Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

December 2, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Extrinsic Motivation In My Classroom

I’m a big advocate of intrinsic motivation in classroom management and a big opponent of the extrinsic kind, but I’ve always said in this blog and in my books that extrinsic motivation does have a place in the real world of our classrooms. The key is that it has to be kept in its place, too.

Often, part of keeping it in its place is being strategic about how it’s introduced and having an “exit plan” to get away from it.

Here’s an example of how I’m using the extrinsic kind of motivation in my classroom these days.

“John” is a great kid and wants to do the “right” thing, and he’s easily distracted. His distraction can be quite disruptive in class. I had tried just about every intrinsic tool in my tool box (see My Best Posts On “Motivating” Students), and nothing had worked.

One day awhile back, I pulled him out of one of his classes during my free period to chat. We discussed how easily he was distracted by others and, how other students knew they could easily get a reaction from him. It turned into a very productive conversation about “Why Do You Let Others Control You?”

From the very beginnings of our conversations about the issue earlier in the year, he’s been clear that he wanted to change, but nothing had worked. However, this “take” on being controlled by others seemed to really hit a chord, and he seemed particularly motivated to turn things around that day.

I proposed that we put a “post-it” on his desk each day, and that every time he didn’t react to someone trying to provoke him he would put a mark on it. He would receive ten extra credit points for each mark. It would be an honor system — I wouldn’t ask him what he did to “earn” each mark. He would turn it in at the end of each class and receive his extra credit. We discussed, though, how this wasn’t going to be a long term solution. Instead, it would a “bridge” to help him develop his self-control and to become more aware of his actions and, if it worked well, in a few weeks we’d stop it.

He was very enthusiastic.

The experiment has been going on for a couple of weeks, and has been remarkably successful so far. Even though he is not required to tell me what he’s done to “earn” his extra credit points, he pulls me over one-to-four times during each class period to quickly tell me about what provocations he’s recently resisted. His classroom behavior, though not perfect, is now more like that of a typical ninth-grade student. When he regresses, I just say his name and tap his desk or do one or the other, and he immediately says something like “Oh yeah” and stops the targeted behavior. I periodically ask him how he’s feeling about how he’s been handling himself, and it’s clear that he’s proud of his change.

My plan is to continue the experiment for a couple of more weeks, and then initiate a discussion with him about moving off the point system. My hope is, that like other times when I’ve used extrinsic motivators for classroom management, he’ll welcome that recognition that he’s become a more mature young man in control of his emotions and surroundings.

We’ll see. I’ll keep readers posted.

And, of course, I’m always eager to hear reactions and suggestions on how I can more effectively handle this situation.

I’m adding this post, perhaps prematurely, to The Best Posts On Classroom Management.

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November 30, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Do You Have Recommendations On How To Work With ELLs Who Have Special Needs?

There is, unfortunately, a long history of categorizing English Language Learners as having special needs when, in fact, they just need additional language support.

However, there are also English Language Learners who do, indeed, have special needs.

I’d like to publish — either at my Education Week Teacher column or here — recommendations from experienced educators on how to assist ELLs with special needs.

If you have experience in this area, please leave your contact information in the comments section of this post (all comments are moderated, and I won’t publish it). I’ll contact you and we can go from there….

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November 30, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

“Grit” Runs Amok In The New York Times

As regular readers know, I’m a big supporter of helping students develop Social Emotional Learning Skills (see The Best Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Resources), including grit/resilience (see The Best Resources For Learning About “Grit”).

At the same time, however, I’ve been very concerned about how some advocates of SEL have been promoting it as the cure-all for everything that ails schools and society (see The Best Articles About The Study Showing Social Emotional Learning Isn’t Enough and my Washington Post column, The manipulation of Social Emotional Learning).

Another ugly face to the SEL debate was raised in a recent New York Times column — using a first step towards genetic engineering to promote the SEL quality of grit/resilience.

No, that last sentence was not a joke.

In The Downside of Resilience, Professor Jay Belsky (who works down the street at the University of California in Davis), suggests that we can genetically identify children who would be more and less likely to have resilience and then:


Professor Belsky, who appears to have a history of making dubious claims (see Salon’s article, Jay Belsky doesn’t play well with others), primarily supports his belief in this Brave New World by citing a study made by Professor Kenneth Dodge in the Fast Track Project. However, Professor Dodge seems to have come to the opposite conclusion:

“This study adds to the experimental evidence for the important role that environment plays,” Dodge said. “Genes do not write an inalterable script for a child’s life. And not only does the environment matter greatly in a child’s development, we’ve shown that you can intervene and help that child succeed in life.”

