About Deborah Cochran

I am an ESOL teacher at Craig Elementary School in Parkway School District, St. Louis. This site was developed during a technology class I took for a Masters in Administration degree in 2011. Once it was built, I decided to use it to maintain the site to share resources with you.

Understanding your Students’ Prior Education

How are my Students Taught in Other Countries?

Having a general sense of cultural norms can help a classroom teacher anticipate potential misunderstandings when dealing with students and families.  Although it is important to understand overall characteristics of your students’ public education, it is more important not to form generalizations. When in doubt, my advice to you is to ask families about their prior education.  My personal inquires, research and  experiences have uncovered vast differences between American public schools and public schools in other countries.

In India

People IMG_6898 HOLI - FESTIVAL OF COLOURS IN INDIARajeev India (THANKS for views, comments n faves) via Compfight

In a recent parent- teacher conference,   a father from India, explained the differences he experienced between his early childhood student’s former education and the education he is experiencing here in the United States. This conversation left me with these key understandings:

  • Depending upon their grade level, students could be in school for as little as 2 to 4 hours per day.
  • Class size was double the size here.
  • The curriculum was highly dependent upon parental support. Parents were handed the curriculum to use at home but not provided with resources or materials; an extra fee was charged for materials.

A conversation with a mother, recently immigrated from India, offered validity to his comments.  When I handed her a form requiring a signature for English language services, she quickly replied, “How much do I owe you?”   Needless to say, she was pleasantly surprised to find out that we provide the services free of charge in America.

Many of my students from both public and private schools in India report punishment from their former teachers.  Unicef- India on Corporal Punishment explores this in more detail.

Facts about India from Children United

In an article produced by Knowledge@Wharton, 2013, it is mentioned that:india-map-languages

  • India’s private-schooled, English-speaking urban elite may attract global attention, but they are in the minority. The vast majority of Indian children attend government-run primary schools in rural areas. In 2008-2009, rural India accounted for more than 88% of India’s primary-school students, of whom over 87% were enrolled in government-run schools.  This is where we see some of the nation’s toughest challenges.

  • In rural schools “Teachers have to teach multiple grades, textbooks are pitched far above the comprehension level of students, and each classroom has children with different levels of learning achievements.” Anurag Behar, CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation, an education non-profit, noted that “the average school teacher in India does not get adequate pre-service or in-service education, nor does she get the support to overcome these problems.” Compounding this is the relatively low educational qualifications of many teachers themselves. In 2008-2009, on average, 45% of these teachers had not studied beyond the 12th grade.

  • Flawed Teaching Methodology: In India, rote learning has been institutionalized as a teaching methodology. “Primary school teachers in rural India often try to educate students by making them repeat sections of text over and over again,” said Jhingran. Often they do not explain the meaning of the text, which results in stunted reading comprehension skills over the course of the children’s education. For example, many students in grades two and three in one particular school struggle to read individual words, but can neatly copy entire paragraphs from their textbooks into their notebooks as though they were drawing pictures.

  • According to Khatwar, “more and more parents in small towns are choosing to send their children to private schools if they can afford it” — perhaps with good reason, because, on average, the number of students in each classroom in private schools is often smaller and school heads exert greater control over teachers.

‘Needs Improvement’: Despite Progress, India’s Primary Education System Has a Ways to Go.Knowledge@Wharton (2013, January 02). Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/needs-improvement-despite-progress-indias-primary-education-system-has-a-ways-to-go/

In Saudi Arabia

Education in Nepal GlobalPartnership for Education via Compfight

Over the past decade immigration from Arabic speaking nations has been on the rise in the United States.  In fact, the most recent US Department of Education data at nces.ed.gov blog lists Arabic as the second highest native language in the United States. One challenge I have observed for children from Saudi Arabia is their assimilation into a mixed gender classroom. It can be especially challenging for boys when they are not familiar with female teachers.

One of the best resources for researching Arabic culture is produced by the military. Check out Arab Culture for extensive research into Arabic culture.

Saudi Arabian etiquette:  http:/commisceo-global guide

In Haiti

You'd think we were sisters Carsten ten Brink via CompfightIn Haiti

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages  in northern New Jersey from 2000-2007 allowed me to teach and observe students from Haiti.  With Haitian Creole as our highest language served, our high school principal chose to research Haitian education for her doctorate dissertation. Here is what I witnessed from videos of her visit to Haitian schools:

  • Teacher-fronted lectures in a straw hut.
  • Too many students to count.
  • Children sitting on a dirt floor peering into the crowded room through open windows and orally reciting after the teacher because they did not have pencils.

