Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

March 19, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

My New Podcast: “How Can We Get All Students in Our Classes Thinking & Learning All the Time?


How Can We Get All Students in Our Classes Thinking and Learning All the Time? is the topic of my latest nine-minute BAM! Radio podcast (it will also be a topic next month in my Education Week Teacher column).

My guests are Bill and Pérsida Himmele, and Jim Peterson.

April 17, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Visualization Update

Regular readers know that I’m a big believer in helping students use visualization techniques in the classroom (see My Best Posts On Helping Students “Visualize Success”).

I’ve continued to do it this year, and a good portion of my students seem to be taking it seriously (during the one minute time we do it each day students have the option of doing it or just being quiet). Though I haven’t taken the time to compare English assessment results this year as I have in the past (those who do it have typically had bigger increases), it’s clear that just taking the one minute of calmness helps the classroom atmosphere in general. It’s pretty obvious that on the days we forget to do it, things can often be a bit crazier.

About half of my mainstream ninth-grade students visualize; about two-thirds of my advanced English ninth-grade class do it; and about three-fourths of my Intermediate English students do so. As part of their regular Friday reflections, I periodically ask students if they are visualizing and, if they are, ask them to write what they see. Students know there is no negative consequence if they are not.

One change I’ve done the year based on the suggestion of our great assistant principal Jim Peterson is to have students take a few seconds before they visualize to look at their “goal sheets” that they have completed and decide which one they want to focus on that day. Also, at his recommendation I encourage students to not only see themselves working towards their goals, but also notice how they’re feeling when they are seeing themselves be successful.

Here are recent comments students have written as part of the Friday reflection in response to my question about what they are visualizing:

I see I’m reading really well and speaking English really well.

I see myself can speak a lot of English.

I visualize that I reading the book.

When I’m doing my visualizing I see myself doing a conversation in English with my friend.

I do not visualize — I just stay calm and breath.

Yes, I visualize. When I visualize I see me succeeding in the things I want to accomplish such as winning the breakdance tournament.

Yes, when I visualize I see myself doing work and talking.

When I visualize, I see myself reading, doing all my classwork and cleaning my binder.

I see myself reading a lot of books.

April 2, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

How We Can Help Our Students Deal With Stress

Last week, I wrote a fairly popular post titled How Stress Affects Our Students (& Their Parents) — Plus, How We’re Trying To Help. In it, I shared the results of new research studies, and explained what I was doing in the classroom.

As a follow-up, I asked one of our vice-principals, Jim Peterson, to offer some additional suggestions on how teachers can help students (and anyone else) deal with stress. Jim, who also happens to be a behavioral therapist and a clinical hypnotherapist (check-out his site, Alpha Mind Coaching) is very talented, and I’ve written about him several times in this blog. I also share some of his helpful classroom management ideas (especially with challenging classes) in one of the chapters in my upcoming book. You can read about how I have applied his advice in Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?

Here are some of his additional suggestions how how we can help students better cope with stress:

“Breathwork” is one of the most universal forms of stress reduction, especially in eastern cultures. One technique that’s good for kids, because it’s visual, is to have them visualize breathing in light, positive energy and breathing out negative energy. “In with the good, out with the bad.” Talk with the student to find out what image or idea (It’s good to include the word “idea” since some people are less visual, and you don’t want them getting caught up in trying to get an image if one isn’t coming to them.) resonates best with him or her. A common one is a bright sparkling cloud for the inhalation and a dark stormy cloud for the exhalation. They can even inhale smiley faces and exhale angry, sad or frustrated faces.

I start out by having them inhale deeply and hold it for ten seconds before they exhale After doing this five times, I have them continue with this visual or idea as they continue breathing normally. At this point, they are not trying to control their breathing like they did during the first five cycles, but rather, are now observing it. This is basically a visual meditation.

The second note I’ll make on lowering stress is the power of writing things down. When I train clients, some of whom are teenagers, how to write things down, their stress drops and their productivity increases. The vast majority of people who are stressed out have less to do than they realize. The mere act of writing a list of everything that you have to do, then reading over it, will lower your anxiety as is takes each one of those items out of that parade through the city that we discusses. The steps of prioritizing those items and attaching due dates to each will lead to a dramatic increase in productivity, which could be an article unto itself.

