Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

March 26, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

My New BAM! Podcast: What Are The Benefits & Challenges Of A One-To-One Program?


My latest nine-minute BAM! Radio Podcast is on What Are the Real Benefits of a 1:1 Program? What Are the Biggest Challenges?

Educators Alice Barr and Troy Hicks share their thoughts, and they are also among contributors to one of my future Education Week columns on the topic.

I’m adding it to The Best Resources On “One-To-One” Laptop/Tablet Programs.

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March 26, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Origami & The Language Experience Approach

'Origami 3/365' photo (c) 2012, Cali4beach - license:

In the Language Experience Approach, students do an activity and then used the shared experience to develop a group written description of what just happened, as well as using it as a good speaking, listening, and reading opportunity. It’s a great language learning activity.

Making origami can be a good task for students to do, with students either all doing the same thing or choosing different ones.

We’re very fortunate, since Johnny Doolittle, an art teacher at our school, gives up his free period each year to spend two days with my class of English Language Learners to teach us origami. Afterwards, Beginners write about what we did, and Intermediates in my Geography class do it as part of our studying Japan (see The Best Sites For Learning About Japan, which includes links to good sites on the history of origami).

Of course, you don’t have to have an art teacher show your students how to do it — their are plenty of online sites. The Origami Club, I think, may be the best site on the web for origami instructions. Both a diagram and animation is provided for each model, and they’re divided into leveled activities.

Today was the first day of our origami lessons, and you can see the video of our efforts below. Tomorrow, Mr. Doolittle will show us how to make the most famous origami creation (which we studied as part of our Japan unit) — paper cranes.


Here’s our video from the second day, and here is a comment from Mr. Doolittle sharing other suggestions for teachers who want to try this:

From John Doolittle:

The instructions I use are from:

I like the way the site is laid out. Their printable instructions are fairly easy to follow. I’ve been able to work them all out… except the “rose,” which only two of my past students have ever been able to do… after studying the youtube video.
I’m sorry to say I have ruined many fine pieces of paper in failing to complete the “rose!”

I would definitely advise teachers to make the origami model themselves before trying it with a class full of students, but it is a fun activity, and I love doing it with your students, Larry!

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March 24, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Scrawlar” Will Certainly Be One Of The Top Web 2.0 Tools Of The Year…


Scrawlar lets teachers create virtual classrooms, lets students write and use a “whiteboard,” doesn’t require student email registration (just a classroom password and a student-created sign-in code, and is free. It’s also usable on laptops, desktops, tablets and phones.

It doesn’t get much better than that!

For now, I’m adding it to The Best Sites That Students Can Use Independently And Let Teachers Check On Progress, but I assume I’ll be adding it to other “Best” lists, too.

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March 23, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Some Recent Excellent Posts On Classroom Instruction

'China Teachimng 2012 by Elisabeth Ross' photo (c) 2010, Frontierofficial - license:

As usual, I’m hopelessly behind in sharing resources I want to post about, so I’ve decided to share several ones that loosely fall under the category of “classroom instruction.” This may or may not become the first in a series:

Skills Practice | Alternative History as Narrative is from The New York Times Learning Network. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Teaching “What If?” History Lessons.

‘Genius hour’: What kids can learn from failure is from CNN. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Applying “Fed Ex Days” To Schools.

The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar is from The Atlantic. I’m adding it to The Best Sites For Grammar Practice.

Hattie’s Index Of Teaching & Learning Strategies: 39 Effect Sizes In Ascending Order is from TeachThought.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Flipping Your Class is by Jon Bergmann. I’m adding it to The Best Posts On The “Flipped Classroom” Idea.

Nine Do’s and Don’ts for Cultivating Student Autonomy is from Education Week Teacher.

Teaching About the Jordan Davis Murder Trial is from Edutopia. I’m adding it to The Best Posts, Articles & Lesson Plans On The Jordan Davis Tragedy & Verdict: Our “Classrooms Are Full Of Him.”

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March 22, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

English Language Learners Design Their Own “Ideal” Neighborhoods

I’ve written a lot about my annual favorite lesson of the year for English Language Learners — students first identify what neighborhood qualities are most important to them; they then analyze their neighborhood and the wealthiest one in Sacramento (including through field trips and statistical analyses); next they decide which one they think is the best; and then they write a persuasive essay sharing their reasons. Every year, and this one has been no exception, at least ninety-percent choose our school’s neighborhood over the “Fabulous Forties.”