Anthony Cody has previously written
about some of the connections between the eugenics movement and advocates of “grit.” I’ve got to say that, at the time, I thought his contention was overblown.

Now, however, this kind of column makes that connection clear — at least with some of these “grit” zealots. Anthony has written a post about this Times column, too, which I would suggest you read — The Resilience of Eugenics.

A few months ago I wrote a post titled With Friends Like David Brooks, Social Emotional Learning Doesn’t Need Any Enemies after The Times published another ridiculous SEL-related column.

Just substitute Professor Belsky’s name in that headline….

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November 29, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Guest Post: “How My Intermediate ESL Students Evaluated Me This Quarter”

As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of having students evaluate me and our classes each quarter or semester. I share the results publicly — warts and all — here on my blog, and you can see them at The Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers).

I’m a little behind on publishing results from our first quarter. However, Massachusetts teacher Jessica Haralson told me that she had been inspired by my posts to do the same with her class. Here’s her guest post about what happened:

Last year, Massachusetts’ DESE piloted an evaluation tool, asking students to “graded” their teachers. While there are pros and cons to the idea, I saw an opportunity. Why not adapt this for my English language learners?

As a fan of creating a climate of two-way respect – and  a fan of Larry Ferlazzo’s – I modified the surveys Larry Ferlazzo regularly gives his students.   Our first school quarter ended this week; I administered the survey on a Friday after students evaluated themselves.  With some tweaks fitting the context of my school, I made a survey very similar to Larry’s. (You can see the form I adapted here.)

When I told people about this idea, the response was universal: “You’re so brave.” “I could never do that.” “Aren’t they all going to give you bad grades to vent?” Some were even more concerned. (One teacher proposed I get a mental health evaluation.)

I, too, feared my students might use this opportunity for an ego-shattering pile-on . However, my students were honest.  They were positive, but pointed out blind spots. I took these results with a growth mindset.

(Some context. I teach two double-block ESL courses [and one sheltered English instruction history course; I will be giving them a similar survey later in the year.] I am fortunate to have small class sizes; responses totaled 33 out of a total of 37 ESL 3 students.  The ESL 3 2-3 block and 4-5 block both compromise intermediate ELLs, but the “personalities” of each class couldn’t be more different. My 2-3 block is younger, rowdier, and I tend to lose patience with them more; they need more instructional support to complete writing activities. The 4-5 class tends to be older and quieter, but needs to be “pushed” to verbally participate and do effective collaborative learning work.)

Here are the results, with raw data available here:



It felt good to see this. Only one student said they learned “a little” – and this was in my “rowdier” class.


I was glad to see independent reading was so popular, as I completely revamped my independent reading library this year and “pushed” free reading intensely at the start of the quarter. Additionally, it was surprising how popular learning vocabulary was. Students seemed indifferent about our vocabulary study sections of class, so that was an interesting twist.

3It’s dismaying to see that presenting is so universally unpopular, with writing a close second.   I interpret both results as reflecting the “difficulty” of the endeavor – presenting (producing speech) and writing (producing the written word) are cognitively more difficult than reading and listening.  I could also be doing a bad job “selling” the value of presentations – or need to adapt the presentation assignments in my class so they are less daunting.


This was a bit of a surprise; I perceived that students found vocabulary activities “boring.” I was even reflecting on changing or removing vocabulary study in the class! I’ll need to ask students more what they mean when they say they learn the most from vocabulary – do they want to learn more words, do more “word studies” (learning about roots, prefixes, suffixes, etc?) Or something else? Need to ask them.  I’m glad to see that students perceive the gains they are getting from our independent reading program.  A not-so-small part of me feared they would pan it.


This was by far the biggest surprise. I think my two biggest weaknesses are patience and organization – and these grades reflect that perception. However, students identified a bigger weakness that wasn’t even on my radar – perceived “caring.”  While I got more “As” than not on these traits, the spread in “Caring” is the widest out of each factor.