I think these are great ideas that I’ll certainly be applying.  Jim also thinks that meditation can also be a good stress-reduction tool.  What have you found that has helped your students handle stress better?  And, have any of your schools taught meditation techniques?

December 22, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

Being Present

Most of us realize the importance of making eye contact and focusing entirely on the person with whom we’re speaking….and the impact it can have on that person. And, probably, many of us often forget to do it, or, when you’re a teacher and having to supervise an entire classroom of students, are not able to do it.

At the recommendation of Jim Peterson, a talented vice-principal at our school about whom I’ve previously written, I (and other teachers) try to take a few minutes now and then from our free period and pull students out of their regular classes to try to have these kinds of conversations (after making pre-arrangements with their teacher, of course), and it has worked out quite well.

Michael Ellsberg has written a good post offering advice and techniques to help people remember to make that kind of eye contact and to “be present” with whom you’re speaking. It’s definitely worth a visit.

He uses a short clip of a town hall meeting during the 1992 Presidential campaign as a model, contrasting the styles of George Bush and Bill Clinton. I’m embedding it here, but Ellsberg has a good analysis of it in his post that I’d encourage you to read.

January 27, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

Results From Having ELL Students “Visualize Success”

I’ve been having students in both my mainstream ninth-grade English class and my Intermediate English class visualize being great readers, writers, and speakers (and imagine people praising them for it) twice-a-day for thirty or so seconds each. It’s voluntary, though everyone has to be silent and motionless during that time. About forty percent of the students in my ninth-grade class say they’re doing it, while seventy percent in my Intermediate English class say they are. You can read more about it here.

I had given my ELL students a cloze (fill-in-the-blank) a couple of months ago when we first started, and just scored the results of a new cloze they took yesterday. I’ll have the results from my mainstream ninth-grade class tomorrow.

The first cloze was fairly easy for students, so I made this one a little harder. Even with that increased difficulty, the students who had been visualizing English success daily had an average score of exactly the same both times — 78%.

The four students who say they had not been doing the visualizing scored 70% the first time around. They only scored an average of 43% in this second one — a drop of 27 percentage points.

Of course, this drop might very well just be a correlation, and not have anything to do with not doing visualization. The students doing the visualization might be harder workers in general than those who are not, or some of the students not doing visualization might have been feeling ill yesterday — there could be many factors at play.

Better research than mine, though, has documented that this kind of exercise can provide a positive benefit to English Language Learners in particular.

I’m certainly going to continue doing it in my Intermediate English class — it can’t hurt. And, visualization or no visualization, I need to pay more attention to those students whose scores dropped.

By the way, here’s a video of the arm exercise Jim Peterson did in my class that is described in my book, Self-Driven Learning. You can also visit Jim’s website, Alpha Mind Coaching:

November 22, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Helping Students Visualize Success

I’ve only had limited success in my own personal attempts at using visualization and guided imagery in my own life, so have been reluctant to encourage others to try it.

Until last year.

I had an exceptionally challenging mainstream ninth-grade English class last year (see Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?) and nothing I tried was successful in helping one student develop self-control. He repeatedly told me he knew he needed to make changes and that he wanted to — and I’m convinced he was sincere — but he just couldn’t do it.

As a last resort, I suggested that he go outside to read his book during our silent reading time (which began each class) and, before he began to read, close his eyes for a couple of minutes and see himself acting as the student he wanted to be — cooperative, focused, not always reacting to provocations. He was willing to give it a try, and it had an immediate positive effect and produced much better results than anything else we had tried. We continued with this daily practice for the rest of the school year and, even though he wasn’t the “perfect” student, he handled himself much, much better.

After having that experience last year, I was certainly open to a recent idea from Jim Peterson, a talented Vice-Principal at our school.

He wanted to know if I would be interested in trying out some visualization techniques with my ninth-grade class this year — not around behavior issues (I don’t have those problems with this year’s class), but with helping them use it to become better readers and writers.

So, between my positive experience with my challenging student last year and my super-duper positive experience following Jim’s advice in the past (Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?), of course I agreed to give it a try.

I became even more enthusiastic after Jim had me do a quick and simple visualization technique to demonstrate what he was talking about. He had me stand straight with one of my arms sticking outward in front of me. Then he had keep my arm outstretched and straight, and move it to the back as far as I could without straining. Next, he asked me to note the location my hand was pointing to at its limit.

After that, he had me close my eyes and mentally visualize (without doing the physical movement) doing the same thing several times — stretching as far as I could — starting off doing it slowly and then repeating it several times faster. Each time I would move my arm back to the front and then back again. After doing that for perhaps a couple of minutes, he told me to open my eyes and physically repeat the movement. Much to my surprise, I was able to easily move my arm much farther back than I had the first time.

This was a great example of his idea for making it work in the classroom — if students could visualize becoming better readers and writers, perhaps it would help them actually become ones.

Jim came to my classroom (he’s also working with another teacher who’s trying it out) and did a short interactive presentation on the conscious and subconscious mind, and combined it with visualization exercises like the one he did with me. Students seemed pretty enthusiastic — they are priding themselves on being “guinea pigs” for lessons that get replicated by other teachers (see “I Know My Brain Is Growing…” and “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One)).

Twice a day prior to beginning a writing or reading activity I’ve begun to ask students to take twenty seconds to either close their eyes or keep their eyes open and visualize themselves being excellent readers or writers in the upcoming activity. After a few days, it appears that most are taking it seriously.

I’ll be asking students to incorporate some specific reading goals in the weekly goal-setting students do (see The Best Part Of The President’s Speech & How I’ll Use It). We’ll be doing some simple assessments twice a month to see what kind of progress students are making.

There’s more to the preparation that we did for that class, but I can share those details in a later post.

I did want to say that I was so impressed with my ninth-grade students’ reaction that I tried something similar with my Intermediate English class. I was surprised to find that they were not as enthusiastic as my ninth-graders, but were willing to give it a try. Thanks to Diarmuid Fogarty, I was also able to find some intriguing literature on the use of visualization with English Language Learners (see Zoltán Dörnyei, scroll down to “Chapters in edited volumes” and look at Chapters 2-5).

With my Intermediate English class, I’ll be giving monthly assessments to both my class and another class using the same curriculum that will function as a control group.

We’ll see what happens. My belief is that it might very well help the students who think it will help them. And that taking a few seconds to focus more certainly can’t hurt.

Have you tried anything like this with your students?

June 5, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

Results From Student Evaluation Of My Class And Me

As I’ve posted in What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class (Part Two)?, I have my students complete an annual evaluation of the class and my teaching (anonymously).

I had students in my ninth-grade mainstream English class complete it a couple of days early this year, and thought I’d share the results here.  It might provide some additional ideas on questions you might want to include in your own survey — if you choose to do one.  I also included other examples in the “last day” post.

One of our administrators, Jim Peterson, was commenting on the importance of year-end student evaluations yesterday.  He framed it like this:

“After the first couple of years of teaching, many teachers don’t get observed much in the classroom by administrators or other mentors.  However, teachers get observed by students for hundreds of hours each year.  Why not take advantage of their experience and ask them for their feedback?”

Jim offers these simple questions as suggestions:

1. What did you find about the class or the teacher’s method of instruction (way of teaching) that helped you?
2. List 2-3 suggestions to improve the class or to help students more
3. Other comments

Here are the results of the evaluation done by my students:

1. In this class, I feel I learned…..1/3 said “some”; 2/3 said “a lot” no one said “a little”

2. I tried my best in this class…. 1/2 said “a lot of the time” 1/2 said “all the time” no one said “some of the time”

3. My favorite unit was…. Jamaica was the clear winner

4. My least favorite unit…Nelson Mandela was the clear “winner”

5. As a teacher, I think Mr. Ferlazzo is… 1/3 said “okay”; 1/3 said “good”; 1/3 said “excellent”; (no one said “bad”)

6. Did you feel that Mr. Ferlazzo was concerned about what was happening in your life? .. 2/3 said “yes; 1/3rd said “no”

7. Mr. Ferlazzo is patient..1/4 said “some of the time”; 1/2 said “a lot of the time”; 1/4 said “all of the time”

8. Did you like this class? all said “yes” except for one “no”

9. What was your favorite activity in this class? “Working in groups” was the clear winner with “Practice Reading” in second place (Practice Reading is the fifteen minutes at the beginning of each class when students can read a book of their own choosing).