You can read their essays here and you can see a complete description of the unit plan at A Lesson Highlighting Community Assets — Not Deficits.

But their essay is not the culminating task for this three-week unit.

Lastly, they have to design their own ideal neighborhood; write about what they have put in it and why, as well as who lives in it. Then, they use Fotobabble to show their design and record a summary of what they wrote about it.

Here are some examples, and you can see the rest at our class blog.

This whole lesson is just another way to reinforce that, just as our ELLs bring far more assets than deficits to the table, so do our neighborhoods….

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March 20, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Today Is “Character Day”?


Apparently, today is “Character Day” — whatever that means.

I believe (though may be wrong) that the film-maker behind the eight-minute video I’ve embedded below, came up with the idea and unveiled her film today. It’s called “The Science Of Character” and seems like a nice enough video — I could see presenting it as an introduction to a Social Emotional Learning lesson (see The Best Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Resources). The film’s home site offers a number of related teaching resources.

Personally, though, I’m much more enthusiastic about the resources and ideas put together by Facing History at 8 Multimedia Resources to Study the Science of Character on #CharacterDay.

As regular readers know, however, I’m becoming increasingly concerned about how the idea of teaching “character” is being “vanilla-ized” and/or manipulated towards inappropriate ends. You can see more of my thoughts in my Washington Post piece, The manipulation of Social Emotional Learning and in a recent blog post here titled This Has Me Concerned: “Study Links Teacher ‘Grit’ with Effectiveness, Retention.”

Nevertheless, I think it is possible to teach character in effective and appropriate ways. In fact, I’ve published two multi-part series on the topic at my Education Week Teacher column — last year and this year.

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March 19, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best (Or, At Least, The Most Interesting) Posts On Teacher Attire

'Tie Straightened' photo (c) 2006, glindsay65 - license:

I’ve worn a sport coat and tie everyday during my ten year teaching career (except for when we go on field trips to San Francisco and to Yosemite), and have explained my rationale for doing so in previous posts that have garnered many comments (I’ll link to them later in this post).

Recently, the topic of teacher attire has been in the news lately, and I thought it would be useful for me to bring those new articles together in one “The Best” list, along with my past ones. I hope you’ll share your own comments….

First, here are the new ones:

Ofsted launches new clampdown on scruffy teachers
is from The Telegraph.

Teachers condemned for being too scruffy – report is from The Telegraph.

Do Clothes Make the Teacher? is by Walt Gardner at Education Week.

Now, here are my posts — and you definitely want to check out the comments left on them, too:

A Question On Teacher Attire

Can An Educator’s Clothes Affect How He/She Teaches?

Study: Appearances Matter

I’d recommend you also read Dave Dodgson’s post, Suits you, Sir!

Let me know what you think….

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March 19, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

I’m Not Sure How Effective It Will Be, But Sugata Mitra’s New Online Tool Definitely Looks Interesting


I’ve previously published two fairly popular posts about Professor Sugata Mitra and his famous “holes in the wall” experiments where he placed computers in impoverished Indian communities and students “self-organized” their instruction.

The first post was one where I shared a number of concerns I had about his work (see Questions About Sugata Mitra & His “Holes In The Wall”) and then a guest post in response from Rory Gallagher. Both attracted many comments — particularly Rory’s — and Sugata Mitra also participated in the comment thread.

Professor Mitra was awarded the TED Prize last year, and expanded his worth with that support.

One of the results is his new site called “School In The Cloud.”

You can read more about it at TED, but here are some excerpts:

Mitra — a professor at Newcastle University — has also pioneered a digital tool, a virtual School in the Cloud Community Platform with the help of core technology and innovation partner Microsoft and their Skype Social Good team. The web platform, launched this week, ensures that anyone, anywhere around the world can experiment with self-organized learning. Made by Many, the product design team, spent six months co-creating the platform with Mitra’s team, Microsoft and children themselves, to ensure that the experience translates across cultural and economic barriers. Essentially, it is a giant global experiment in self-organized learning, inviting everyone to help design the future of learning.