This could mean a lot of things. Am I playing “favorites”? (Possible.) Am I not doing enough to individually check in with students and ask them about their lives? (Very possible.) Should I be doing more to communicate with students besides verbal check-ins – writing notes of praise, for instance? (Most definitely.) This was a total blind spot for me – I know I care about my students! – but this shows I’m not doing enough to show it.

This exercise will change my practice. Next week, I plan to share these results with students, inviting them to clarify responses in writing or after school as appropriate, and with interested administrators. This has given me some focus points for quarter 2: (1) revamp presentations, (2) expand vocabulary instruction, and (3) work on demonstrating caring.

All in all, this was a valuable exercise, and I’ll definitely be inviting students to do it again.  Thank you, Larry, for opening your classroom so we can open up ours.

(About the author: Jessica Haralson is a second-year ESL educator teaching at an urban public school in the greater Boston area. She credits Larry Ferlazzo’s ELL Teachers’ Survival Guide with carrying her through her first year, and she’d love to hear from you at [email protected]) )

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November 28, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

What Are Your Top One-To-Three Mobile Apps For The Classroom – & Why?

I’ve been asked to write a short article listing the ten “best” mobile apps for the classroom.

I’ve got my ideas, but thought I’d invite readers to contribute their own, as well.

Leave a comment, or send me a tweet, with one-to-three of your favorite apps and, ideally, also write one sentence for each one saying why you like it so much.

I’ll publish everybody’s suggestion in a blog post here — of course, giving credit — and will also give you credit if your app makes my “top ten” cut.

I’d love to hear apps that can be applicable to as many content areas as possible, and am also interested in ones for math and science since I don’t know much either of those subjects.

Please let me know your suggestions by December 15th.

You might also be interested in:

The Best Mobile Apps For English Language Learners

The Best Sites For Beginning iPhone Users Like Me

The Best Resources For Beginning iPad Users

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November 26, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Giving Thanks: Eleven Key People Who Changed My Professional Career(s) — For The Better!

Yesterday, one of my favorite bloggers – Alexander Russo — wrote an excellent post titled Giving Thanks: 6 Key Moments That Changed My Post-Grad School Career .

It’s inspired me to do something similar:

1. Johnny Baranski, who invited me to join the Portland (Oregon) Catholic Worker and which led to my spending seven years in the Catholic Worker Movement, including starting a soup kitchen/emergency shelter in Santa Rosa, California.

2. Mary Ochs, who took a chance and hired me for my first job as a community organizer and led to a nineteen-year organizing career.

3. Larry McNeil, who was my first supervisor when I began organizing for the Industrial Areas Foundation and from whom I learned so much.

4. Jay Schenirer, then Sacramento School Board member, who encouraged me to apply for my first (and, so far, only) teaching job — at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento.

5. Ted Appel, Burbank principal, who hired me and who continues to provide incredible leadership at our school.

6. Kelly Young, who provides literacy consulting to our school and to others, and from whom I’ve learned more about teaching than from anyone else.

7. Katie Hull Sypnieski, Lara Hoekstra and Dana Dusbiber, close teaching colleagues, friends, and co-authors for the past eleven years.

8. John Norton from Middleweb, who provided very early encouragement to me to begin blogging and writing books.

9. Mary Ann Zehr, who suggested to Education Week that they approach me about writing a column there.

Feel free to share your “thank you’s” to people in the comments, or leave links to blog posts where you do the same….

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November 26, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Books That Grow” Is A Nice New Tool Offering Many Of The “Same” Texts At Different “Levels”


I’ve been a bit surprised at how popular The Best Places To Get The “Same” Text Written For Different “Levels” has been, though I probably shouldn’t be — these kinds of leveled texts can be very useful in the classroom.

Today, I’m making another nice addition to that list…

Books That Grow has a library of texts that have each been edited to be made accessible to different reading levels. And it has some other unique features — teachers can create virtual classrooms to assign and/or monitor what students what are reading and students can click on words that are new to them to see definitions and hear how they are pronounced. They are also planning on adding comprehension questions. The texts can be read on any device.

Everything is free for now, though they plan on starting to charge for some “premium” features in the 2015/16 school year.

You can register now on their sign-up page, and then they’ll contact you by email in a few hours or the next day with registration information. They won’t have a super-easy system in place until January for registering students in virtual classes, but they’ll do it for you manually prior to that time.