The last two questions were where students could write in what they wanted:

10. What could you (the student) have done to make this class a better learning experience? “read & write more”; “be a better listener”; “participate more” were some responses

11. What could Mr. Ferlazzo have done to make this class a better learning experience? “It’s perfect” “Be cooler” “You did good” “lower voice when doing read aloud” were a few responses

February 23, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?

As readers of this blog know, my answer to that question is “yes.”

Due to a variety of reasons, it’s not unusual for me to have at least one class each year in our inner-city high school that has a large number of students that face many challenges in their lives that, in turn, make functioning in an academic setting sometimes another challenge — to them and to me.

This year was no exception.

I’ve written several posts sharing the positive classroom management strategies that I’ve typically used to turn things around:

When A “Good” Class Goes “Bad” (And Back To “Good” Again!)
Maintaining A “Good” Class
More About Maintaining A “Good” Class
“Why Do You Let Others Control You?”

During the first portion of this school year, I used all the tools I laid-out in my previous four classroom management posts in one class.

To be truthful, none of them really worked.

They helped me to develop relatively good relationships with the students, and to communicate effectively that I cared about them — and feeling that an adult cared about them was and is an important relationship in my students’ lives.  But these classroom management tactics didn’t create a consistent atmosphere of academic discipline.

So what did I do after exhausting all the tools at my disposal?

I asked for help.

Jim Peterson is a very talented Vice-Principal at my school (whom I’ve quoted before in posts) who suggested a new strategy — one that might have echoes of familiarity with some methods that you’ve used or seem others use, and which might provoke some initial reactions of uncomfortableness, as it did with me.

Jim’s suggestion was using a daily point system — dividing up the class into sections and providing up to fifty points per section.  Students would begin with fifty points for each section and would maintain that point total if they were on task, following instructions, and not disruptive.  They would be constantly “paid” verbally (you could also call it a “vocal stamp”) and on a clipboard– “John, I’d like you to keep your fifty points so far,” etc.  If students were not following instructions, the teacher says, “John, I’d like you to keep your forty-five points so far.”  This kind of verbal “pay-out” occurs constantly during class.  At the end of each class period students would be told their point total (this is a very simplified description of his idea).

Yes, I know some of you are thinking, as I initially thought, what is a progressive educator like me doing considering a classroom management system that sounds like behavior modification and operant conditioning?  Why am I not continuing my focus on positive strategies to help students develop their own intrinsic motivation?

I have two responses:

One, as a former community organizer, I understand the tension between the “world as it is” and the “world as we’d like it to be.”  When I was organizing, and while I’m teaching, I believe that if we operate in the “world as we’d like it to be” all the time, we become ineffective dreamers — if we only operate in the world as it is, we become cold-hearted pragmatists who do anything for expediency.   I could have continued to function only using Alfie Kohn’s “Punished By Rewards” thesis (which I still believe has much validity), and I could have continued to have an out-of-control class.

Two,  as you’ll see in the rest of this post, this new classroom management strategy, and its “evolution,” has ended-up being extraordinarily effective in developing just that kind of intrinsic motivation and self-control I want my students to have.

When I first introduced this new strategy, I was surprised to find that the most challenging students liked it the most.  They felt that it helped them see how they were doing all the time — the idea of “points” was within their experience and understanding.  One slight modification I made to Jim’s strategy was, in addition to taking points away, I gave students the opportunity to regain the points by subsequent good work and behavior.  My goal was to give every student the highest point total possible each day.

There was an immediate improvement and after a month of using this system pretty much every minute of class, it was a difference between night-and-day.  Students who before gained their gratification through talking and disruption now got it through gaining points.