The online platform acts as a one-stop shop for people interested in exploring self-organized learning. It includes an easy tool to start a SOLE and a library of resources showcasing Mitra’s research and the philosophy behind self-organized learning. The platform is also the hub for a network of Skype Grannies — retired teachers who encourage children by asking them the kinds of questions that get them thinking. For those interested in becoming a Skype Granny, or online mentor, the Community Platform guides them through the registration process and prepares them for their role in the self-organized learning environment. Educators and kids can quickly connect online or via text message with a Skype Granny, to embark on intellectual adventures.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the platform is the SOLE session tools. Not only do these tools guide children by posing big questions, their intellectual journey is easily tracked by selecting language, images and videos for a final presentation. It’s this process that sparks curiosity and culminates with a dynamic and critical discussion– all essential skills to prepare children for the future. Educators can also track children’s engagement, confidence and “search skills.”

I’m writing this post late at night after a long day of California High School Exam testing, so I don’t have the energy to fully explore his new site. But it sure looks interesting, and I’ll be looking forward to checking it out further later in the week.

Let me know what you think of it, too….

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March 17, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Here’s One More Small Thing I’m Doing To Help Students See The Importance Of Social Emotional Learning

'learn' photo (c) 2008, F Delventhal - license:

As an advocate of helping our students develop Social Emotional Learning skills (as well as a critic of SEL manipulation), I’m also looking for new ways to reinforce them.

Today, I tried something new and it seemed to go pretty well.

I invited students in my mainstream ninth-grade English classes to do an extra credit (yes, I’m not a total believer in intrinsic motivation) project researching up to three potential careers they might be considering.

There’s a “twist” to it, though.

Along with some of the usual info you’d expect in such a report — school/training requirements, potential salary range — I’m also asking students to write about if and how they see the SEL and literacy skills that we’ve had specific lessons about this year (Self-control; grit; being a good leader; being a good writer and reader; taking personal responsibility) might be useful to them in those careers (You can download the student hand-out and instructions here).

Students asked for an example, and I started talking about what would happen if you want to be an Ultimate Fighter and you lose control in the ring. One student interrupted me and shared how he had gotten kicked off his boxing team after he lost control in the ring — it was perfect!

Quite a few students expressed interest in doing it. Even better, most of them were students who most need to have those SEL skills reinforced.

I’ll share what they come up between now and the end of the year….

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March 16, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

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

'The Five Ws' photo (c) 2007, Emily Moe - license:

MindShift has published an absolutely great post titled Why It’s Imperative to Teach Students How to Question as the Ultimate Survival Skill, written by Warren Berger.

My colleagues and I were just discussing different strategies to help students value the importance of asking thoughtful questions — we’re teaching lessons on the difference between literal and interpretative questions now (I’ve written about those lessons in The NY Times).

This post and writing prompt will be a great addition to that lesson, and to the other ideas I’ve written about in my books and in The Best Posts & Articles About Asking Good Questions.

Here’s the writing prompt students will be responding to after they’ve read the MindShift post:

What is Warren Berger saying about the importance of learning how to ask good questions? Do you agree with his position? To support your opinion you may use examples from your own experiences, your observations of others, and anything that you have read, including this essay.

I’ll be adding this post to My Best Posts On Writing Instruction, where I’ve been collecting various writing prompts.

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March 15, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

The “All-Time” Best Resources, Articles & Blog Posts For Teachers Of English Language Learners


I’ve been posting annual lists of The Best Resources, Articles & Blog Posts For Teachers of ELLs for a number of years. In addition, I’ve also been publishing separate lists of The Best Websites For English Language Learner Students, which mainly focuses on self-access student sties.

I thought it would be useful for readers, my students, and me to review them all and identify my choices for the “all-time” best ones for teachers. I’ll be following-up with one for students, soon. Later today, I’ll also be publishing the first post in a series on teaching ELLs over at my Education Week Teacher column, and wanted to share this resource there.

I’ve begun creating a number of these “All-Time” Best list, with The “All-Time” Best Ways To Create Online Content Easily & Quickly being the first ; The “All-Time” Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education second;  The “All-Time” Best Videos For Educators third;  The “All-Time” Best Online Learning Games was the fourth one; The “All-Time” Best Social Studies Sides was fifth; The “All-Time” Best Science Sites was sixth; and The “All-Time” Best Places To Find The Most Popular (& Useful) Resources For Educators was number seven.

Look for quite a few more “All-Time” Best lists over the next couple of months.

There are nearly 1,300 Best lists now that are categorized and updated regularly.  You can see them all here.

I’ve included several of my “The Best” lists on this list.  Those lists mainly link to resources developed by other teachers.  For those topics, there are just so many excellent resources I just couldn’t pick one or two to highlight here.

Here are my choices for  The “All-Time” Best Resources, Articles & Blog Posts For Teachers Of English Language Learners (These are not listed in any order of preference). Be sure to let me know what I’m missing:

I have to start by sharing what I think are the Best Three Sites On The Web For ESL/EFL/ELL/ELT Teachers. These three sites provide large quantities of high quality resources for teachers and students, and they’re free. They’re my “go to” sites that I check check daily, and typically more often, to see what’s new.

The Teaching English – British Council Facebook page. This site is probably the most popular — and deservedly so — site for ESL/EFL/ELL teachers in the world.  Ann Foreman does an extraordinary job inviting and sharing resources from teachers throughout the world.

EFL Classroom 2.0. I’ve posted countless times already about this site, and the great work by its founder, David Deubelbeiss.

Ressources Pour Le College En Anglais is another site I’ve mentioned often. Michelle Henry does an incredible job of curating resources for students and teachers.

I’m obviously biased, but I think the weekly posts I write for the New York Times Learning Network on teaching ELLs are one of the best resources on the Web for both students and teachers.

ELT Chat and ELLchat on Twitter are excellent ways to learn from and connect with other English teachers.

Readers of our book, The ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide, know that there’s a lesson plan in it helping students learn the qualities of a successful language learner and that they do a self-assessment as part of it. Part of that lesson includes use of The Best Videos Illustrating Qualities Of A Successful Language Learner. Marisa Constantinides has created a quiz called Are You A Good Language Learner (completely separate from our lesson), which would be great to give to students. And the EFL Smart Blog has turned Marisa’s quiz into an interactive one that could be taken online. It’s an excellent activity to use on its own or as part of our lesson plan.

Kate Kinsella has a collection of hand-outs to assist in academic language instruction. I’m adding it to The Best Websites For Developing Academic English Skills & Vocabulary.

English Agenda is a site from the British Council which offers a wealth of language-teaching research and online professional development.

Teaching English at the British Council features a “blog post of the month” from English teachers throughout the world. It’s a great collection.  The entire Teaching English site has a wealth of useful resources.

Maximising Learning in Large Classes and Teaching Large Classes are both from The British Council. I’m adding them to The Best Resources On Teaching Multilevel ESL/EFL Classes.

The Best Ideas For Using Games In The ESL/EFL/ELL Classroom

Alex Case has put together a list of his most popular blog posts/shared resources from the TEFLtastic blog.

The Best Ways To Use Photos In Lessons

Sean Banville has an “empire” of nine excellent free websites that have to be bookmarked by an teacher of English Language Learners. Check them all out here.

Get Organized Around Assets is the title of an article I wrote for  ASCD’s Educational Leadership. I think it’s the best piece I’ve written on teaching ELLs. It’s subtitled:

The steps community organizers use to help change people’s lives can help teachers improve English language learners’ reading.

The Best Resources For Adapting Your Textbook So It Doesn’t Bore Students To Death

The Best Sites For Free ESL/EFL Hand-Outs & Worksheets

The Best Popular Movies/TV Shows For ESL/EFL

The Best Music Websites For Learning English

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March 14, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Resources On The Dangers Of Multitasking

'How to become a SocialMediaManager' photo (c) 2011, Urs Steiner - license:

I’m beginning to prepare and short lesson on dangers of multitasking, and thought I’d bring together some of the resources I’ll be using for it. Additional suggestions are welcome:

You might also be interested in The Best Research On Listening To Music When Studying.

Don’t Multitask: Your Brain Will Thank You is from TIME.

Why Humans Are Bad at Multitasking is from Live Science.

12 reasons to stop multitasking now is from Fox News.

The Multitasking Mind is from

Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work is from Forbes.

How Does Multitasking Change the Way Kids Learn? is from Mind/Shift.

Here’s a video from Daniel Willingham:

What people know about the cost of multitasking is also by Dan Willingham.

Data shows kids shouldn’t multitask is by Dan Willingham, too.

