiar with students’ native languages in order to capitalize on similarities to English and to discover differences. Here is a wonderful article about the importance of understanding the Home Language of ELLs.

There are many things teachers can do to facilitate the acquisition of English for English Language Learners. First, students must receive comprehensible input in order to make meaning of language. Teachers can facilitate this in many ways including using pictures, gestures, realia, modifying their pacing, using predictable routines when possible, paraphrasing and using simplified language. Students also need opportunities to practice speaking in a non-threatening environment. Teachers can facilitate this by increasing wait time when asking students to speak, having them speak in a smaller group and by scaffolding their responses using sentence frames or prompts. In all language domains, teachers must build on students’ background knowledge and provide them with additional background knowledge in order to better make connections to new learning. At The Everyday Language Learner, there are several good posts about how to make or provide comprehensible input (Krashen) for ELLs.

25 Ways to Find or Create Comprehensible Input

Comprehensible Input



One of the first challenges that I am encountering as an ELL teacher is what to do when newcomers arrive. As a third grade teacher last year, I was blessed to have twin boys from Cameroon arrive in the middle of the year. They were wonderful students and taught me so much! Here are some ideas that our fabulous ELL teacher taught me that helped them to acclimate to school culture quickly and make rapid progress in English:

  • Make the family feel welcome and comfortable by showing them around the school, helping with registration if possible and learning a few phrases in their language (Hello, How are you?)
  • Provide the students with a folder or chart with survival English phrases. Include pictures and the phrases in their native language as well.
  • Label the classroom. If the students feel comfortable, give them a picture dictionary and show them how to label the classroom.
  • Have a tub or basket with choices that the newcomers can work on independently if things become too overwhelming or there is an activity that is too strenuous when they first arrive. For example, include picture flashcards, bilingual books, easy vocabulary worksheets, picture dictionaries, etc. Teach them the appropriate way and times to use this independent work.
  • Partner the new student with another student who speaks their language to make them feel comfortable and to help translate if necessary.

As an ELL teacher this year, I am learning more about the needs of newcomer ELL’s and strategies to help them as they begin their journey toward English proficiency. Here is an article with some great suggestions:

Seven Teaching Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs