Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

February 17, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

WRITE Institute Unveils New Website

As I’ve often written in this blog
, and as my co-author Katie Hull and I have written in our ESL book, The WRITE Institute is a great writing curriculum to use with English Language Learners.

They have just unveiled a new website. I might be missing something, but their new site doesn’t seem to have the ability for teachers to purchase their individual units at $20 each (and they are well worth the price). It seems you still have to go to their old site to order them.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing what kind of resources they’ll be adding to their new home on the Web.

October 3, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Around The Web In ESL/EFL/ELL

I’ve started a somewhat regular feature where I share a few posts and resources from around the Web related to ESL/EFL or to language in general that have caught my attention:

Julie Goldman, the Coordinator of the great WRITE Institute that creates curriculum for English Language Learners, has written an excellent article on “Research-Based Writing Practices For English Language Learners,” which you can download for free here. I’m adding it to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

Socratic Circles and the Common Core: Part I is from Colorin Colorado. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About Common Core Standards & English Language Learners.

College Essay Tips for English Language Learners is from U.S. News.

GameLingua has some nice…games for English Language Learners.

Learning language through cookery and technology sounds a little odd, but interesting. It’s from Science Daily.

Take A New Test Aimed At The World’s English-Language Learners is from NPR. This field seems to be getting a bit crowded lately.

Being Bilingual Makes You Better at Non-Linguistic Tasks is from The Harvard Business Review. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning The Advantages To Being Bilingual Or Multilingual.

National Geographic Learning and TED Partner to Inspire English Language Learners is a press release from National Geographic. I’m adding it to The Best Teacher Resources For “TED Talks” (& Similar Presentations).

English-Language Learners: California Districts Beating the Odds is from Education Week.

Making Immigrant Students and English-Learners Feel Welcome in School is from Education Week.

Repeal of Bilingual Education to Go Before California Voters is also from Education Week.

3 great games for verb tense review is by Adam Simpson. I’m adding it to The Best Ideas For Using Games In The ESL/EFL/ELL Classroom.

Here’s an excellent infographic for teaching the progressive tense. And here’s one for perfect tenses. I’m adding them to The Best Web Tools For Teaching Irregular Verbs & Verb Tenses — Contribute Your Suggestions!

Teaching Academic Listening (and transferral to the General English classroom!) is by Lizzie Pinard. I’m adding it to The Best Websites For Developing Academic English Skills & Vocabulary.

June 13, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

My Best Posts On Writing Instruction

'saturated writing' photo (c) 2007, Eduardo - license:

I’ve published a number of posts on writing instruction, and thought I’d bring them all together into one “The Best” list.

I’ve previously posted tons of lists sharing sites that are useful in writing instruction, but none collecting posts I’ve written about what to actually do in the classroom.

Before I get to those posts, though, here are the website lists:

The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement
The Best Places Where Students Can Write Online
The Best Sites For Grammar Practice
Not “The Best,” But “A List” Of Mindmapping, Flow Chart Tools, & Graphic Organizers
The Best Resources For Researching & Writing Biographies
The Best Resources For Learning How To Write Response To Literature Essays
The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience”
The Best Places Where Students Can Create Online Learning/Teaching Objects For An “Authentic Audience”
The Best Places To Read & Write “Choose Your Own Adventure” Stories
The Best Sites To Learn About Advertising
The Best Websites For Developing Academic English Skills & Vocabulary
The Best Online Interactive Exercises For Writing That Are Not Related To Literary Analysis
The Best Online Resources To Teach About Plagiarism
The Best Resources For Learning Research & Citation Skills
The Best Sites For Students To Create & Participate In Online Debates
The Best Online Resources For Helping Students Learn To Write Persuasive Essays
The Best Spelling Sites
The Best Sites For Gaining A Basic Understanding Of Adjectives
The “Best” Sites For Helping Students Write Autobiographical Incident Essays
The Best Sites To Learn “Feelings” Words
The Best Sites For ELL’s To Learn About Punctuation
The Best Resources To Help Students Write Research Essays
The Best Sites For Learning To Write A Story
The Best Writing Advice From Famous Authors
The Best Resources On Punctuation

And, now, here are my writing instruction posts:

I published a four-part series on teaching writing over at my Education Week blog. Here’s a link to the final post in that series — it contains links to the previous three, too.

My Revised Final Exams (And An Important Lesson)

Five ways to get kids to want to read and write

“Instead of seeing students as Far Below Basic or Advanced, we see them as learners” is a guest post written by my colleague Lara Hoekstra.

More Mount Everest Resources, Including Prompt We’re Using As Part Of Our “Final”

Writing Prompts — Feel Free To Contribute Your Own!

Rwanda Lesson & Writing Prompt

Here’s The “Growth Mindset” Article & Prompt We’re Using As Part Of Our Semester Final

“Point, Quote, Connect”

Helping Students Write Essays

Student Writing & Metacognition

My Student Handout For Simple Journal-Writing

New Study Says That Half Of “Evidence-Based Practices” In Writing Instruction Not “Signaled” By Common Core

I’ve posted a collection of all my Education Week Teacher posts on teaching reading and writing. It includes contributions from lots of great educators.

Student-Created Prompts As A Differentiation Strategy

Here’s What I’m Having My ELL Geography Students Do As Their Semester “Final”

Here’s What I’m Having My ELL U.S. History Students Do As Their Semester “Final”

Here’s What My IB Theory Of Knowledge Students Are Doing For Their Semester “Final”

Writing Prompt For “The Long March”

Quote Of The Day: “We Must Always Take Sides”

Helping Students Respond To Writing Prompts

Video (& Writing Prompt): “A failure isn’t a failure if it prepares you for success tomorrow”

Excellent (& I Mean EXCELLENT!) Post On Asking Questions

This Is Exactly What I Mean By Connecting Social Emotional Learning & Literacy Instruction….

Another Good Writing Prompt: Reconciliation

Here’s The Writing Prompt I’m Using For My Geography Class

New Writing Prompt For My U.S. History Class

Here’s The Writing Prompt I’m Using As Part Of My Final For Ninth-Grade English

John Lewis: “You Must Find A Way To Get In Trouble”

Two Good Videos On How We Learn & How I Plan To Use Them In Class

“Personal Writing Based on The Times’s Sunday Routine Series” Is A Nice Idea From The Learning Network

Our School’s Writing Assessment For Some Students With Special Needs

Julie Goldman, the Coordinator of the great WRITE Institute that creates curriculum for English Language Learners, has written an excellent article on “Research-Based Writing Practices For English Language Learners,” which you can download for free here.

Feel free to offer links to your best posts (or pieces that others have written) on teaching writing….

December 11, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Common Core Unit Plan On Persuasive Writing

Stanford’s Understanding Language has produced a free five-lesson unit plan for English Language Learners on persuasive writing called Persuasion Across Time and Space: Analyzing and Producing Persuasive Texts.

I only quickly reviewed it, and it seems to have some nice materials and activities. They say it’s for an intermediate ELL level middle school class. It seems fairly high level in terms of the language and intellectual requirements, so I’d suggest it would work well if you had a class composed entirely of high intermediates. If you had a wide range of language levels, though, I’d question how realistic it would be to realistically differentiate the lesson elements language-wise.

That’s one of the reasons our school uses, as do many others, units from The Write Institute — they’re engaging and easier to differentiate in the kind of ELL classes that I think you’ll find in many schools, ones that have a wide-range of language levels.

That said, though, I’ll still certainly including and adapting part of the Understanding Language unit into my lessons.

Thanks to Common Core and ELLs, the blog sponsored by Colorin Colorado, for the information.

I’m adding this info to The Best Resources For Learning About Common Core Standards & English Language Learners.

July 8, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

This Week’s “Links I Should Have Posted About, But Didn’t”

I have a huge backlog of resources that I’ve been planning to post about in this blog but, just because of time constraints, have not gotten around to doing. Instead of letting that backlog grow bigger, I regularly grab a few and list them here with a minimal description. It forces me to look through these older links, and help me organize them for my own use. I hope others will find them helpful, too. These are resources that I didn’t include in my “Best Tweets” feature because I had planned to post about them, or because I didn’t even get around to sending a tweet sharing them.

Here are This Week’s “Links I Should Have Posted About, But Didn’t”:

5 Things to Consider Before Self-Publishing Your Book is from Mashable. I’m adding it to So, You Want To Write A Book? Here’s The Best Advice…

The WRITE Institute has a great free unit on Cesar Chavez. I’m adding it to
The Best Sites For Learning About Cesar Chavez.

The 30 Most Popular Passwords Stolen From LinkedIn [INFOGRAPHIC] is from Mashable. I’m adding it to The Best Sites For Learning Online Safety.

I’m adding this video to The Best Sites For Learning About Mount Everest:

A Sherpa’s View of the Mount Everest Traffic Jam is from The New York Times. I’m adding it to the same list.

How to Identify Mysterious Images Online is from MindShift. I’m adding it to both The Best Resources To Learn About Copyright Issues and to The Best Online Sources For Images.

The American TESOL Institute has free Friday Webinars. I’m adding it to The Best Places For ESL/EFL/ELL Teachers To Get Online Professional Development.

The 10 Things Economics Can Tell Us About Happiness is from The Atlantic. I’m adding it to The Best Sites To Learn About…Happiness?

Are We in the Midst Of a Sixth Mass Extinction? is a New York Times graphic. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For World Biodiversity Day (& Endangered Species Day).

More Young Americans Out of High School Are Also Out of Work
is from The New York Times. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Showing Students Why They Should Continue Their Academic Career.

Interactive: World nuclear club is from Al Jazeera. I’m adding it to The Best Sites For Learning About Nuclear Weapons.

The Cool School Game is a quasi-”Choose Your Own Adventure” series of games designed to help children learn social emotional skills. I”m adding it to The Best Places To Read & Write “Choose Your Own Adventure” Stories.

Here are some other regular features I post in this blog:

“The Best…” series (which now number over 900)

Best Tweets of The Month

The most popular posts on this blog each month

My monthly choices for the best posts on this blog each month

Each month I do an “Interview Of The Month” with a leader in education

Periodically, I post “A Look Back” highlighting older posts that I think are particularly useful

The ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival

Resources that share various “most popular” lists useful to teachers

Interviews with ESL/EFL teachers in “hot spots” around the world.

Articles I’ve written for other publications.

Photo Galleries Of The Week

Research Studies Of The Week

Regular “round-ups” of good posts and articles about school reform

This Week In Web 2.0

Around the Web In ESL/EFL/ELL

September 21, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Research Studies Of The Week

I often write about research studies from various field and how they can be applied to the classroom. I write individual posts about ones that I think are especially significant, and will continue to do so. However, so many studies are published that it’s hard to keep up. So I’ve started writing a “round-up” of some of them each week or every other week as a regular feature:

Stephen Krashen writes in Language Magazine about new research on the importance of reading aloud to students. Check out his article, Reach Out and Read (Aloud).

The WRITE Institute has a collection of useful research teaching English Language Learners. I’m adding it to The Best Ways To Keep-Up With Current ELL/ESL/EFL News & Research.

Judy Willis shares some great research on learning and the brain in hand-outs from her recent ASCD Webinar.

A new study reinforces the strategy that many of use in the classroom to help students develop self-control: “partition the quantity of resources to be consumed into smaller units.” In other words, asking a student, for example, to see if he/she could focus on class work for the next ten minutes and then, the next day, try for twenty, etc. I’m adding this information to My Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control.

High Self-Control Predicts Good Adjustment, Less Pathology, Better Grades, and Interpersonal Success
is another study I’m adding to that list.

August 24, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

I’m In A Great Training This Week — Here Are Some Things I’m Learning….

As I’ve mentioned before, our school has been working very closely with Jayne Marlink from the California Writing Project over the past two years. She has been working with all of our English teachers to help us become better teachers of writing.

This week, Jayne, along with other teachers from our school, has been leading a training for all of our English teachers, and it’s been going quite well. Since over half of our student body are English Language Learners, we’ve been spending a lot of the time discussing working with ELL’s.

Yesterday, we reviewed a recent report titled Reparable Harm: Fulfilling The Unkept Promise Of Educational Opportunity For California’s Long Term English Learners. This is a major issue across the country, in California, and in our school. By “long-term” ELL’s, the report means students who have been in U.S. schools for more than six years without reaching English proficiency. In California, 59% of secondary ELL’s are in this category.

It’s an interesting report, well-worth reading. There are a lot of instructional “take-aways” in it, but out of our discussion I had one major realization that got me kicking myself big-time.

I spend a lot of emphasis on students setting goals (see My Best Posts On Students Setting Goals). In that context, we talk a little about career goals, but primarily the focus is on more immediate ones during the course of the school year. In that context, I’m kicking myself for not sitting down with the long-term ELL’s in both my Intermediate English and mainstream classes and having individual frank discussions with them about their hopes and dreams for the future, how those might be negatively impacted by being labeled a long-term ELL (including, but not limited to, restricting the kinds of classes they can take, which in turn will limit their college options, which in turn will limit their career options), and then helping them develop a clear plan on what they can do about it individually and what we can do about it together.

I know if I had done that, the vast majority of them — if not all of them — would have responded very positively. I think many of my colleagues came to similar realizations, and I’m confident things are going to be different in the future.

Today, we talked a lot about teaching writing to ELL’s. A great source of material — not only for ELL’s but for mainstream students, as well — are free Writing Assessment Handbooks that can be downloaded at The California Writing Project website. It’s a great resource for all sorts of writing resources. I particularly like them for their examples of student writing.

I’m going to add that link to The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement.

We also discussed Robert B. Kaplan’s “Cultural Thought Patterns In Intercultural Education” (go to second page) and how they can be applied to teaching writing to ELL’s. Many readers of this blog might be familiar with his research, but I’m embarrassed to say that very few of us at the training were. Based on his teaching and his research, he identified several “rhetorical and syntactic features that occur” in different cultures. By knowing them (and he developed some fairly well-known simple diagrams that you can see in that link), it can provide us another kind of lens through which to see ELL writing.

I know there are lot of critiques of Kaplan’s categories. I figure it’s just another “diagnostic” tool we can use as we review our student writing. For me, because of what I learned today, I’ll have more patience as it helps me more clearly see that some of my student’s writing isn’t “bad” or “wrong.” Instead, it might just be reflective of their cultural orientation. I can acknowledge it and respect it, and I can also tell them that often within the academic culture and style of the United States, it may not get them to where they want to go, and then help them see what they need to do differently.

In many ways, it reminds me of the on-going discussion in community organizing groups about the use of language in meetings and negotiations. Yes, we want to respect and value native languages, and provide some translation. But the bottom line is that in the U.S. English is the language of power, and if people want to get their fair share of power — in the context of practical U.S. political life — they will need to learn English.

Once they get that power, then they can be less concerned about what language they want to speak. The same goes for ELL writing — for now, rightly or wrongly, students  need to write more in the expected U.S. academic style (though, just as we provide some translation in organizing, we can provide a little space for writing flexibility). But afterwards, they can join writers like Sandra Cisneros and others in writing in whatever style they want.

I’d love to hear other people’s perspectives on all this. Feel free to leave a comment.

I’ll probably write another post later in the week to recap the next few days. We’ll be spending a lot of time on the WRITE Institute next.

This kind of quality professional development is so important.  Teachers said they wanted it, helped plan it, the agenda is flexible according to our needs, and we’re getting paid to attend it.   It’s unfortunate that, based on what I hear, many teachers can’t say the same about the PD activities offered in their districts and schools.

February 25, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Lesson Highlighting Community Assets — Not Deficits

'San Francisco neighborhood map (1960)' photo (c) 2013, Eric Fischer - license:

One of the guiding principles of my nineteen year community organizing career was to look at, and think about, the communities where we organize and their residents in terms of their assets and not their deficits.

That viewpoint has continued to be the cornerstone of my teaching career, as well. I am always trying to look at my students through the lens of their assets and not their deficits.

That perspective is also the theme of my upcoming book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work and of an article I co-wrote with our principal last year titled The Positive Impact Of English Language Learners At An Urban School.

One of the lessons I describe in the book uses this theme to help students identify the assets in their own neighborhoods, too. Since some hand-outs I use in the lesson are reproduced in the book, I don’t believe I can legally upload them here without their permission. I can, however, describe it and share a bunch of other useful materials. You can easily create your own lesson with the information in this post whether you buy the book or not.

In a nutshell, our Intermediate English students compare their neighborhood (which is where our inner-city school is located) with the wealthiest neighborhood in Sacramento (called The Fabulous Forties). They write a persuasive essay about which is better and, ninety-five percent of the time they choose….their neighborhood. I’ll share a link to many of those essays at the end of this post.

How do they reach that conclusion?

First, we do a “Word Splash” pre-teaching about ten vocabulary words, like “affordable” and “demographics.”

Next, students identify and rate the qualities they value in a neighborhood they want to live in. This is one of the hand-outs in the book, and includes ethnic diversity, people who share their own ethnicity, affordable housing, etc. They also add their own. They then combine these items into categories (I also discuss — at length — in my book about this kind of “inductive” teaching). Typically, the categories fall into money, people, or services.

Then, they research demographic data about their neighborhood (in our case, it’s the 95823 zip code) in the computer lab. You can find the downloadable research sheet and links students used at our Intermediate English blog post titled Neighborhood Research.

We then go on a field trip in the neighborhood where students take notes (and photos using digital cameras) of specific things they see. The note-taking form is also in the book. They also have a Google Maps print-out of the neighborhood where they draw what they see. Our trip got rained out this year, but it worked fine using Street View on Google Maps in the classroom.

Next, students use their observations and research data to review their list of important neighborhood qualities, and put a check mark with a colored pencil on the ones their neighborhood has.

Then it’s time for the Fabulous Forties. We revisit the computer lab again, and students use the same Neighborhood Research form to get data for that zip code (95819). They write it next to their home neighborhood data in a different color pencil.

We take a field trip to that neighborhood and repeat the same touring process we need in our school neighborhood. Occasionally, we’ve gotten nervous looks and questions from residents there, so we model the best ways to respond.

Back at school, we have students again review their list of neighborhood qualities, and put check marks in a different color next to the ones they feel are represented well in the Fabulous Forties.

Students then take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. They label one side “95823″ and the other “95819.” Using the check marks they made, they then list the neighborhood qualities that each zip code has. The school neighborhood typically has a huge list, while the Fabulous Forties usually has one or two.

Using a Persuasive Essay outline from The Write Institute (which they have used previously), students then write an essay saying which neighborhood they think is better.

You can see all the essays students wrote this year at our Intermediate English blog. Students also commented on other students’ essays, and you can read and hear those, too. Here are a couple of examples from this year.

Students are now designing and writing about their ideal neighborhood, and will finish-up this unit by creating posters to encourage local families to cooperate with the U.S. Census to help make their community even better (see Persuasive Essays, Low-Income Communities & The Census Count). We’re considered a “hard-to-count” area by the Census.

It’s a pretty neat unit that teaches some pretty big lessons — and the most important ones are not necessarily related to language development (though it’s great for that, too).

Coincidentally, GOOD Magazine is now holding a contest for people to create infographics that are somehow related to their neighborhood. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they come-up with, and perhaps use them as a model for our students to create their own infographic next year. GOOD just made all the submissions public. I’m not sure if any of them are really suitable as models, but they are interesting.

GOOD Magazine has now developed an infographic titled Poorest and Richest Neighborhoods of The USA. It’s really not one of their better ones, but is still usable as a model.

GOOD Magazine just published an issue on the topic of “neighborhoods.” Though its not really accessible to English Language Learners, some of their articles gave me some great ideas to use next year.

One piece they wrote highlighted fictional neighborhoods in literature. Accessible examples would be a great addition to the unit plan.

They also wrote about songs that featured neighborhoods. Playing, and singing, some examples, followed by students writing their own song of their neighborhood would be a lot of fun and an excellent language-learning opportunity.

GOOD also shared their criteria for a perfect neighborhood. That would be interesting to compare with what students come-up with when they create their own.

I first posted about City-Data nearly two years ago. It’s an extraordinary research tool. Type in a name of pretty much any good-sized city in the United States and you’ll get a huge amount of….data about that city. It will be displayed in a variety of forms.

I was prompted to take another look at City-Data based on a post in Google Maps Mania. If anything, it even gives you more data now, including by zip code.

Because the availability of information by zip code, I’m adding it to this post. As I noted in my original post, it has so much data it can be confusing to English Language Learners. Because of that, the data resources I share in our classroom blog should be sufficient. However, if you want to do a more thorough analysis of communities, City-Data is the way to go.

I’m thinking of adding a couple of additional components to this lesson:

* The Gallup Poll recently did a project called Soul of the Community. It worked in twenty-six communities in different parts of the United States to identify what residents felt most positive about in their neighborhoods. I’m thinking that it might be interesting for students to compare what that poll identified as important with what the student concluded, and then discuss any differences.

* Along those same lines, I’m thinking of having students review what urban planners typically consider as qualities of a “good” neighborhood, and have them compare again. Two sources for this information are an article titled My Former Life As An Urban Planner and a book titled Good Neighborhoods: A Study of In-Town and Suburban Residential Environments. I’ve ordered a copy of the book, and plan to develop a simple read aloud from it. You can also read parts of it here.

I think adding something like this will provide even more opportunities for higher-order thinking in the lessons.

I’ve written about another tool that I think can be used in this lesson — “Connecting the Dots: Interpreting U.S. Census Data.”

And here’s yet another tool: “This Tract” Is An Amazing Way To Access U.S. Census Data.

One more tool: Do Your Students Live In A “Food Desert”?

The Seven Wonders….Of The Neighborhood?

Poisoned Places is an NPR site that lets you identify toxic sites in your neighborhood.

Focusing On Neighborhood Assets — One Of My Favorite Lessons! is my newest post on teaching this unit.

Videos Of My Students’ “Ideal Neighborhoods”

Trulia has created an impressive interactive crime map showing neighborhoods in different cities around the United States. Unfortunately, Sacramento isn’t one of the cities included in their list yet. It could be helpful to this activity — if and when they add our city. You can read more about the tool at Read Write Web. (NOTE: They have dramatically expanded the information they share (flooding and earthquake hazards, schools, etc.) and the number of neighborhoods they cover. In fact, it seems they do it for just about everywhere in the U.S., but perhaps I’m overstating it.) Well, they seem to have even added more info to it.

BlockAvenue gives every neighborhood in the United States a “grade” and lets users review businesses in each area, too. It could be an excellent place for students to do some authentic writing, which is why I’m adding it to The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience.” It could also be an excellent addition to this lesson. BlockAvenue could be a great place for students to post their final neighborhood essays.

“Google Maps Streetview Player” Is Just What I’ve Been Looking For!

Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks is a simple tool that lets you determine them median income for every census tract in the United States just by typing in an address.

Student Neighborhood Asset Essays (& Bonus Slideshow)

We’re In The Middle Of My Favorite Unit Of The Year — Comparing Neighborhoods

English Language Learners Design Their Own “Ideal” Neighorhoods

County Health Rankings Interactive Application is from The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. Type in any zipcode and you sure get a lot of info on that community.

The State Of California released an environmental and health risk map for every zip code in the state. You can access the map here, and read about it here.

Here’s a powerful tweet about Chicago students look at the assets in their neighborhood, too:

February 14, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

Students Annotating Text

At our school, we really push students to get comfortable and familiar with the idea of annotating academic text that they’re reading. That’s just one of several reasons why we don’t use standard textbooks much in our English classes, and instead use copied units from Pebble Creek Labs, the Write Institute, or ones developed by local universities. And we always have a lot of post-it notes on hand for when we aren’t using consumables. We encourage students to read text with a pen or highlighter in their hands.

This is why I’m really big on web apps that let you annotate webpages (see Best Applications For Annotating Websites).

This kind of annotation habit is a reminder and strategy for students to interact more meaningfully with the text, and makes follow-up work so much easier (unit projects, studying for tests, etc.). It’s a habit that they’ll find useful for years to come.

Annotation “prompts” include using the typical reading strategies (ask a question, make a connection, visualize by drawing a picture and writing what it is, summarizing, predicting, and agreeing/disagreeing) and highlighting a specifically limited number of words (to help students develop the discipline of not highlighting tons of them). For highlighting, I usually give a certain number of words in a paragraph (three to five) that are either the most important point, or new information, writing they like, descriptive phrases, etc.

Out of curiosity, I asked students in my mainstream ninth grade English class to write a sentence or two during their weekly reflection explaining why they annotate text. I was interested in seeing if they “got it” or if some would say they did it just because it was assigned to do.

Of course, in this kind of situation, students might also respond in the way they believe the teacher wants them to, but I was pleased to see most of their answers. Here are a few examples:

“I don’t know but I think that we do it to improve ourselves around reading and writing.” (Kudos to this student for using the sentence frame displayed prominently on the classroom wall with a “I Don’t Know” crossed out and replaced with “I Don’t Know, But I Think That…”

“I think we spend so much time highlighting so we could be more good readers and understand the text.”

“To understand it better.”

“So we can get used to it and better at using the reading strategies.”

“Maybe because it helps us identify the main points and helps us understand what it’s about.”

“So we remember the lesson for the future.”

Do you encourage annotating text in the classroom? How?

February 14, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

If You Teach ELL’s In Grade Six Or Above, These Are “Must-Have” Resources

I’ve often written about The Write Institute, the absolutely incredible thematically-based writing units that we use with English Language Learners (and other students) at our school.

I haven’t seen anything that comes close to it in terms of engaging and effective writing instruction.

Even though it includes some outdated links, you can get a limited sense of the units from a webpage I’ve created to provide online support for our students.

One of its drawbacks, though, has been that the reproducible and consumable units have only been available to school districts who officially partner with the Institute.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought.

You can now purchase — for $20 each — the supplemental units the WRITE Institute creates and then reproduce them for a one-time classroom use.

These supplemental units are not the full ones that we use (I’m assuming that those are still only available to partners), but they include the most important parts of them.

I’m not sure if this is a recent development, or if they’ve always been available and I just didn’t know about it.

I’d still encourage your district to become a partner with the Institute because of the additional units and training that comes along with it.

However, if you’re not in that situation, I can honestly think of no better way to spend your money (except, perhaps, on buying my book on teaching ELL’s when it’s published in April :))

I’m adding this information to The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement.

December 3, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

Our ELD (English Language Development) Program At Luther Burbank High School

We’re working on developing a short description of our English Language Development (ELD — it’s what public schools call their ESL program in many parts of California) program at Luther Burbank High School.

I thought readers might be interested in the latest draft:

Luther Burbank’s ELD program uses many of the same elements that can be found in our mainstream classes — an emphasis on students reading books of their own choosing; heavily scaffolded writing instruction (our ELD uses The Write Institute curriculum as our core lessons); and use of inductive teaching methods so students can “discover” knowledge as much as they are “taught” it. Our two Intermediate classes also heavily use technology.

Our classes include one Beginner, one Early Intermediate; two Intermediate; and a 9.1 and 10.1 for higher level students. Several of these classes are double or triple “blocks.” We also have Math, Science and Social Science classes specifically geared towards ELD students.

In addition to classes during the day, we also provide additional support to our ELD students. We have an after-school conversational English class where our ELD students are “taught” by other native-English students. We provide computers and home Internet access to students and their families who use our website for improving their English skills. And we have an after-school class to help prepare ELD students to pass the California High School Exit Exam.

July 9, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

Student Evaluations Of Summer School Class

My three week summer school class of  Beginning English Language Learners is over tomorrow, and I have to say it felt more like summer “camp” than summer “school.”   Students worked hard, but I think we all had a lot of fun, too.  Students in neighboring classrooms playfully complained about all our singing.

As much fun as it was, I have to also say I’m ready for my summer break.

Students made a number of VoiceThreads, which you can see at the Student Showcase blog (though I still have several more to post there). They worked in pairs on three projects — Introducing Themselves, a fable or story, and one focusing on their culture. I’ll be adding some of them to The Best Online Examples of My Students’ Work.

Students also just completed an anonymous evaluation of the class and me.

The most highly rated activities were:

* Reading their own books at the beginning of each class.

* Learning English using the  Picture Word Inductive Model, which is an instructional strategy I use a lot with Beginning English Language Learners.

* Reading books from Reading A-Z, which are great “leveled” books you can print-out and duplicate.

* Working in the computer lab (In Results From Student Evaluation Of My Class And Me (Part Two), where I shared the evaluation from last year’s Intermediate English class, students didn’t rate the computer lab as highly. My theory was that the low assessment was a result of less opportunity to create their own content. These new results might suggest I was correct).

* Working on an essay (we used The Write Institute curriculum to begin developing a biographical essay).

* Learning about phonics — inductively. In many ways, this process is similar to the Picture Word Inductive Model.

The least-liked activities were:

* Singing songs

* Learning about U.S. History (we used a guide to the U.S. citizenship exam that was pretty high-level for Beginning ELL’s. They liked learning about the content, but the book itself was probably too challenging for half the class).

My Grades:

I received a B-plus grade as a teacher, and an A-minus grade for my patience.

Though I am beginning my break, I will also continue to do a little work on one school project — we’re starting a pretty ambitious school/community garden project with a ton of raised beds and a greenhouse.  Families of a number of our immigrant students are pretty excited about it.  I’ll write more in a future post.

June 10, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Results From Student Evaluation Of My Class And Me (Part Two)

Last week I shared the results of an evaluation completed by students in my ninth-grade mainstream English class.

Today, I had students in my Intermediate English class complete an anonymous evaluation, too, though some of the questions were a bit different.

I’ll first share the results, and then some reflections on them:


FAVORITE CLASS ACTIVITIES: The four top-ranked activities were field trips, working in the computer lab,  playing learning games in class, and reading in class.

LEAST FAVORITE CLASS ACTIVITIES:  The four least-liked activities were reading at home, doing homework,  writing essays, and watching videos (we do it by using an activity called Back to the Screen that practices listening, speaking, and writing skills).

ACTIVITIES WHERE STUDENTS FELT THEY LEARNED THE MOST: Writing essays was the top-ranking activity in this category, which is interesting since it was listed as one of the least favorite class activities.  The second-ranked activity was watching videos, another one that was voted one of the least favorite ones.  Field trips and reading in class were the other two top-ranked in this category.

ACTIVITIES WHERE STUDENTS FELT THEY LEARNED THE LEAST: Playing games and working in the computer lab were the two “winners’ here, which was interesting because they were listed near the top of which activities students liked the most.  The other activities in this category included vocabulary and reading homework.


On the positive side, students rated me very high in patience, in spending time getting to know them, being friendly, being organized, and in working hard.

They also said that I should maintain better class discipline and that I talk too much.

All except two would like to have me as a teacher again.

PACE OF THE CLASS: All students said the pace of the class was “Just right.”

THE CLASS WOULD BE BETTER IF_____: The primary response was that students would have liked to spend more time practicing speaking skills.


I do find it interesting that students felt they learned the most from some activities they liked the least (writing essays and doing the listening/speaking/writing process with videos).

Students listed the computer lab as one of the activities where they felt they learned the least.  I believe that has more to do with my getting a bit “lazy” near the end of the year about how we used our lab time.  I believe that this ranking will change dramatically next year when I plan on having students more engaged in content creation and interaction with our international sister classes.

I need to spend time thinking about if and how I can make the vocabulary and reading homework a better learning experience (they were both ranked low by students in that category).  For vocabulary, students need to identify new words, create their own personal “dictionaries” and use them as a basis for a speaking activity in class.  For reading, they need to read a book of their choice for thirty minutes each night.

Our primary focus in Intermediate English is developing writing skills using the great Write Institute curriculum. There’s plenty of time to incorporate more opportunities for speaking practice in class, but it’s also easy to focus entirely on writing which, based on student feedback, we did this year. So, next year, I’ll need to be more conscious of incorporating speaking activities.

Any other thoughts?

April 1, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience”

I’ve been spending time over this past year reflecting and evaluating on how I can be more effective in teaching writing — both to English Language Learners and my mainstream ninth-grade students.  In fact, all the English teachers at our school have been doing the same thing.  Our school got a grant that enabled us to contract with the California Writing Project to do ongoing teacher development.

In addition to that work, those of us who teach English Language Development (which is what most others call ESL) classes have been refining our work with the extraordinary The Write Institute curriculum.

I’ve also been thinking more about the idea of students writing for an “authentic audience” — in other words, someone other than me.

In practice, so far that’s meant my ELL’s writing penpal letters (with pen and on paper) to students (who would respond) in another mainstream English class, and that has worked very well for both classes.

In addition, students have enjoyed participating in our International Sister Classes project, but, because of other commitments, I haven’t made that much of a priority this year (I hope to do better next year!).  Developing online presentations is great, though time consuming, and then there’s the responsibility of communicating and commenting back-and-forth.  Of course, there are a lot of benefits to that kind of relationship, too, which is why I want to re-engage in the fall. You can find more information on how to connect up with “sister classes” at The Best Ways To Find Other Classes For Joint Online Projects.

I’ve also been trying to pull together a list of easy online sites where students write more for an “authentic audience” and meet the following criteria:

* The writing required would be short, not lengthy pieces, that could be done in a reasonable amount of time — a few days at a maximum and preferably less.

* The creating and posting process is simple — accessible both to my English Language Learner students and to me.

* Posting the piece does not necessarily require any kind of ongoing commitment for communication — once it’s up, it might be interesting to check-back after awhile to see if there have been any reactions (if the site is set-up for that kind of involvement), but it’s really just a matter of sticking it up there in a place that gets a fair amount of “traffic” and  knowing that it’s likely others will read it.

* There seems to be some kind of enforced standards for all the content that’s posted on the site.  In other words,  when students explore it to see models of what others have written, it’s unlikely they will encounter something that is inappropriate for classroom use.

With that criteria in mind, here are my picks for The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience” (not in order of preference):

Recipe Key lets you drag-and-drop items into a virtual pantry, and then provides recipes of dishes you might be able to prepare with them.  More importantly, students can also write for an authentic audience by contributing their own recipes.

Recipe Snap is another similar site with a very scaffolded system for users to write their own recipes.

Yelp is the enormously popular site where people write reviews about everything. Sometimes you’ll see other reviews that might have inappropriate language and haven’t been removed yet, but that problem seems pretty rare.

Rate It All is another site where users can post reviews about everything.  Some advantages that Rate It All, however, has over those other listed sites are that you can post a review without being registered, and you can post it via email, too. That’s a great advantage if school content filters block the review sites themselves.  Thanks to TechCrunch for the tip. Their post explains more about how Rate It All works. (Rate It All left this comment on my original post: “ESL educators can submit themselves to our database here: By doing so, a unique email address will be generated for them, allowing them to easily solicit feedback and reviews directly from their students.)

Book reviews are great writing opportunities. ELL teacher Jennifer Duarte had some challenges having her students write ones for Amazon (not least of which being you have to buy something before they let you publish a review). Shelfari, though, seems like a very reasonable alternative. Students can create their own virtual bookshelf and write reviews of them.

Library Thing is similar to Shelfari, and is another good place for writing book reviews. Goodreads is another book review site.

Zunal is a free and easy way for students (and teachers) to create webquests (though they might be more appropriately called Internet Scavenger Hunts).  Zunal also acts as the host for the webquest or scavenger hunt after its been created.  All “webquests” that are created using their fairly scaffolded system are listed on the site, so there are plenty of examples.

Lunch is another new review/recommendation site somewhat different from Yelp. You can read about it at Read Write Web. It’s still in “private” testing, but I received an invite within seconds.

Writing reviews about places where students traveled or lived is another good writing opportunity.  They can leave comments on places at Trip Wolf, Gogobot, or on Go Planit, three large travel guides on the web.  Here are some recent additions to this list that also related to travel:

Travel DK, which lets you easily create your own online travel guides including writing reviews of attractions (Thanks to Diana Dell for the tip).

Discover America, which is a similar travel site that lets you write reviews (obviously, just places in the U.S.).

I’ve posted about Culture Crossing before. It’s a wonderful social studies resource, but I neglected to include that it would be a great opportunity for authentic writing, too. It’s a unique resource for information about different countries. It provides some basic demographics, but it also shares details about communication style, dress, gestures, etc. It’s unlike any other source of information about countries that’s on the web, and accepts user contributions. Certainly, English Language Learners are well-positioned to write about their native countries.

Students can pick a painting, or create their own artwork, and then write a story about it at  The Art of Storytelling.  It’s a site from the Delaware Art Museum that allows you to not only do either one of those activities, but you can also  record your story with your computer microphone.  Plus, you can read and listen to stories written and spoken by others.  It’s extraordinarily simple, and extraordinarily accessible to any level of English Language Learner.  No registration is required.

Myths and Legends is a United Kingdom site where students can create slideshows about……myths and legends. It’s pretty neat and easy, and has the added great benefit of letting students record the narration for their story. Teachers have to register, and they’re very open to schools participating from around the world.  All the stories that have been created are available for viewing.  This application seems to require more writing, and the posted content seems to be more controlled, then a number of other multimedia sites I considered for inclusion in this list.

Scribd also seems to me to be a good place to upload a variety of student writing, especially now since they’ve supposedly removed all pornography from the site. They used to have a great text-to-speech feature, but they’ve eliminated it.

Students can leave a comment on a positive news story at Optimist World. The stories are engaging and relatively accessible to Intermediate English Language Learners. Because of the nature of the site, students are less likely to encounter some of the rude, inappropriate, and incoherent comments that are often left at more traditional news sites. You’re supposed to also be able to contribute stories to the site, but it’s not clear to me how that’s done.

Moment Tracker lists key events in modern history. You pick one, and you’re shown a map that indicates the key event and what happened. On the same map, you see other pins indicating where other people where at that moment. Click on the pins, and you can read where they were and what they were feeling at that moment. You, too, can write about your own experience.

Students both asking and answering questions at the various online Wiki-like sites like Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and Wikianswers (yes, the last two are indeed different sites) are definitely examples of writing for an “authentic audience.”  I had considered including students writing in Simple English Wikipedia, but decided that it was just too complicated for English Language Learners (and even me!).  These question/answer sites, though, are pretty simple.

Dogo News is a site designed for young people “of fun and inspiring news from all around the world.” It’s written in relatively simple English with short articles, and is accessible to Intermediate English Language Learners.  Readers vote on which articles they like, and can leave comments.  Because it’s easy to leave comments, and they appear to be moderated, I’m adding the site to this list.

My Hero is a site where students can write about people they view as…heroes. You can register and create a multimedia webpage about your choices, but, even better (at least, in my view), you can go to the Guestbook area and write a short piece that appears immediately (there are automatic filters to screen content, plus it’s manually screened later).

Tikatok a site that is a real find for English Language Learners (and lots of other students). Users can create online books that they write and illustrate (they can also use lots of images available on the site). It has a number of features that really make it stand-out. You can make a book from scratch, or you can use one of their many story frames that contain “prompts” to help the story-writer along. In addition, you can invite others to collaborate online with you to develop the book.

Once the book is done you can email the link to a friend, teacher, or yourself for posting on a blog, website, or online journal and the site is available on Titatok for others to read. You can create the online version for free, but have to pay if you want them to print a hard-copy version.

Tar Heel Reader has two great features: 1) It has 1,000 simple books with audio support for the text immediately accessible to Beginning English Language Learners and 2) It makes it as simple as you can get for students to create their own “talking” books using images from Flickr.

Anybody can read the books on the site.  However, in order to have your students create talking books using their “easy as pie” (and free) process, you need to register and have to have a code.  They’re rightfully concerned about publishing the code because of spammers.  Gary Bishop from the site, though, is happy to provide it to teachers.  Just write him at [email protected] and he’ll send it to you.

At the Destinations website, users first write the location of a place they would like to visit, and then a very brief explanation of why they want to go there. Their response is then shown on a map of the area they chose, along with the url address of their place and what they wrote.  The website creators send out a “tweet” on Twitter after each time someone responds, and they review each response and consider placing it on their regular front page “rotation.”  All this can be done without registering.

Students can make a “top ten” list of anything they want — cars, books, video games — and describe the reasons for their rankings.  Two popular sites that encourage user contributions (and make it easy to do so) are Lists Of Bests and The Top Tens.

Basically, after a simple registration, you can decide on a local place or event, or one that is at a distant location, and write about it. You can also search Flickr for images that would be appropriate photos, and identify the spot on a map. It’s then available for others who search for the area or type of event you’ve written about.

Daytipper is the newest addition to this list.

I’m just going to quote from The Make Use of blog to describe it (it’s worth reading their whole post):

DayTipper is a platform for sharing practical daily life tips. It has more than 7500 published tips submitted by users in various categories (Buying/Selling, Travel, Education, Family, Household etc.) that provide insights to very specific everyday problems such as “How to make a room seem bigger” or “No more smelly feet”.

Student could easily develop and post their own short “tips.”

Nik Peachey has written a post describing an excellent writing activity for English Language Learners — write a story in fifty words.  It’s definitely worth a look.  Students can write one and post it at the Daily Lit website.

Opposing Views highlights key questions (political, scientific, etc). It then, in a fairly succinct “bullet” format, has an “expert” share pro and con arguments. Users of the site can also leave their own comments.  The language and lay-out of the site is fairly accessible to Intermediate English Language Learners.  After reading the arguments, users can easily leave their own comments on the issue.

Survival Strategies is a new interactive feature from The New York Times.  People offer brief ideas on how they’re saving money now in the recession. Readers can vote on which ones they think are best. You have to register in order to vote, offer suggestions, or contribute your own.

BBC Memoryshare is a “place to share and explore memories.” The site has a cool-looking timeline where you can access memories that people have written — on just about anything. In addition, and most importantly for this post, you can contribute a memory (after quickly registering at the BBC). Each memory is accessible through the timeline, through a keyword, or through an individual url address.

Newsy is a site that — in short videos — compares how major news events are covered by media throughout the world.  You can leave comments if you’re registered.  For that reason, I’m also adding it to this list.    The speaking is pretty fast and relatively high-level, so it’s probably only accessible to advanced English Language Learners.  It does provide a transcript to the audio, but it’s not actually closed-captioned.  That doesn’t make it particularly useful to ELL’s.  It’s a well done site.  I’m probably going to be using it more with my International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge class than with my English Language Learners.

Project Label is a new site that I’m adding to this list.  The site provides “social nutrition” labels to corporations based on a number of criteria including safety, nutrition, values, etc. The labels in large part are determined by users on the site who vote on the usefulness and validity of articles on the corporations that other users upload.   Students can write their own articles to add, or can leave comments on the articles that others contribute, in addition to voting.

Timelines is a neat tool that lets users contribute towards making “timelines” of historical events with text, photos, and videos. People can then vote on which ones they like best, though everyone’s contributions appear to remain displayed.  It’s extremely easy to contribute — much, much easier than to something like Wikipedia.

Share Your Ideas is a neat feature on the California Academy of Science website. Users can easily leave their ideas on how to help the environment, which then appear on sort of a bulletin-board like page. You can read more about the site here.

Students can write-up simple tutorials on just about anything and submit them to LearnThat.

Twick it is designed to be sort of a version of Wikipedia. The difference is that every entry has to be 140 characters or less. In the future, once there are many entries, it might be a great source of information for English Language Learners. Now, however, it’s an excellent opportunity for students to identify topics, develop their own 140 character answer or description about the topic, and then post it to the site.

The BBC’s “A History Of The World” is a neat interactive timeline display of historical objects with images and commentary. Not only is it an accessible and engaging way to learn more about world history, but after a quick site registration you can contribute your own historical object choice to the collection and write about it.

The New York Times recently launched Student Opinion “to create a “safe space” on – and on the Internet overall – for students 13 and older to voice their views on the news.” You can read a much fuller explanation about the feature here.

EducoPark lets you write about a “life lesson” you learned and how you learned it, as well as begin an online discussion on challenges and how to face them. Users can leave comments on these lessons, and vote on which ones were most helpful. I didn’t see anything particularly inappropriate for the classroom in a quick review of the site, and it seemed pretty interesting. I think it might be a good place opportunity for students to share their own “life lessons” and comment on others.

All Voices is a news site that includes news from mainstream sources as well as contributions from registered users. It seems like they do a good job of collecting engaging stories, and the site itself is attractive. The reason I’m posting about it, though, is because I think it’s a good place for ELL’s to leave comments on current events. Unlike the comments section of most major news outlets, from what I can see, those who comment maintain a degree of civility.

At Site Jabber, users can write reviews of websites. It appears to be primarily aimed at online businesses, but there are lots of other websites reviewed, too. Students can write reviews of their favorite online sites, including (but not limited to) the ones we use for English learning.

Explorra is a new travel site that appears to be designed to compete with the many others that allow you to create your own travel itinerary. I’ve posted many of those similar sites at The Best Sites Where Students Can Plan Virtual Trips. I wouldn’t add Explorra to that list, though — the others seem to do a better job at that.

However, Explorra does have one feature I really, really like — the ability for users to create an online guide to anyplace in the world. After sign-up, which only takes a minute, you identify a city, country or state, and then start listing what you think are the most interesting places there. Explorra will search the Web for images of each location, and you can write descriptions.

Music Explained is a new site where you can pick a song and write about what you think it means and how you feel about it. It could be a nice place for students to write about their favorite music and see what others have written, too. The link to student writing could be posted on a student or teacher blog/website. They indicate that there is some monitoring of what people write, but it’s unclear to what extent it is reviewed.

At Web of Fate, users can write predictions of events and explain their reasons why.

“My Immigration Story” is designed for immigrants to share their story in 200 words or less. It’s specifically designed to:

Let other Americans know how the current generation of immigrants is helping enrich this land of opportunity.

Baby Name Voyager is a fascinating data visualization tool that shows you the popularity of specific names during the last thirteen decades. You just type in a name, and an interactive chart appears seconds later. It’s really pretty interesting. But that’s not really why I’m writing about it. Even better, you click on a name and you’re given information about it, and offered the opportunity to write about it. Now, for students, this is pretty high-interest stuff — learn how popular your name has been over the past 130 years, learn about its historical roots, and write about your personal experience with it as your name. There are some caveats, though. It only shows the most popular 1000 names in a decade, and it appears (though I can’t be sure) to show only names in the United States. It seems to have a fairly large number of Latino names, but there are very few Asian ones. So it’s problematic for teachers in a school like mine (one-third Southeast Asian) to use the site.

Virtual Tourist is a new site that makes it easy for students (and anybody else) to write about places where they have lived or where they have traveled.

Tripline just opened for business, and it’s a great map-making application. You just list the various places you want to go in a journey, or a famous trip that has happened in history or literature, or a class field trip itinerary, and a embeddable map is created showing the trip where you can add written descriptions and photos. You can use your own photos or just search through Flickr. Plus, you can pick a soundtrack to go with it as it automatically plays through the travels.

Here are examples of the ride of Paul Revere and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

It’s super-easy to use, and the only tricky part is that you can’t add photos until after you create your trip and save it. That’s not a big deal, unless you couldn’t figure it out like me and had to contact the site.

Students can write short (500 characters or less) reviews of books, movies, TV shows, or music at Hello Hype.

Dropping Knowledge is a site where users can both pose and answer “deep” questions (Why do we lie to ourselves? Are women better human beings than men?) It seems to be very heavily moderated for inappropriate content.
I could see it be a useful site for both ELL’s and my IB Theory of Knowledge students.

Faces of Learning is a new website where, among other things, anybody (including students) can share a short response to the question “What was your most powerful personal experience in a learning community – regardless of whether that experience took place inside or outside of school?” After registering, students can both write their response and make an audio recording of it.

The Good Guide is sort of a user-created geographical, social, cultural guide to the world. You can ask and answer questions about places and, more importantly, can create your own “infoguides” to places of your choice.

Gangaroo lets your search for pretty much any product on Amazon and other sites, click on it, write a review of it, and then the image, your description and your review will show up on a public list. You can make separate lists of books, DVD’s, music CD’s, etc. You can post the url address to your list and its publicly viewable, but only registered users can leave comments.

Stories Unbound is a super-simple application that lets identify a point on a world map and write a short story related to it. It’s a very clean interface.

Step Station is a new site that lets users create simple step-by-step directions to do…anything.

Empedia is a new site that lets you access Wikipedia in a different interface and “add” new content through specific sections like lists, personal experiences and polls. Most important of all, it’s about a million times easier to add this info to Empedia than it is to Wikipedia itself (of course, it’s not seen by as many people, either).

Consmr lets you write a review of just about anything, ranging from toothpaste to cans of tomato sauce.

Mistakeville is a nice site where students can write about mistakes they’ve made and what they’ve learned from them.

Wikipedia announced a new “visual editor” that will make it much more accessible to contribute to its pages. They’re introducing it slowly, and it doesn’t appear that it will work for most entries for awhile.

I think it will be a great opportunity for students. Wikipedia’s complicated interface has made it problematic for use by “mainstream” users. The Visual Editor will make it extremely easy (you can try it out at the above link) to use, and it’s a great opportunity to write for an authentic audience.

Voices Of Youth is a site set-up by UNICEF where young people from around the world can write and interact about issues like “Environment, Education, Human Rights, etc.”

Here’s an excerpt from the sites “FAQ’s”:

Educators can work with their students using VOY in several ways: read and comment on posts, write original posts as individuals or as a group, create short films to post or take photographs to share with the VOY community.

The Best Places Where Students Can Post Book Reviews For Authentic Audiences

BlockAvenue gives every neighborhood in the United States a “grade” and lets users review businesses in each area, too. It could be an excellent place for students to do some authentic writing. It could also be an excellent addition to my favorite lesson of each school year where students compare their neighborhood with the most exclusive neighborhood in town and choose which one they think is best (students invariably pick their own). BlockAvenue could be a great place for them to post their final essays.

In Looking For Assets, Not Deficits I talk about a new site and strategy called TimeSlips.

I’d love to hear other suggestions.

There are a lot of other kinds of “products” students (videos, timelines, online tests, comic strips, etc.) can create for an “authentic audience”, and I’ll be creating another “The Best…” list sharing them (I’ve done this — The Best Places Where Students Can Create Online Learning/Teaching Objects For An “Authentic Audience”). In addition, I’ll be writing another list describing different ways teachers can connect with others who might be interested in developing “sister class” relationships to create and provide more authentic audiences (in addition to the other learning benefits gained).

As always, feedback is welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at previous “The Best…” lists and also consider subscribing to this blog for free.

March 18, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Resources For Researching & Writing Biographies

All of my classes — at one point or another — have to write biographies of historical figures.  They’re usually in the context of either a “straight” biography, or as part of a compare and contrast essay.

I thought I would put together a “The Best…” list of the biography-related online resources I’ve found most useful and accessible to my English Language Learner students. These will primarily be research sites. For actual writing instruction, I use the Write Institute curriculum, which I’ve posted about previously in The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement and is not available online.  However, I will include a short second section in this list that will share a few sites that I’ve found helpful to students in their writing, particularly for getting good model essays.

I also have quite a few “The Best…” lists on various specific figures, such as Cesar Chavez, Diego Rivera, Martin Luther King, and all the U.S. Presidents (along with quite a few others).

Here are my picks for The Best Resources For Researching & Writing Biographies:


There are three (well, sorta’ four) sites that I believe are all tied for being the best and most accessible sites for biographical research.  The others, which I’ll also list, are more specialized.

The best ones are:

Fact Monster People and Biographies, which has more than 30,000 simple biographies in its database. It’s “sister site,” Infoplease People, has a similar listing, but it includes more information on each figure and isn’t quite as accessible.

The Biographical Dictionary has a listing of 21,000 biographies that are very accessible.

And then there’s the Biography Channel video database. Their written biographies are not particularly accessible, but their videos certainly are.

SweetSearch Biographies has an extensive collection of accessible biographies.

Here are other sources that are less massive, but equally as accessible to ELL’s:

Mr. Nussbaum Biographies

Famous People Lessons (these are specifically designed for ELL’s)

Spartacus Educational U.S. Political Figures

Spartacus Educational U.S. Civil Rights Figures

Spartacus Educational Women’s Suffrage Figures

Children’s Encyclopedia of Women

Garden Of Praise Biographies For Kids

Harcourt Biographies

MacMillan McGraw Hill Publishers have quite a few simple biographies of famous figures in U.S., California, and World History.

The same site also has similar biographies of people who fit into other categories.

The BBC recently revamped their excellent “Famous People” feature that provides accessible simple biographies of historical figures.Their old site, which is is still “live,” is more accessible to English Language Learners with audio support for the text. Their new site, though it has more information and adds more historical figures, does not provide audio support.


I’m not very impressed by the writing instruction resources on the Time For Kids site, but it’s always a good source for model essays, including one for a biography.

The Bio Cube at Read Write Think is somewhat similar to the outline I have my students use in class to organize their essay, though it isn’t the same.

As always, feedback is welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at previous “The Best…” lists and also consider subscribing to this blog for free.

March 3, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Sites For Learning About Cesar Chavez


Cesar Chavez Day is recognized as a holiday by eight states in the U.S., and falls on March 31st — his birthday (or a Monday/Friday that is closest to a weekend). Of course, it’s certainly appropriate to teach about his life at any time during the year, too. I thought I’d take this opportunity, though, to publish a “The Best…” list that might be helpful to teachers.

Here are my picks as The Best Sites For Learning About Cesar Chavez (that are accessible to English Language Learners). They aren’t in any order of preference:

El Civics has a good Cesar Chavez Lesson.

The Library of Congress has some nice accessible features on Chavez.

The United Farm Workers Union itself has a great resource page on Chavez, including videos and E-Cards.

The Cesar Chavez Foundation has a lot of multimedia and Cesar Chavez Toolkits available.

The California Department of Education has a Model Curriculum and Resources For Teachers
on Chavez that you may find useful.

Viva la Causa is a DVD and lesson plan packet available for free from Teaching Tolerance.

Enchanted Learning has a cloze (fill-in-the-gap) biography that can be printed-out.

Glencoe has a short video and additional materials.

Here’s an online lesson for English Language Learners on Chavez from Famous People Lessons.

The National Museum of American History has a great activity related to Chavez and the banning of the terrible short-handled hoe. Students can create their own online virtual museum exhibit.

Brainpop has a Cesar Chavez movie but, unless it’s in the free category for this month, you’ll need to either pay for a subscription or sign-up for a free trial. Generally, it appears they make it available for free during March.

Harcourt has a short, accessible biography.

Cesar Chavez’s Crop of Change is a video from ABC News.

Rose Named After Farmworkers’ Hero is a fascinating story by CBS News.

A very nice new addition to this list is a proclamation issued by President Obama in 2010. Here’s an excerpt:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2010, as Cesar Chavez Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor Cesar Chavez’s enduring legacy.

The Poway Unified School District has an excellent listing, with links, of additional Chavez resources.

President Obama issued a new proclamation for 2011 declaring Cesar Chavez Day.

California Governor Jerry Brown did the same.

A Not-Quite National Holiday: Eight States Celebrate Cesar Chavez Day is from TIME Magazine.

Si Se Puede: Cesar Chavez’s Work Is More Relevant Than Ever is from GOOD Magazine and includes some useful links.

PBS has a nice timeline of his life.

“Remember Cesar Chavez” is a photo gallery from The Los Angeles Times.

The Poway School District also has a nice list of Chavez resources.

6 Curriculum Sources for Celebrating César Chávez Day is from the Granite Bay District and has some good ELL resources about Chavez.

You might also want to see The Best Resources For Hispanic Heritage Month.

Watch Know Learn has several Chavez videos.

Photos: The legacy of labor leader Cesar Estrada Chavez

The WRITE Institute has a great free unit on Cesar Chavez.