Here’s an interactive on multitasking from Scientific American.

You can see all 1,300 of my “The Best…” lists here.

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March 13, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Difference Between Parent “Involvement” & Parent “Engagement”


I was a guest on a recent #PTchat to discuss the difference between parent “involvement” and parent “engagement.”

I’ve posted selected tweets from that chat over at my other blog, Engaging Parents In School.

You might be interested in The Difference Between Parent “Involvement” & Parent “Engagement”: Selected Tweets From #PTchat.

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March 13, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Bookmark “Teach UNICEF” For Excellent Lesson Materials


Teach UNICEF is an excellent resource for lesson plans and materials on social topics. I haven’t quite figured out the exact way to navigate it — it has an organized collection here, and then they have “Global Citizen Brief” like this one on Syria that appear to be elsewhere on the site.

The lesson materials are top-notch and provide versions based on grade-levels. Some of the student questions in the lesson plans themselves seem a little too UNICEF oriented, so I suspect most teachers will modify them.

I really like how some of the lessons have specific photo and video-based supplements that are useful for all students, and especially for English Language Learners.

Here is how the organization describes itself:

TeachUNICEF is a portfolio of global education teacher resources designed and collected by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s Education Department for teachers, afterschool instructors, and parents. The units, lesson plans, stories, videos and multimedia cover topics ranging from the Millennium Development Goals to poverty and water and sanitation.

I’m adding them to The Best Places To Find Free (And Good) Lesson Plans On The Internet.

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March 13, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Video Clips & Full-Length Movies For Helping To Teach Persuasive Techniques (Help Me Find More)

'Asian Persuasion Food Track' photo (c) 2012, Mike Avila - license:

I have a ton of resources related to teaching persuasive writing (see The Best Online Resources For Helping Students Learn To Write Persuasive Essays), especially to English Language Learners.

I decided it would be helpful to find video clips to supplement teaching this unit, which I’m doing right now.

I was surprised to find that several other sites have developed great collections of video clips that would be very helpful, which I’ll list in this post.

I’d love to hear more suggestions. I’m especially interested in hearing ideas for full-length movies that would be useful. I use Luis Rodriguez’s book It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way/No tiene que ser asi: A Barrio Story/Una historia del barrio as an example (talking about persuasion related to joining — and not joining — a gang), and it would be great to find a full-length movie that I could use similarly — gang-related or not.

Here are the collections of useful video clips I’ve found:

Best Persuasive Speeches in film history? is from Reddit.

Persuasion in movies

WingClips Persuasion

Watch Know Learn:Persuasive

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March 13, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Interviewly” Makes Great Reddit Interviews Legible


The Reddit website has great “Ask Me Anything (AMA)” interviews with well-known people, and I’ve posted about some of them. The content is fascinating. However, it’s almost like they had a contest for who could create the most unattractive and difficult-to-read format, and used the winner’s idea to use as the lay-out for the interviews themselves.

Now, though, Inteviewly has taken some of the best AMA’s and reformatted them into very attractive and accessible designs. They’ve categorized them, too, including a section on authors. These include ones with R.L. Stine and Judy Blume. Those could be read by students in their entirety, or teachers can excerpt parts as Read Alouds.

I’m assuming the people behind Interviewly have negotiated copyright issues with Reddit. If not, the site might not be up for long…

Thanks to TechCrunch for the tip.

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March 9, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Book Excerpt: “Kidding Around: The Power of Positive Psychology”

Kidding Around-COVER_Layout 1


I’m lucky today to publish an excerpt from a top-notch book, Kidding Around: Connecting kids to happiness, laughter and humor, by education consultant and veteran school principal Sue Stephenson.

Sue Stephenson has over 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal, staff developer, instructional consultant, author and speaker. She has written four books that focus on building trusting relationships and positive methods to cope with stress, including Kidding Around and Laughing Matters. Her keynotes and workshops focus on a passion for happiness & laughter and teamwork & trust. Contact her through her website,, and follow her on Twitter @sue4stephenson.

It was just published by Powerful Learning Press. John Norton, one of the people I most admire in the education world, is its managing editor (I’ve written a lot about John over the years).

