Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

October 16, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Trust Can Have A Pretty Powerful Impact In The Classroom

'Trust' photo (c) 2011, Artem Popov - license:

I’ll Take 90% Student Engagement Over 100% “Compliance” — Any Day has been my most popular post of the year so far, and was reprinted in The Washington Post as Getting students to engage — not just comply.

In that post, I describe the weekly reading log that I have students complete about their reading at home, and how I specifically do not ask them to have their parents sign it — student signatures are only required. And how students are on an honor system to describe their plan to “catch-up” on their reading time if they don’t read a full two hours a week at home.

As my blog title stated, I’ve determined through a number of ways over the years that 90% of students typically handle it honestly. However, I forgot to mention in that post one other tactic I use to determine that percentage, and I just applied it today in class.

Periodically, I’ll hand out blank pieces of paper to all students and tell them not to put their name on it. I tell them that all I want them to do is write “yes” if they tend to be honest in the reading log or “no” if they are not. I make it very clear that I will not change the procedure no matter what they answer — I want to minimize the odds that students will write “yes” because they’re afraid I might start requiring parent signatures.

I tell them to fold their papers so no one can see what they wrote and have a student collect them. While they’re doing something else later in the class period, I’ll tabulate the sheets (sometimes I’ll have a student do it). Usually, I have two students who write “no” in each class. However, today, in both classes only one student wrote “no.”

As I did today, I’ll announce the results, tell them I’m impressed, though not surprised. As I did today, I will also jokingly announce that I will have the “no” paper analyzed for fingerprints and track that person down.

The purpose behind doing this process, however, is not really for me to check-up on them — there are plenty of other ways I do that (as I mentioned in my previous post). What it does do, though, is reinforce to students that they are in a genuine community of learners who are people of their word. And the one or two students who are not following-through also feel some peer pressure that they, too, need to step up to the plate.

Trust can have a pretty powerful impact in the classroom….

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September 15, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Another Study Shows The Benefits Of Reading For Pleasure

Thanks to Michelle Gunderson, I’ve learned about yet another study showing the importance of students reading for pleasure.

Here are some excerpts from a report on it appearing at Centre for Longitudinal Studies:


The research was conducted by Dr Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown, who analysed the reading behaviour of approximately 6,000 young people being followed by the 1970 British Cohort Study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. They looked at how often the teenagers read during childhood and their test results in maths, vocabulary and spelling at ages 5, 10 and 16….

Perhaps surprisingly, reading for pleasure was found to be more important for children’s cognitive development between ages 10 and 16 than their parents’ level of education. The combined effect on children’s progress of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers at 16 was four times greater than the advantage children gained from having a parent with a degree…..

Dr Sullivan notes that reading for pleasure had the strongest effect on children’s vocabulary development, but the impact on spelling and maths was still significant. “It may seem surprising that reading for pleasure would help to improve children’s maths scores,” she said. “But it is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects.”

I’m adding this post to The Best Resources Documenting The Effectiveness of Free Voluntary Reading.

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September 13, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

I’ll Take 90% Student Engagement Over 100% “Compliance” — Any Day

'Keep It Up Sign Card Motivation 2012 Girls on the Run Grand Rapids Montessori February 22, 2012 9' photo (c) 2012, Steven Depolo - license:

I have students in my mainstream ninth-grade English and in my ESL classes complete a simple “Reading Log” every Friday. It has five columns — ones for the day, title of the book, the number of minutes read, space for a student signature and one for a parent signature.

Though I leave it on for a reason, the “parent signature” box has remained blank for years.

I tell students at the beginning of the year that I expect that they will read a book of their choice at least two hours each week, and that if they promise to me that they will tell the truth on the log — even if they read less some weeks — that I will eliminate the requirement of a parent signature. Students always agree and make a public commitment, as well as shaking hands on it with me. I think seeing the “parent signature” column is a reminder of that commitment.

Each Friday, they quickly complete the sheet and, if they haven’t read for two hours during the previous four days, they write a few words at the bottom of the sheet with specific plans on when they will read that Friday night or over the weekend (“I’ll read for twenty minutes after we get home from our cousin’s barbeque,” etc.). I check with students on Monday (during the first ten minutes of class, which is always silent reading time) if they followed through and, if not, they tell me how they’re going to make-up the time that week. And we talk about how things do come-up, and that there’s always flexibility.