It did not take long for me to realize that that I needed to provide my Haitian immigrant students with the culturally relevant instructional strategy of echoing, a Kagan structure whereby the students’ repeat the modeled language.  This strategy added engagement at the right moments.

Some argue that Haiti is teaching the wrong language. Haitian Creole is the primary language spoken in the home yet French has been the language taught in schools. BBC News  and theweek.com

village-school-haiti-started-national-movement-teach-kids-language-they-speak speaks to the reforms underway to address the issue of language in Haitian schools.

USAID has been making gains in educational reform. Read more from USAID Haiti 2016

In Korea

2016-01-15 11.45.44 albyantoniazzi via Compfight

Generally, I have four tips from first-hand conversations with a high school student and a middle school teacher in an international public school located in South Korea.

  • The teacher is the giver of knowledge and lectures in front of class- discussion is rare. 
  • Homework is plentiful with students tending to tutor sessions or homework assignments until late into the night. 
  • Student learning is enhanced with technology or one to one. 
  • Exams can be long with essays in one subject area.

Many articles have been published showing the pros and cons of South Korean education. Some feel America could learn from South Korea. ABCnews  Others feel it is too intense. NPR- All Work and No Play


Welcome to the ESOL Link

Overview to the ESOL Link education2

Do you have awesome students who seem competent in the classroom, so confident that they don’t seem to need language support?  They communicate with you and others with minimal difficulty.  This is because they have mastered BICS.  BICS stands for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, the vocabulary all English Language Learners, ELLs learn first because it is the language heard and spoken first when acquiring another language. The most challenging language comes next.  Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills, CALPS, is the hardest to acquire and has been known to take up to 5-7 years for language learners to use with the accuracy of their peers.  See the page on BICS and CALPS.  

Teaching an English learner is not specific to newcomers.  In fact, all students in your class could benefit from careful examination of the academic language needed to succeed in the class. There are three tiers to academic language with tier 1 being words most frequently used and tier 3 being content specific words. You will find more information on the three tiers of academic vocabulary in the links section of this blog.

Differentiating instruction is easier when you consider the WIDA Can Do Descriptors. See links forWIDA.  WIDA has updated their site recently to include PD modules helpful for mainstream teachers. Also, in case you did not know, the Can Do Descriptors are now aligned a bit differently.

Nervous about your newcomers?  Don’t be!  New students are likely to be more nervous than you are.  Take time to explore the animated link on culture shock and the posting How to Provide a Welcoming Environment for your Newcomers.

Whenever you have a child who speaks another language in your classroom, you have a culture different from yours to understand. There are pages dedicated to culture in this blog.

My Students are here. Now what do I do?

chalk board for blogSo you read about creating a welcoming environment for your beginning level English Language Learners (ELLs) and now you need to go to the next step.  Did you remember to:

  • Write key words on the white board?
  • Plan lessons with  pictures, gestures and realia?  If not, it is not too late- find a photo from Google Image, clip art, or Flickr to display while you are teaching.
  • You could give your ELL a graphic organizer to sort or classify vocabulary.
  • When modeling and teaching safety vocabulary, don’t be too concerned if you need to offer translation in their native language.  It will not hurt the acquisition progress.  Go to http://translate.google.com/ or purchase the google translate app for free on your I phone.  It will even say the word in the student’s native language.
  • Did you speak when facing the students, not the board?  Sounds odd, but it happens.
  • Avoid colloquialisms and idioms?
  • Provide explicit directions for homework?  Including writing the homework assignment on the board.  The beginning ESOL student can copy if allowed time.
  • So far, so good.
  • We are still smiling, right?  Trying to?  Don’t give up… it will get better!

What Strategies Work Best for Pre-Production ELLs?


  Wondering how to include your newcomer?

IMG_1905 Most importantly you want your student to feel comfortable so he or she does not shut down.   Yes, stress is proven to have a negative effect on language acquisition because it heightens    the  “affective filter”.  The lower the stress, the lower the affective filter.  Think of the affective  filter as a screen that filters input as it enters the brain.  This filter is ineffective when  our ELL  students are anxious or stressed.  It lowers or works when we make our students comfortable.

 So how do you make your student comfortable?

Start by finding out what your student “can do”.  “Can do descriptors” can be obtained from your  ELL specialist.  They will explain what your student is able to do in listening, speaking, reading and writing.  This data is obtained from the WIDA ACCESS test students are give in in January or February of the prior school year.  If your student is new to the district chances are they were given the test in their last school.  If not, your ELL specialist can provide you with results of an English language pre-screen assessment that will help you evaluate your student’s strengths.

Let’s think about this a little more.  Put yourself in the student’s shoes for just a minute.  Assume you are given a task that you have yet to learn or suppose you know it but you can not find the words to explain yourself in a comprehensible way.  How would you respond?   Responses could vary but chances are there will be stress.

Eliminate stress by giving your students alternate ways of accessing the content.

Not all assignments or tasks need be applied in a whole group or traditional teacher- directed method.  Do not be afraid to experiment with cooperative learning structures or assigning project- based assignments.   Don’t worry about rigor and relevance.  Allowing your class to participate in new teaching and learning structures can still be measured with high expectations.  What you will find is that as you begin to use these new strategies, your students will gradually take responsibility for their own learning leaving you time to observe their progress.  It is interesting that their learning grows as your effort lightens.

I must warn you though, you will need to spend time planning engaging lessons.  

Once you do, I promise, you will get a break for while your students are applying their learning, you are getting formative assessments off your to do list!

Why is a cooperative learning structure right for ELL students? 

Cooperative learning takes the spotlight off your ELL student and allows the student to observe others, share in decision making and take on a meaningful role that will heighten his or her motivation.  It offers all students the chance to participate equally. Similarly, kinesthetic response modes can be easily integrated into structures such as RoundTable, RallyTable, and others so students can demonstrate concepts through manipulatives or drawing structures could prove to be your number one essential tool for ELL success.

http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/oral-language-development-and-ells-5-challenges-and-solutions offers suggestions for mainstream teachers who are challenged by serving multiple levels of ELs in their classrooms.

These Kagan strategies have been helpful to me in the past with newcomers or students in the pre-production level of proficiency:

Kagan Structures:

  • Line-Ups
  •  Formations,
  • Mix-Freeze-Group,
  • Similarity Groups
  • Corners


How Important is your Daily Routine to your Newcomer?

communicationfolder4An important first step in designing an inclusive classroom is to critically analyze your students’ daily routine. This includes access to instructional materials.

Here are some reflection questions:

  • Is the material I am giving my student representative of their language proficiency level?
  • Will the diverse language abilities and cultures represented in my classroom be able to follow this anchor chart, worksheet, assessment, homework, classroom assignment or communication note that is being sent home?

Research has shown that students’ development of knowledge and perceptions of both themselves and others is significantly affected by the classroom instructional materials they encounter (Hirschfelder, 1982); this is especially true for EL students and others who might also be navigating the acculturation process at the same time (Ndura, 2004).

You can help your newcomer assimilate into the classroom routine by:

  • Providing your newcomer with all resources available to other students, name tag, home communication folder and such.
  • Assigning a buddy (preferably a student who speaks the newcomer’s language).
  • Including your newcomer in all classroom routines by planning cooperative learning opportunities whereby the newcomer has a role.
  • Scaffolding classroom expectations and assignments to align to what your student “can do.”
  • Modifying or accommodating all assessments. (See your ESOL specialist on how to begin this process.)

Classroom Routines

Your newcomer can participate in all classroom activities. In fact, he or she is keenly aware of everything that is happening in the classroom and will mimic the actions of others. For this reason, be sure to be consistent with daily routines and resources. Assign your newcomer a task of copying, matching pictures, tracing, being the timekeeper during group work or drawing. There are numerous activities he or she can do. Using the Blooms Taxonomy Chart, look at DOK level one. Then assign a language objective that meets the needs of your standard or assignment goal. Give your newcomer a task that fits both the verb from the DOK chart as well as the lesson objective. Be sure to scaffold the student with pictures, manipulatives or graphic organizers.  If you need help getting started, contact your ESOL specialist.

Home/School Connections

Be observant of what materials you are sending home. How much English is read at home? Important materials can be translated into the family’s native language.