I asked John to write a short description of the Press because I think both readers and potential authors would be interested in learning about it. Here’s what he contributed:

Powerful Learning Press was launched in late 2012 with this mission: We want to provide an alternative to mainstream education publishers — both for educators interested in reading about connected learning and student-driven teaching models — and for classroom practitioners ready to share what they know without having to run the gauntlet of traditional publishing. 

Our digital products are concise and priced well below typical professional education books. We share profits 50/50 with authors, who retain the copyright to their work. Relying heavily on social media, PLPress (a project of Powerful Learning Practice LLC) markets eBooks through our online store that are (1) works we develop through editorial partnerships with educator-authors; or (2) self-published or out-of-print works that we feel are a good fit with our mission. 

In addition to the eBook release of Sue Stephenson’s Kidding Around and Laughing Matters, PLPress will publish two original works later this spring: Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students by Pernille Ripp; and Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment by Matt Renwick. Last year we published books by primary teacher Kathy Cassidy and middle school teacher Marshal Ratzel.

For more information, contact John Norton, managing editor: john/at/

And, now, here’s the excerpt from Sue’s book:

Kidding Around: The Power of Positive Psychology

Excerpted from Kidding Around: Connecting kids to happiness, laughter and humor, by education consultant and veteran school principal Sue Stephenson.

“For every one hundred articles on sadness, there is just one on happiness.”—Martin Seligman

The Happiness Movement brought with it a new field focused on an interest in well-being and living better lives. Psychologist Martin Seligman coined the phrase “positive psychology” and provided a refreshing way to look at our feelings, especially happiness.  He said in 2005, “I realized that my profession was half-baked. It wasn’t enough for us to nullify disabling conditions. . . .We needed to ask, what are the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish?”—“The New Science of Happiness,” Time, C. Wallis, Jan. 9, 2005.

Let’s think about happiness and sadness in a slightly different way by using the Happiness Line from 0 (extremely unhappy) to 10 (extremely happy). The bottom of the line (zero) represents people with feelings of sadness, depression or being “down”. This can happen for many reasons. Some people (called “happy-chondriacs”) feel they are not meant to be happy, and live in fear of happiness.

happiness line-633

If we feel just OK or neutral (not particularly happy or unhappy), we are in the middle of the line (at 5).  When we are feeling extremely happy, ecstatic, joyous and fantastic, we are at the top end of the Happiness Line (at 10).  Research done by Ed Diener, the author of 240 scientific publications on the topic, reports that most people are mildly happy most of the time.

It can help to assign numbers to places along the line, so we could say, for example, “I am at 7 today,” to help ourselves and others figure out what kind of day it is in “our world.” Teachers and parents could use a large wall chart of the Happiness Line on the bulletin board or on the fridge so children can start putting words to their “place on the line.”

It’s normal to move up and down on the Happiness Line daily or weekly, because our moods or emotional states change and things happen to us and our families that are sad or happy. You don’t want children to pretend to be happy. That would be phony and artificial and would cause more stress. We all have to deal with anxiety, anger, frustration and sadness. The Happiness Line helps children start to think more deeply about this range of feelings.

It’s important to know that, if you end up stuck at zero for more than a few weeks, you need to reach out and get some help.

“ For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our Happiness Range

Our total amount of happiness can be divided into three parts:

a)    our genetic set range—about 50 percent

b)    our life circumstances—about 10 percent

c)     our voluntary choices—about 40 percent

Each of us has a certain emotional range or area on the Happiness Line where we “hang out” most of the time. Seligman calls this our “set range” and says that 50 percent of our happiness potential is predetermined, inherited through our genes from our birth parents. In fact, studies conducted on the personality development of twins and adopted children show that “the psychology of identical twins turns out to be much more similar than that of fraternal twins, and the psychology of adopted children turns out to be much more similar to their biological parents than to their adoptive parents” (Seligman, 2002, p.47.)

Life circumstances include the country we live in and the family we have. Circumstances can improve happiness for the better, although it may be difficult or expensive to do so. They make up about 10 percent of our happiness. Surprisingly, education, race, financial income, gender and climate don’t affect happiness a great deal.

The really good news is that the third category of voluntary choices, the way we act and think, is largely within our control. The effort required may be great, but the result will be more lasting. What type of and how many friends do you want to have? What will you spend your money on? How will you deal with the sad times you encounter? What type of language do you use? Are you pessimistic or optimistic? Do you reach out and help others in your community? These voluntary choices are the basis of my book Kidding Around.