In addition to adding it to the previously-mentioned list, I’m going to put it on The Best Sites That Students Can Use Independently And Let Teachers Check On Progress one, too.

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November 26, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Create Virtual Classes & Have Students Write Book Reviews At “Bookopolis”


Bookopolis lets teachers create virtual classrooms — for free — where students can identify the book they’re reading (they just have to type in the title and the site automatically “finds” it) and write a review. There are a number of other features, too. It seems like a very useful site, though I’m less-than-thrilled with the extrinsic points and badges students can earn.

I’m adding it to The Best Sites That Students Can Use Independently And Let Teachers Check On Progress and to The Best Places Where Students Can Post Book Reviews For Authentic Audiences.

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November 25, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Teaching Ideas For #Ferguson #MichaelBrown

I published this list in August and thought readers would find it helpful if I shared it again tonight. I’ll add new resources as I find them or they are suggested:

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November 24, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Are You Having Success Teaching The Next Generation Science Standards To English Language Learners?

I published The Best Resources For Teaching The Next Generation Science Standards To English Language Learners last week, and I’d be very interested in talking with teachers who have had success teaching them to English Language Learners.

If you’d be open to talking with me, please leave your contact info in the comments section — all comments are moderated, and I won’t make it public.


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November 24, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

New & Important Resources On Race & Racism

November 24, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Three Useful Anti-Bullying Resources

Here are three new additions to A Very, Very Beginning List Of The Best Resources On Bullying:

How to teach … anti-bullying is from The Guardian.

How do other countries tackle bullying? is also from The Guardian.

Am I A Bully? is from The BBC.

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November 24, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Write About” May Be The Education Site Of The Year


Write About is a new site co-founded by educator John Spencer (his name may be familiar with readers since I’ve previously shared his work many times here). His co-founder is Brad Wilson.

And they’ve created what might be the Education Site of 2014.

Write About provides many (and I mean many) images with writing prompts. Students can write their response and do an audio recording of it. Teachers can create virtual classrooms and provide individual written feedback to student writing. Student creations can be shared publicly or just with their classmates. Teachers can change prompts or upload their own photos.

There’s a lot more, too.

Plus, you can’t beat the cost (or non-cost):

Teachers can sign up and participate in the Write About community for free. Up to 40 free student accounts can be created with up to 3 posts each. Unlimited posts can be added with a Classroom account for $4.95/month. Teachers with multiple classes can add up to 250 students with unlimited posts for $7.95/month.

I asked John why he created Write About and here’s his response:

“Brad and I met and had a similar vision for what we wanted. I wanted something that would allow my students to share their work more easily with layers of groups and have hundreds of writing ideas. I’ve been doing visual prompts for a long time and Brad had been using visual prompts in his app in order to promote student choice in writing. In short, I wanted to make something that my students would want to use.”

I think Write About is going to be an exceptional site, in particular for English Language Learners. It combines visual imagery, writing, speaking and listening – not to mention an authentic audience.

I’m adding it to The Best Sites That Students Can Use Independently And Let Teachers Check On Progress and to The Best Places Where Students Can Write Online.

Here’s a video introduction to the site:

I should point out that I had some trouble using the recording function on my home computer with a Windows 7 Operating System. I alerted John to the issue, and I’m sure it will fixed very quickly. It’s a minor issue for a brand-new site. It should work fine with other systems.

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November 23, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Two Important Posts On ClassDojo

You may be aware of The New York Times article earlier this week about the classroom management tool ClassDojo — I wrote about it in my post, One Of The More Depressing Passages You’ll Read This Week.

You can also find other posts about the app at The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students.

Two posts have been written this week about the app that I think are important for educators to read:

6 reasons to reject ClassDojo is by Joe Bower, who lays-out the critiques of ClassDojo clearly and articulately.

Bill Ferriter, a teacher who I respect very much, has written a very thoughtful post about he uses ClassDojo. It sounds like he applies it in a very careful and effective way, and not just as a blunt extrinsic motivation weapon. Based on how I read other teachers are using it, however, it sounds like Bill is more the exception than the rule. I think the creators of an app need to take responsibility for how people use the products of their work in destructive ways, just as education researchers need to do the same for their studies,

What do you think?

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November 23, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

What Is “Personalized Learning”?

Here are two new additions to The Best Resources For Understanding “Personalized Learning”:

What do you mean by Personalization? is by Elliot Washor (thanks to Barbara Bray for the tip). Here’s an excerpt:


5 Things You Should Know About Personalized Learning is from The Gates Foundation.

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November 22, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Resources For Teaching The Next Generation Science Standards To English Language Learners

I’ve just posted The Best Resources For Teaching Common Core Math To English Language Learners, and thought I’d publish this companion post, too.

Just as I’m interested in interviewing teachers who have had success teaching Common Core Math to ELLs, I’d like to talk with teachers who are effectively teaching the Next Generation Science Standards to them. Please leave a comment if you’re open to talking with me.

You might also be interested in The “All-Time” Best Science Sites . Of course, I also have a ton of other science-related “Best” lists, too.

Here are my choices for The Best Resources For Teaching The Next Generation Science Standards To English Language Learners (please suggest more):

Next Generation Science Standards and English-Learners is from Ed Week.

Teaching Science to English Language Learners: What do the NGSS Tell Us? is from Diane Staehr Fenner.

Language Demands and Opportunities in Relation to Next Generation Science Standards for English Language Learners: What Teachers Need to Know is from Understanding Language.

English Language Learners and the Next Generation Science Standards is from Next Generation Science.

Next Generation Science Standards and English Language Learners is from Project CORE.

Framework for English Language Proficiency Development Standards corresponding to the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards is from CCSSO.

New Science Standards Designed for Wide Range of Learners is from Education Week.

Cultivating Academic Language and Literacy in Science Instruction was the title of a recent Webinar, which I believe can be viewed for free.

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November 22, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Two Useful Resources On Educator Professional Development

November 22, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Are You A Teacher With Experience Teaching Common Core Math To ELLs?

If you are teaching math to English Language Learners and are successfully integrating the Common Core Standards, I’d love to interview you.

Please leave a comment on this post with your contact information — all comments are moderated, and I won’t make it public.

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November 20, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Here’s The Simple & Powerful Gratitude Lesson I’m Doing On Friday Before Thanksgiving Break

I’ve previously posted this simple lesson that my colleague Katie Hull and I have done before Thanksgiving and, instead of just posting the link, I figured it would be easier for readers if I just reprinted this post here:

'gratitude' photo (c) 2009, hurricanemaine - license:

I’ve written in my books and here on my blog how I use the concept of “gratitude” in class (see The Best Resources On “Gratitude”).

Today, my colleague Katie Hull did a simple and powerful lesson using one of the resources on that “Best” list and I thought I’d share it here.

It’s based on an experiment and video that “Soul Pancake’ did (the video is on that list, but I’ve also embedded again in this post).

Katie gave her students this writing prompt (which is very similar to the question used in the video):

Close your eyes and think of somebody who is really influential in your life and/or who matters to you. Why is this person so important?

She also shared what she had written about her father as a model. After students wrote it, and shared in partners, she showed the video. Then, she encouraged people to to share what they wrote with the person they wrote about — in fact, some students felt they wanted to share it right then by calling.

Tears were shed.

One girl insisted on calling her mother in class, and then the class pushed Katie to call her father right then and there and read what she wrote.

A powerful lesson to kick-off Thanksgiving break….

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November 20, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Here’s The Form I Have Students Complete When They’re Listening To Their Classmate’s Presentations

There are many benefits to having small groups of students make presentations to their classmates, including the fact that the presenters have an “authentic audience” beyond the teacher.

But how can we maximize its benefit to both speakers and listeners?

One strategy I use, particularly in my International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge classes, is have listeners complete this form anonymously sharing what they liked about the presentation and suggestions for improvement.

Listeners complete the form and I collect them for each group until all the presentations are complete. If the presenters are given them prior to that time they are obviously tempted to read them instead of listen to the other presenters.

I’ve used different versions of this form in other classes and it’s generally been pretty successful, though in ninth-grade classes some students don’t take it as seriously as I would like.

In addition to that form, students also have to write down the name of each group and one thoughtful question they would like to ask. Then, the group chooses one student to ask their question and then the group responds to it. I collect the list, and it functions as an effective form of accountability.

What are your suggestions for how I can improve the form and this process?

I’m adding this post to The Best Ideas To Help Students Become Better Listeners.

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