I’m confident that the vast majority — at least ninety percent — of students are genuinely honest, and determine that by seeing how far they’re getting in the books they read during our silent reading time and by the progress they make during cloze and fluency formative assessments. And, based on my previous experience, I’m also confident in saying that it’s a much higher percentage than years ago when I required parent signatures, which are easily faked.

Yes, I talk with parents about the reading expectation, but between the multiple home languages, regularly changing phone numbers and moves, and other difficulties in making parent contact, there is a large percentage of parents that I just can’t communicate with — despite my obvious commitment to parent engagement.

Of course, this instructional strategy is combined with a strong emphasis on relationship-building and with life-skills lessons focused on helping students develop intrinsic motivation.

So, let’s say ten percent of my students might not be entirely truthful to me.

As this post’s headline says, I’ll take 90% student engagement over 100% “compliance” any day….

(You might also be interested in My Best Posts On Books: Why They’re Important & How To Help Students Select, Read, Write & Discuss Them)

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August 13, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment Is A Useful Tool For Second-Language Learners

lingually is an innovative free Chrome extension to help people learn English, Spanish, English, French, Hebrew and Arabic. After installation and choosing your present language and the one you want to learn, you can click on any unfamiliar word on any website and you’ll be shown it’s definition in your first language, along audio on how it’s pronounced.

That works well, but isn’t that innovative — there are a number of similar tools.

However, it then goes a step further. It saves the words you have clicked on and allows you take quizzes and review them.

I think English Language Learners are going to find very helpful.

I’ve embedded a video about it below:

Thanks to TechCrunch for the tip.

I’m adding the site to The Best Websites For Intermediate Readers.

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August 13, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Rewordify” Is One Of The Most Unique Sites Out There For English Language Learners & Others


Rewordify is a new free site developed by Neil Goldman, a high school special education teacher in Illinois. He’s used his prior computer programming experience to build — from scratch — a tool that lets you copy and paste any text (or any type in any website), automatically identifies more challenging words, and then provides simplified words to replace them. Depending upon the settings you choose, those simplified words can replace the actual ones, be able to be seen with a click of the mouse, or be shown next to them. It seems extremely sophisticated, and I was surprised at the accuracy of the simplified word choices. The definition is not just shown, as some other sites do.

But that’s not all. The site also allows teachers to automatically created a number of learning activities related to the text that can be printed-out for students to complete.

I think Rewordify has a lot of potential — especially for Beginning and Early Intermediate English Language Learners.

I do have two concerns that I’ve shared with Neil.

One, is that I wonder if it’s used with more advanced ELLs, could the ease of simplifying the text be used as a crutch by them to avoid looking for context clues?

Secondly, as regular readers of this blog know, I am not a big fan of automatically generated materials for students. They eliminate the possibility of teachers personalizing the exercises to emphasize what we want our students to learn. Neil is looking at that option to potentially include in a future site upgrade.

Even with those reservations, though, it’s an extraordinary site. As I mentioned earlier, I think you’ll be surprised, as I was, at its sophistication on a number of levels.

Here’s a helpful short video:

I’m adding Rewordify to The Best Websites For Intermediate Readers.

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July 13, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Videos & Articles Where Athletes Explain How Reading & Writing Well Has Helped Their Career – Help Me Find More

'LeBron James' photo (c) 2011, Keith Allison - license:

It’s not unusual for me students to tell me that they don’t have to worry about reading and writing well because they are planning on being a professional basketball player, skateboarder, etc.

I’ve got responses to that (though am happy to hear what readers say to it), but I think having students hear directly from athletes themselves saying how reading and writing well has helped their sports career.

I’ve only got a couple of resources, and hope that readers will suggest more.

Here’s what I have so far:

Here’s a video about LeBron James and why and what he’s reading, and an ESPN article about it — LeBron James, open book.

LeBron, Reading And How Books Can Benefit A Pro Athlete is by Dan Grunfield.

Other suggestions — please!

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July 3, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Study: Reading As A Child Helps Slow Alzheimer’s Later

A study has just been published finding that early reading in childhood can slow the development of Alzheimer’s in old age. It found that reading later in life helps, too, it was able to independently confirm that reading earlier in life additionally helped. As a summary of the research said:

it’s never too late to start, but earlier is better

I’m adding this info to The Best Resources For Showing Students That They Make Their Brain Stronger By Learning, which includes many other resources detailing reading’s effect on the brain.

Here’s an article in Scientific American about the same study.

And here’s a Scientific American article
with even more information on the research.

Smithsonian Magazine also has an article.

And here’s one from USA Today.

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July 1, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

“News In Levels” Looks Like An Excellent Site For ELLs

News in Levels provides several different “levels” of the same news article and provides audio support for the text. The site is clearly focused on ELLs, with the “lowest” level an image annotated with vocabulary words, which also has audio support.

Unfortunately, the site doesn’t have interactive activities that students can do, but I guess you can’t have everything…

Thanks to the Center for Applied Second Language Studies for the tip.

I’m adding the site to The Best News/Current Events Websites For English Language Learners.

news in levels

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June 18, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Newsela Provides “Leveled” News Articles & Quizzes

Newsela provides several “levels” of the same newspaper articles, along with accompanying online quizzes, that students can read and take. Teachers can create a virtual classroom, assign articles and monitor student progress.

I wouldn’t say it promotes higher-level thinking but, of course, I would say the same thing about most (if not all) of the sites on The Best Sites That Students Can Use Independently And Let Teachers Check On Progress. They are, however, useful for reinforcement of certain skills at home or at the computer lab for an occasional change of pace.

One thing that Newsela does have going for it is the different levels of complexity it offers for the same article. That increases the odds of it being useful to English Language Learners.

One thing Newsela does not have going for it is that though it’s free for a “trial,” it clearly indicates that it will cost at some point but the only way you can find out the price is if you send them an email. That makes me a bit suspicious, especially since most of the other sites on my previously mentioned “The Best” list are free.

Nevertheless, at least until they start charging, I’ll be adding Newsela to that list.

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May 13, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Resources On “Close Reading” — Help Me FInd More

'Jessie Reads (Close)' photo (c) 2010, Peter Alfred Hess - license:

The concept of “close reading” has been getting more and more attention lately as the Common Core Standards are being implement.

As Dr. Douglas Fisher explains:

Close reading isn’t in the Common Core State Standards. However, an analysis of the Common Core State Standards really says you’ve got to learn the text well. The Common Core State Standards require that students provide evidence and justification for their answers. The only way we know how students can do this – that they really learn to provide evidence and justification – is if they closely read.

You’ll find a number of related resources in other posts, but I thought it would be useful to start a compilation specifically related to this “close reading” concept. And I hope you’ll contribute more.

Here are some previously published posts that might be useful:

My Best Posts On Books: Why They’re Important & How To Help Students Select, Read, Write & Discuss Them

The Best Posts & Articles About Why Book “Leveling” Is A Bad Idea

The Best Resources Documenting The Effectiveness of Free Voluntary Reading

How Reading Strategies Can Increase Student Engagement

Here are my choices for The Best Resources On “Close Reading”:

Closing in on Close Reading is from Educational Leadership.

Close Reading and the CCSS, Part 1 is a video and transcript of Dr. Douglas Fisher. Here’s Part Two.

How Do We Teach Close Reading? is from Teacher 2 Teacher Help.

Common Core – Close Reading is a Pinterest Board from Chelsea Higgins.

What, exactly, is close reading of the text? is by Grant Wiggins.

Tools for Teaching: Developing Active Readers is from Edutopia.

Here’s a sample chapter from Notice and Note, the great book by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst.

Grant Wiggins has written a very thorough and helpful post on the topic.

Does Background Knowledge Matter to Reading Comprehension? by Russ Walsh.

Here are some Close Reading sample lessons from Achieve The Core. Thanks to Rita Platt for the tip.

Turning Down the Volume on Assumptions: Lessons about Close Reading is from Burkins & Yaris.

Skills Practice | Using Storyboards to Inspire Close Reading is from The New York Times Learning Network, and shares a reading strategy that I think would be particularly useful to ELLs.

Quote Of The Day: “Close Reading and Far-Reaching Classroom Discussion”

Teach Kids to Build Their Own Prior Knowledge is by Laura Robb and appears in Middleweb.

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Common Core: A critical reading of “close reading” is from Rethinking Schools.

Close Reading Blog-a-thon Contributing Educators

Here’s a sample chapter from Falling in Love with Close Reading.

If you found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free.

You might also want to explore the 1100 other “The Best…” lists I’ve compiled.

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