Now was the time for me to see if students, after having seem the difference in themselves and in the class, were invested enough in what they had become to feel that this kind of self-perception — that they were learners in a community of learners — was motivation enough to continue this kind of atmosphere.

First I began to reduce the number of times I would tell students their point totals, then I would go a day or two without even mentioning it — the positive atmosphere continued, and the students didn’t seem to miss not getting their points.

I talked with them about how impressed I was with how they were handling themselves, and how I’d like to use the point system less.  The students were enthusiastic.

Last week a student was being a bit off task one day.  I went to him and said, “Jack (not his real name), do I have to use the point system with you today?”  His immediate response was — to my shock — almost a sense of shame on his part as he protested, “No, I don’t need it, I can do my work without it!”  He did great the rest of the class.

He wanted to show that he didn’t need an extrinsic reward in order to be a learner in a community of learners.

As our principal put it, the response put an interesting spin on the idea of “Punished By Rewards” — the student now viewed the possibility of getting (or losing) points as something he didn’t want or need in order to be an academic student.

Of course, moving off the point system carries some risk.  I probably could continue to use it all the time, and have students focused between 90% and 100% of the time — much of that would be due to outside control exerted by me.

Or, I could use it less (though, I suspect I’ll still need to use it occasionally — we are talking about teenagers here!), and have between 80% and 100% student focus — but all of that would be intrinsically motivated by them.

I’ll take the second option, which is far better off than the class and I were before we got Jim Peterson’s help.

January 1, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

What Did You Learn In 2008?

As I did last year (see What Did You Learn In 2007?), I invited readers to send-in one-to-three things they learned in 2008.  Quite a few of you shared and I have the privilege, in turn, of sharing your lessons here.

I’ll start off with mine.  Though I’ve obviously learned many things, I’m just going to share one school- related lesson here (you’re going to have to work through a lengthy intro first, though):

As readers of this blog know, I am a big believer in positive classroom management strategies and helping students find intrinsic motivations for learning. I have a lot of respect for Alfie Kohn’s works, including “Punished By Rewards.”   In my five-year teaching career, I’ve been pretty successful in resisting the dreaded “point” question — “How many points is this worth?”  My typical response has either been, “How many points do you want it to be worth?” and then, whatever each students says in response, I then say it’s worth that amount.  Or I’ll say something ridiculous like “20,000 points.”  That, combined with repeated discussions about why we’re studying what we’re studying,  usually works well.

This year, however, I found myself confronted with a very challenging ninth-grade English class at our inner-city school.   My usual bag of classroom management “tricks”, while very effective in helping me develop very solid relationships with my students, weren’t consistently creating the kind of healthy learning atmosphere I wanted and felt I needed.

So, after consulting with Jim Peterson, a very talented Vice-Principal at our school, I instituted a version of a point system where I divided my two hour class into quarters, and gave a certain number of points to each student every thirty minutes. I’m not going to explain it all here (though I will in a future post), but it’s fairly nuanced and designed to set-up every student for success (while creating the minimum amount of extra work for me). It’s worked wonderfully — students like it and a whole lot more learning is going on.

So, after that lengthy preamble, what I’ve re-learned out of this experience is what I learned during my community organizing career — one has to be careful what we make into “principles” because once we decide on one we can’t compromise — you don’t comprise principles. I concluded that my “principle” was that I wanted to set-up my students for success, and that I could do that with a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation — and even go a fair amount heavier on the extrinsic side (at least for now).  I don’t need to use it in my other classes, and I might not need to use it in any other future class,  but — after a fair amount of soul-searching — I feel fine about it using this system in this situation. How’s that for a tortured explanation!

Here are other lessons contributed by readers:

Jim Alvaro:

I’ve think I have learned two lessons this year. The first is that “my” blog is rapidly becoming “their” blog. I’m not sure when it happen but the class is slowly taking over the ownership of the blog. We have started a daily student column, student cartoons, stories, and all sorts of things that I used to do and now have kids stepping forward and doing. And i am actually ok with that.

The second thing I’ve discovered is that my blog has taken on a life of its own. I started out blogging just to let parents know what homework we have for that night and now its a little bit of everything, and that’s ok too.