“Obama Creates Monument To Cesar Chavez: ‘He Cared’” is a CNN multimedia report on the creation of a monument to honor Cesar Chavez:

Here’s an Associated Press video report on the event:

Cesar Chavez National Historic Park is in the works is an article in today’s Los Angeles Times:

Here’s an excerpt:

The National Park Service on Thursday announced plans to establish the Cesar Chavez National Historic Park, to recognize the achievements of the activist and the farm labor movement he led.

This is a good, short video on Cesar Chavez. It won’t be controversial in states like our which already have an official Cesar Chavez holiday. However, at its end, it does push for President Obama to declare March 31 as the Cesar Chavez National Day of Service, so teachers should use their judgement on whether to use it in class:

New Cesar Chavez Film To Have Screening At White House Tonight

The San Francisco Chronicle has published two good articles related to the new film about Chavez’s life:

‘Cesar Chavez’ movie: An extraordinary ordinary man

‘Chavez’ revives labor leader’s legacy for next generation

Jinnie Spiegler at the Anti-Defamation League has created an accessible lesson on Chavez.

What the New Cesar Chavez Film Gets Wrong About the Labor Activist is from Smithsonian Magazine.

The New Yorker has another critical take

Suggestions are always welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at previous “The Best…” lists and also consider subscribing to this blog for free

February 19, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Non-Web Resources, Online Tools, & Websites I Use Most Often With My Students– 2009

Along with many other educators, I’ve contributed My Top Ten Tools to Jane Hart’s online “Tools Directory.” I thought that I would adapt that idea and create a “The Best…” list highlighting the tools — tech and non-tech — that I use most regularly and most effectively with my students. I’ve labeled it for 2009 because I assume that, as my classes change and as new web applicatons develop, this list will change, too.

This year I teach United States History to Intermediate English Language Learners; ninth grade English to native-English speakers and advanced ELL’s; and Intermediate English.  So this year’s list will reflect that subject matter.  Next year I’ll be teaching an International Baccalaureate (IB) course called “Theory of Knowledge”; ninth grade English to native-English speakers and advanced ELL’s; and Intermediate English – that will be an interesting combinatino.

Here are my picks for The Best Non-Web Resources, Online Tools, & Websites I Use Most Often With My Students:


My students and I are very lucky that we use some great curriculum resources at our school.

Most ninth and tenth grade English classes use a theme-based curriculum created by Kelly Young at Pebble Creek Labs. In our ninth-grade classes we high-interest units on Natural Disasters, New Orleans, Latino Studies, Nelson Mandela, Jamaica, and Mt. Everest to help students develop their reading and writing strategies. I can’t say enough about how student-centered, engaging, and successful it is. It’s also a joy to teach, and provides a lot of room for teacher creativity.

I believe the best writing curriculum out there for English Language Learners is, by far,  the one offered by the WRITE Institute. It’s focused on ELL’s, but we’ve certainly used their materials successfully with mainstream students as well. Their curriculum is only available to schools in Districts that have an official “partnership” with them.  Their lessons range from Beginner to Advanced ELL’s.

America’s Story by Vivian Bernstein is an excellent text covering U.S. History. I can’t believe there’s another one that’s more engaging and accessible to English Language Learners.  We use it to supplement the standard U.S. History textbook.

Another important non-Web resource is Netflix. I frequently use short clips from videos in both my U.S. History and Intermediate English classes, and, for cost and convenience, Netflix is the way to go for DVD rentals.  You can read more at The Best Popular Movies/TV Shows For ESL/EFL list about how I find the best videos, and what I do with them in the classroom.


Edublogs is an indispensable tool. I frequently have students in my Intermediate English class access specific “The Best…” lists located on this blog. One of my United State History classes uses our U.S. History class blog (which, by the way, consists of an entire U.S. History curriculum and is available for public use) everyday, and the other uses it every other week. Readers might remember that I’m doing an interesting experiment this year with my two U.S. History classes. My enthusiasm for Edublogs is no secret — it’s allowed through school content filters, is very easy to use, allows easy uploading of documents, and has great customer service.

I also use Edublogs TV quite a bit. It’s super-easy to upload educational videos from YouTube onto the site which, in turn, allows students to view them at our school.

Even though I am a big supporter of Edublogs, for my English Language Learner students, at least, I have found Posterous to be even a bit more accessible. You’ll see on the U.S. History blog sidebar that each student has a link to their Posterous blog. They post a lot of their assignments there. One of the great things about Posterous is that students can just copy and paste images off the Web directly onto their blog without having to type in the photo’s url address. Of course, my students only use that blog to post their work — not use the comments section for discussion. If they were going to do that, as they do in our international sister classes Student Showcase, then Edublogs would be the way to go.

Students can easily paste images on their Posterous’ blogs and make simple versions of “static” slideshows.  In addition to those images and accompanying text, they can also practice speaking and the embed their narration on their blog.  I’ve had students use Daft Doggy Voice Recording in the past, but for some reason our school’s computer system is having trouble with it now.  Instead, students are now trying-out Vocaroo . It’s another super easy way for students to record a message — of any length — and then place a link or an embed code on a student or teacher website. It’s got to be one of the most simple ways for audio recording out there — no registration is required and you just click “record.”

Tizmos is an easy way for users to save thumbnail images (and links) of their favorite websites on one page. Twice a week I bring my Intermediate English class to the computer lab, and it’s an easy way for each student to identify their favorites from among the 9,000 links on my website. In addition, I can place a link to each student’s Tizmos page on my website so that the whole class can see each other’s choices.  Many students in our school who are writing their “Senior Projects” (a graduation requirement) are using Tizmos to store webpages they are using for their research.


As I’ve already mentioned, my website has 9,000 links accessible to English Language Learners. You can learn more about it at The Best Sections On My Website list.  In addition, I have a page on it specifically to support the curriculum in our ninth-grade mainstream English class.

I can’t say enough about the U.S.A Learns site. It’s an incredible website to help users learn English.  Even though it’s primarily designed for older learners, it seems very accessible to all but the very youngest ELL’s.  It’s free to use.  Students can register if they want to save their work and evaluate their progress.

Another site my students, particularly ones that are lower-Intermediate level ELL’s, use is Henny Jellema’s Online TPR Exercises. You’ve got to see this site to believe it. I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into creating the exercises.

Feedback, as always, is welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at previous “The Best…” lists and also consider subscribing to this blog for free.

February 9, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

Not “The Best,” But “A List” Of Mindmapping, Flow Chart Tools, & Graphic Organizers

'triple venn diagram' photo (c) 2009, Jimmie - license:

I’m just making this a very “quick and dirty” list — at least for now — because, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how or why all the online mindmapping and flow-chart tools that are out there have any educational application.

It seems to me that there really isn’t much of a value-added benefit to doing any of this online as opposed to doing it on pen and paper — except, perhaps, it will look a lot nicer (and save paper). I do have my students use a lot graphic organizers in the classroom, and am including some resources for them in this list, too.

I can think of some minor advantages with a couple of the online tools on this list, but not much more. Please help me out if I’m missing something.

You might, though, find The Best Tools To Make Simple Graphs Online useful.  I can see the value in using those applications in school

Here are a list of what seems to me the better mind-mapping and flow chart tools (all free and all accessible to English Language Learners), and sources for hard-copy graphic organizers,  out there:


Mind42 is a free online web application that has an incredible collection of features.  You can collaborate with multiple users in real time, and see what people are doing right on the screen in front of you.  You can communicate with them using a chat feature.  The interface is relatively simple.  You can grab images off the web and easily insert them in your work.   These are all the options, it seems to me, you’d want to include in an ideal application that, for example, “sister classes” separated by a wide geographical distance could use in joint projects.  However, there is one problem.  I can’t quite figure out what students would create that would be useful.  Nevertheless, I still did include it in The Best Online Tools For Real-Time Collaboration.

Gliffy is another online mindmapping tool.   My English Language Learner students have been able to use that tool to create nifty floor plans but, again, they could have easily done that with markers and paper.

Mindomo is another online tool, and Paul Hamilton has written about it.

Mindmeister and are two other accessible mindmapping tools.

A brand new one is called Lovely Charts, and it might have the most functionality of them all. TechCruch just wrote about it. Even with all that “lovely” capability, I’m still at a loss in figuring out its educational value.

Spinscape is a new mindmapping tool that looks pretty nifty.

Slatebox is a new and easy mindmapping/visualization application.

Creately is a new online diagramming web tool that just opened to the public. Tech Crunch has a detailed explanation about it, so instead of “reinventing the wheel,” I’m just going to suggest you read their post.


I find graphic organizers to be indispensable in helping students learn how to write, though neither my students nor I have found it particularly beneficial to use them online.

I believe the best writing curriculum out there is, by far,  the one offered by the WRITE Institute. It’s focused on English Language Learners, but we’ve certainly used their materials successfully with mainstream students as well. Their curriculum, however, is only available to schools who’s Districts have an official “partnership” with them.  The use of graphic organizers is a key element of their units.

In addition to the graphic organizers in The Write Institute curriculum, here are the sources of other good ones.  Some you can actually use online, but you can also print all of them out for use by students away from computers.  They include:

I learned about Exploratree through Lucy Gray. Exploratree is a site that has a series of “thinking guides” that can be adapted by teachers and completed by students.  They appear to basically be well-designed graphic organizers, and include titles like “Thinking Boxes” and “From a Different Angle.”

Read Write Think also has a helpful collection of graphic organizers that can be used online or printed-out.

Tools For Reading, Writing and Thinking is another source of great graphic organizers that can be printed.