“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” —Carlos Castaneda

Let’s use a trampoline to represent the amount of happiness we inherit from our birth parents. It’s a given weight and size we cannot change—like the weather, where we live and our own level of energy. Yet we have so many choices—how often we use the trampoline, if we ask friends to join us, how high we can jump—and how safe we are while we use our trampoline.

These positive effects are a dramatic argument for studying and understanding happiness.

ACTIVITY: My Happiness Line Survey 

Study the range of feelings on the Happiness Line with children and students so they become familiar with the levels from 0-10.

• Take a quick happiness survey. Ask children to select their own current happiness point on the line. Talk about their decision. What range is normal for them—for example, between 4 and 8?

• Ask kids to start to think about how often they feel happy (6 or above), neutral (at 5) or unhappy (4 or below). Where do they hang out the most?

• Ask kids to think of a time when they were at 10, 5 and 0 on the Happiness Line. Can they describe a situation for each one in a drawing or in a few sentences? What was happening?  Can they recall specific details?

• Ask a wider group of kids where they are on the line.  There is always a range of feelings in any group and it will be interesting for kids to experience this.

Kids could get to know the feelings associated with different points on the line and start to refer to them by number. Teachers could place Happiness Lines on each desk so that students could nonverbally indicate where they are when they arrive in the morning and where they move during the day.

Make a larger chart or poster for the house or classroom so the Happiness Line becomes a visual aid for everyone to use on a daily basis. This would help teachers and parents know when to press and when not to interrupt.

When Kids Don’t Feel Happy

It’s natural for kids to experience a wide range of feelings. No one feels happy all the time. All feelings are acceptable and valid. It is important to get support around more challenging feelings. No one can prevent “stuff” from happening. Kids Help Phone in Canada says that “(e)very young person will experience disappointment and sadness. What’s important is how they deal with these powerful feelings.” Often the only way to get past a troublesome difficult situation is to just go through it.  Having someone for help and support can make all the difference.

In my book Kidding Around, I go on to talk more about what we can do “when kids don’t feel happy,” including five easy-to-remember steps kids can take when faced with intense emotions. I also talk about the important differences between sadness and depression and when mental health issues may require professional help.

Among the most important things we can do is to simply remove barriers and start conversations — to be sensitive to the emotions of kids around us.  Watch for kids who never seem to laugh. Try to find out more about them and start a relationship. Some may come from homes where they are taught to act “maturely.” Some come from homes where there is no laughter. Some may be abused or bullied.  Some may have eating disorders or have harmed themselves.  Each one has his or her own story.

Let kids you are concerned about know they can talk with you about anything.  Listen to what they have to say.  Help them to feel more in control of their feelings instead of being controlled by them.


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March 9, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

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

'Neighborhood Appeal Logo' photo (c) 2014, Neighborhood Appeal - license:

Every year, my Beginning and Intermediate English Language Learners class do a neighborhood comparison project as part of learning how to write a persuasive essay.

You can read all about it at A Lesson Highlighting Community Assets — Not Deficits. In summary, students identify the qualities important to them in a neighborhood, compare their neighborhood with the richest neighborhood in Sacramento, and then write about which area one they like best. Almost all students choose their present one.

Here’s a slideshow of the field trip we took walking around the school’s neighborhood on Friday, which I’m still recovering from….

Also, I’m doing one thing differently this year. Sometimes, when I’m feeling ambitious, we also take a field trip to the wealthy neighborhood, known as the Fabulous Forties. When I don’t have it in me to do it (like this year — usually I can only handle two field trips a year — one to our surrounding neighborhood and another a twenty hour trip to San Francisco. Visiting the Fab Forties also requires additional stress because sometimes residents call the police to investigate what we’re doing on their street), we take a virtual tour using Google Maps. But that’s a bit problematic because sometimes it’s a bit slow and cumbersome.

So, this year, I’m using Google Street View Hyperlapse. It lets you pick point A and a Point B, and then takes you on superquick tour (which you can slow down by clicking the space bar). You can see three maps of different sections of the Fab Forties here that I’ve created.

Finally, students created some videos at the end our field trip. You can see them here. They’re okay, but I was too exhausted to put much energy into them by that time. Here are the instructions I gave them.

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