Colette Cassinelli:

This year I attended Google Teacher Academy and learned about all the wonderful educational uses of the free Google Tools. I incorporated Google Apps for Education in my classroom this year and it had made a huge impact in therms of collaboration and communication among my students.

Colette Cassinelli is a 7-12 computer teacher at a private school in Beaverton, OR.

Belinda Hartzler

1. Change is liberating.
2. Possibilities are endless as are hurdles to cross.
3. Learning to golf is humbling.

Gail Poulin

I created my first version of an edublogs site just over a year ago and all the new learning this year is making it really shape up. I am more motivated than ever about my job and love to present our learning using the new tools. You asked what I learned this year, well how about this week? Through twitter links and reader feeds like this one, I can now use Emoticarolers from you Larry, which I got through another connection(?) and brought me some video clips for a family event I’m planning, and I even created a new google doc, something I’d been slow to grab onto. So often one link brings me to another, and then another, from one connection to a new one. Every turn brings new learning opportunities and ideas. There is so much more to learn and enjoy and I’m always spreading the word about it. You provide a prodigious amount of material to read but I’m getting better at selecting the ones I need to focus on.

Gail is a kindergarten teacher from Southampton, Massachusetts, USA.

Kevin Hodgson:

I learned:

Twitter is an invaluable networking tool, full of great resources and connections. I had thought it to be little more than a distraction, but it has proved me wrong.

I decided that I needed to pull back from my online explorations in order to keep my focus on my family, which has meant a bit less writing. The balance is what is important.

After a strike of inspiration this summer, I found that not only could I create my own webcomic, but I could get it published twice a week at the large regional newspaper as a way to use humor to talk about education and technology. (

Kevin teaches sixth grade in Southampton, Massachusetts, and is the technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. He’s interested in technology as a way to engage his students in publishing, collaboration and connecting with the world.

Jerry Swiatek

In 2008, I’ve learned that, although my opportunities for professional development in my district are a bit limited (a few conferences here and there), the opportunities for PD in my Personal Learning Network (PLN) are endless. This year, I have attended conferences in Shanghai, China, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and other parts unknown all from the comfort of my office chair…I attended all of them virtually via

I learned that blogging is a very important part of my job, not only to model for my faculty, but also to make connections world-wide that would not have been possible otherwise.

I also learned that I love presenting. I’ve had several opportunities this year to present many different types of technology at a couple of conferences and also to teachers in my district and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously.

Oh yeah…one more thing. I’ve also learned that, although I do not teach ELL, ESL or EFL students, the tools that Larry Ferlazzo has taken the time to research and present to the world have been invaluable to myself and my teachers. Thank you Larry for everything you do. We appreciate it VERY much. Have a fantastic 2009!

Jerry is a Technology Specialist at a public high school in Florida.

Denis McCarthy:

1. Good intentions are not a substitute for skill.
2. “If it is important do it every day, if it is not important don’t do it at all” Dan Gable
3. Sometime it never stops hurting, you just have to keep doing it.


In 2008, I started a blog and learned about feeds, widgets, embedding content, stats, and all things “blog-ish”.  I learned both how large and small this world is, how easy it is to reach out to folks on the other side of the world.  There is so much to read and do;  I learned I want to know more.

Janet Bianchini

In 2008 I learned that there was so much that I didn’t know simply because I hadn’t been looking for it. When I started my blog in November 2008 it was with some trepidation as I had no idea what the outcome would be. I took the proverbial bull by the horns and did it. Well, I can honestly say that facing the unknown proved to be a good learning curve for me and it has left me with a taste to try out other new tools such as podcasting and wikis.

This time last year I was a bit of a technophobe but thanks to innovative sites such as yours, Larry, I was able to experiment with and embrace a new technological world. I am very grateful to you for this “awakening”.

Thanks for sharing your year-end reflections. I hope everyone who contributed to this post, and the many who are reading it, will choose to share their weekly reflections during 2009 at Day/Week In A Sentence at Kevin’s Meandering Mind.  Kevin has also just put out a call for Year In A Sentence.

Also, please feel free to share additional year-end thoughts in the comments section on what you’ve learned in 2008.