You can also find quite a few other sources of graphic organizers on the Teacher’s Page of my website under….Graphic Organizers. They include resources from Write Design, Thinkport, Scholastic and several more.

EFL Classroom 2.0 also has a good collection of printable graphic organizers.

Graphic Organizers is the title of an excellent article by Tracey Hall & Nicole Strangman. It gives an overview of graphic organizers and research study results on their effectiveness.

Holt has a nice collection of graphic organizers, thought you probably won’t find any that aren’t at other sites on this list.  What it does have, though, that the others do not is an excellent list of teaching notes for each individual graphic organizer listed. That’s a real find, especially for teachers not familiar with using them.

Here’s a nice collection of graphic organizers from the International Reading Association.

Subversive Graphic Organizers

Here’s some research on the use of graphic organizers:

Enhancing Learning Through the Use of Graphic Organizers:A Review of the Literature is an excellent recent review. Thanks to Bjørn Helge Græsli for the tip.

The National Center On Accessible Instructional Materials has an older review.

Here’s even more research, thanks to Nathan Hall.

I learned about TUZZit from Carla Arena. It’s a free online graphic organizer tool that provides lots of different options of organizers (you can also create your own); lets you paste online images videos, virtual post-it notes and more onto them; and then you can share your creation with online collaborators. In some ways it seems like an Exploratree on steriods.

As always, feedback is welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at previous “The Best…” lists and also consider subscribing to this blog for free.

January 9, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Why Do Kids Join Gangs?

I’m adapting a lesson from The Write Institute (also see The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement) unit on persuasive writing for the unit I’m teaching now.

One of the lessons — related to gangs — has students list the different groups they “belong to” family, school, etc.) In addition, I’m having them write out the different benefits they receive from belonging to each group (love, support, learing, etc.)

Next, students are researching why kids join gangs, and will then compare those reasons for joining that group with their benefits for being part of their groups. Many, though not all, of the reasons will probably be similar, and then we will explore why students think gang members might not receive those same benefits from elsewhere like our class members do.

Here are some more relatively accessible websites that I’m adding to The Best Sites To Learn About Street Gangs that students will be using to research this issue:

Why Kids Join Gangs

Why Do Young People Join Gangs?

Why Do Young People Join Gangs? (same title, different resource)

Gang Life Quiz

Gangs And Violence

January 3, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Sites To Learn About Street Gangs

'[Street gang - cor[ner] Margaret & Water Streets - 4:30 P.M.]  Location: Springfield, Massachusetts. (LOC)' photo (c) 1910, The Library of Congress - license:

Check out my New York Times post for English Language Learners focuses on using music for language development and includes a student interactive, video, and teaching ideas. One of those ideas relates to using West Side Story to initiate a discussion of gangs.

As part of a series of lessons on writing a persuasive essay with my Intermediate English class, we’ll be reading “It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way: A Barrio Story” by Luis Rodriguez, who’s written several excellent books on gang life in Los Angeles. His books are exceptionally popular with teenage students.

I thought I’d quickly come-up with a “The Best…” list to supplement the unit — and I do mean quickly. I’m sure there’s a lot of other good work out there that’s accessible to English Language Learners that I haven’t found. I hope readers will suggest additional resources that I can add to the list.

Depending on your how your school’s content filter handles streaming media, some of these links might not be accessible.

You might also be interested in The Best Sites To Learn About Mexico’s Drug War.

Here are my choices, not in any order of preference, for The Best Sites To Learn About Street Gangs (and are accessible to ELL’s):

A slideshow from The New York Times is about Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides jobs to former gang members.

All My Enemies is an impressive multimedia presentation on gang life in L.A.

The San Jose Mercury News has a slideshow on the efforts of a local church to promote a gang cease fire.

The Providence Journal has an ambitious feature on the Gangs of Providence.

In Cold Blood: Guatemala Gangs is a slideshow from National Public Radio.

Gangs Without Borders is multimedia presentation from The New York Times on Central American gangs.

The Los Angeles Times has a feature on gangs in El Salvador and the United States.

Here’s a presentation on British gangs.

The L.A. Times has an audio slideshow on gangs in the city of Compton.

An article in The New York Times is titled “Gangs Grows, But Hardline Stirs Doubts.” That article and another editorial, A Job Or A Gang, are probably not accessible to English Language Learners, but can be modified by teachers to stimulate class discussion on how best to keep young people out of gangs.

The Modesto Bee has an interview with a police officer on “The Gang Lifestyle.”

A Seattle newspaper has an audio slideshow called Gangs In Seattle.

Here’s a moving slideshow on effects of gang violence in Miami.

Some students from Trinity College came up with some decent ideas for simple classroom lessons and, more importantly, they include links to good resources teachers can use for developing their own.

Gangs In San Diego is another multimedia presentation.

Here is a slideshow about gangs in Salinas, California.

You can watch a very short “trailer” to a documentary about Latino gangs. It’s called Nuestra Familia, Our Family.

Here’s a video on Home Boy Industries, the group that was highlighted earlier in this post in a New York Times slideshow.

A Massachusetts newspaper has a variety of online videos, infographics, and articles on gangs.

The Press Enterprise newspaper in southern California has impressive feature on gangs called Bloodshed and Bravado. It includes an accessible slideshow and several online videos.

The Columbus Dispatch has an audio slideshow titled Gospel Versus Gangs about a church’s effort to get youth to leave gangs.

Young Guns: A New Brand of Gangster
is a slideshow from a Seattle newspaper.

Thug Life is an audio slideshow from an Indiana paper.

A Better Way is yet an other audio slideshow from the Ventura County Star about a gang member who left that way of life.

The History Channel has an impressive site called Gangland.

I’m adding a multimedia presentation from the San Jose Mercury News on that city’s Anti-Gang Unit to this list.

The Wall Street Journal has an online video about former gang members being trained to install solar panels.

PBS’s Wide Angle series has a number of resources connected its film about gangs in El Salvador called “18 With A Bullet.” There’s a video preview of the film, a photo essay, a video update, and an overview of gangs worldwide.

Gangs In Hempstead is an onine video from The New York TImes.

Promise and Peril in South L.A. is an impressive multimedia series from LA Times on gangs and gang intervention.

Gangs On Tribal Land is a video from the New York Times sharing how “tribal officials on the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation are struggling to control a rash of gang-related crime among native youth.”

Knocking Out Chicago Gang Violence is a CBS News video on an anti-gang boxing program.

Ex-Gang Members Work Together is a CNN video.

From Gangs To Breakdancing is another CNN video.

CNN has a series of videos about gangs in one community:

Hope In Hollenbeck

The Hero of Hollenbeck

Gangs of Hollenbeck

CNN also has three videos on gangs in Chicago:

Chicago’s Deadly Gangs

Activists Target Gangs

Gang Member Speaks

MSNBC has a video on the MS-13 Gang.

ABC News has several videos:

Gang Violence in South Los Angeles

Tackling Gang Recruitment

Gang Life Grows Online

Gangs of Chi-Town

Gangs in Paradise

The $65 LA Gang Tour

From Gangs To “Green Collar”

21,000 Gangs: 700,000 Members

I’m adapting a lesson from The Write Institute (also see The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement) unit on persuasive writing for the unit I’m teaching now.

One of the lessons — related to gangs — has students list the different groups they “belong to” family, school, etc.) In addition, I’m having them write out the different benefits they receive from belonging to each group (love, support, learing, etc.)

Next, students are researching why kids join gangs, and will then compare those reasons for joining that group with their benefits for being part of their groups. Many, though not all, of the reasons will probably be similar, and then we will explore why students think gang members might not receive those same benefits from elsewhere like our class members do.

Here are some more relatively accessible websites that I’m adding to this list that students will be using to research that particular issue:

Why Kids Join Gangs

Why Do Young People Join Gangs?

Why Do Young People Join Gangs? (same title, different resource)

Gang Life Quiz

The Lure of Guns and Gangs

The New York Times has an online video titled Streetwise Saint Joins Mexico Drug War. Here’s how they describe it:

Mexico City gang youth have adopted a first century saint as their idol. A septuagenarian American priest who speaks their language wants to cash in on their unconventional fervor to help them.

Interactive: Gang activity in Sacramento is from the Sacramento Bee and shows on a map where gang activity is occurring. Other newspapers may have similar features.

“After Gang Life” is the title of a slideshow from Newsweek.

Victims of Gang Violence: The smoke clears, but pain endures is a multimedia presentation from The Los Angeles Times.

Urban Jungle on the Reservation is a slideshow from TIME Magazine.

You might also be interested in a series of “Fotobabbles” (audio-narrated photos) that our Intermediate English students did on the issue of what are the consequences of being involved in a gang.

Homegirl Cafe is a video about a young woman escaping gang life.

Blood Ties: A Photographer Captures Gang Culture In Her Family is a photo gallery from TIME.

Here’s how the filmmaker describes this short video, “Good Bread”

Bread can be considered many things: warm; delicious; sustaining. It’s also slang for money. This literal slice of life, which follows the typical day of an ex-gang member on his first job in the bakery of Homeboy Industries, underscores the meaning – and the lasting contribution – of “good bread.”

A Salvadoran Cease-Fire Holds, for Now is a New York Times slideshow.

The Washington Post has published an infographic comparing the 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha gangs.

Searching for Hope and Humanity in L.A. is a photo gallery from The New York Times.

Video: Violence ‘Interrupters’

As always, feedback is welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at previous “The Best…” lists and also consider subscribing to this blog for free.