Is your student’s home communication folder clearly labeled? By marking each side of the folder KEEP AT HOME and RETURN TO SCHOOL you will be helping the family understand what is expected of the home/school materials.


All students should receive formative and summative assessments. See your ESOL specialist for tips on modifying and accommodating assessments based on your students “can do” level of proficiency.

Want to learn more? Check out this list of the top 14 principles for ELL instruction in the mainstream classroom.

What teachers should know about instruction for ELLs

Teaching Social Studies to ELL Students

You can help the ELL students develop greater proficiency in English while learning key terms in Social Studies.

Remember, you are the guide.  Trust your own understanding of cultural values, intercultural communications and learning styles.  It will serve as a base in assisting you as you maintain high expectations for all students while carefully deciding specific content topics that are motivating and pertinent to the overall lesson.

Guide your students to specific vocabulary or bold words.  Allow the students to define the words in their native language.  This enables them to “transfer” previous knowledge to the English term.

You may want to modify your spoken language to meet the needs of your ELL students at various levels.  Some simple but essential strategies are:

  • to paraphrase main ideas consistently
  • repeat key points often
  • check for comprehension frequently
  • use media and realia (real prop)

As a Social Studies teacher, you are teaching a subject with high cognitive demand and high context.  The content requires a high level of literacy and more cognitively demanding tasks.  In order to be successful teaching ELL’s it important to know the basic premise of language acquisition.

Other resources to help you support your ELL student are:

  • maps
  • visuals
  • gestures
  • clues
  • charts and graphs
  • worksheets that include a word box with fill in the blanks responses

Remember, you are familiar with international cultures; it is possible that you understand the ELL student better than most.

If you need additional resources, contact your ESOL specialist.

Adapted from Cruz, Nutta, O’Brien, Feyten and Govoni Passport to Learning, Teaching Social Studies to ESL Students, NCSS, 2003

Best Practices for Improving Academic Language

At the MELL Convention, 2014 this year, we tapped into strategies to use for strengthening an ELL student’s ability with academic vocabulary.


According to Debbie Arechiga, featured presenter and founder of Tools for Literacy, Inc. and author of Reaching English Language Learners in Every Classroom, there are challenges and opportunities for meeting the Common Core with English Language Learners.

She stresses the need to cultivate connections, connections to kids, to colleagues and to cultures.  In doing this she says we can elevate our expectations. It is through elevated expectations that we lead students to stronger academic demands and boost student confidence.  According to Archiga, a linear, remedial, passive approach to educating these students is not going to yield results.  What works is “accelerated language”.  Accelerated language describes fast paced, integrated, engaging and enriching instruction.  She does this is with “strategic energizers”.  Energizers help to recharge and stretch our capacities by giving students comprehensible input by:

  • building bridges where meaning is scaffolded
  • getting students talking
  • and flooding instruction with vocabulary

Arechiga stimulates students to achieve more by using “warm demanders”.  A warm demander is a genuine caring with a deep certainty that all students can succeed.  It is used in conjunction with appropriate learning supports.

See Arecguga use these strategies:

bridging strategy modeled

“Read-aloud are knowledge-builders for our ELLs.  Make them interactive so that students are engaged by responding to the reading.  When ELLs respond to reading, they’re bridging.”

Debbie’s strategic energizers can be broken down into 4 key ideas.

1.  Keep instruction comprehensible.

2.  Build bridges for language learning.

3.  Get students talking (active engagement).

4.  Flood instruction with vocabulary.

By modeling comprehension strategies, using gestures, choral reads, chants, poetry, and engaging students by encouraging them to talk, Arechiga  floods her lessons with vocabulary.  A quick assessment ensures they understand.  


Formative Assessment Tool to use with Newcomers

Perhaps you are wondering if you are reaching your ELL newcomer.  Try this simple formative assessment.

  1. Make two cards and at the top of one card illustrate a question mark and on the other illustrate a light bulb.  The question mark card is for concepts not understood by the student and the light bulb card represents concepts understood.
  2. Model how to use the cards to your student by writing a single academic concept word or drawing a picture to represent your question or your understanding of that concept.
  3. If this assessment strategy proves useful you can expand upon it by rating the understanding with numbers.

Ask your ELL teacher to help provide comprehensible input for your content in the ESOL classroom, especially once you have identified specific challenges facing your newcomer.