Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

August 1, 2017
by Larry Ferlazzo

Guest Post From An English Language Learner Student

Introduction from teacher Carol Salva:

When Wendhy Rodriguez Maldonado was added to my Newcomer English Language Development (NELD) class I could tell that she had native language literacy and significant receptive comprehension. I worried that the Newcomer class would be too low for her.

On the contrary, Wendhy is an impressive scholar who thrived in the class. At the end of the year, she asked to write a reflection. Our newcomers don’t always possess the language to express themselves. I offer Wendhy’s words to all Newcomer teachers. She speaks for your students.

On October of 2016, I started eleventh grade in a new High School, it was the second one since I had moved, I was very happy, I realized change was something I should get used to. Sometimes it is common to perceive it in a negative way, but on the contrary, I think it is not precisely a bad thing, if we open our mind to the possibilities, there are lots of elements we can enjoy if we take the opportunity to expand our horizons.

When I was in my country, I learned basic English, a knowledge that I did not know would help me so much during the process of being a newcomer, or ESL student. Although I could not start a conversation yet, or even understand one, I could recognize several written words and orient myself in a context, and that represented an advantage, nevertheless, there was still much to learn. Initially, the classes did not make too much sense to me, and it resulted frustrating the fact of not understanding, but just like when I was a kid, the senses started to guide me to the comprehension and learning, directed undoubtedly with the help of teachers. I heard and caught some words until I could get an idea. In my first school my English improved a bit, I already had listening comprehension, but I was still struggled with what was perhaps the biggest problem; the speaking, to me, it was incredibly difficult to communicate verbally, I was thinking too much in the order, the words, and something barely coherent was what came out of me, this was a problem, I later understood that in real-world dialogues, no one waits for you. I believed that this could get better with time, but, time passed and I did not seem to progress, so there was something wrong, and I craved to overcome it.

Later I began the next year in another school, and again, my nerves were present in the new environment, I was assigned a schedule with the respective classes, and on my first day, I started with one in particular; NELD. When the door opened, the first thing to greet me was a gentle smile from my teacher who holding a wand in her hands, gave me a “Welcome” and then “Say hi to our new student” whilst the rest of the students greeted me and joined in the class. In that moment, I was aware of what was happening in my mind; after of all the difficulties that had been presented for so long, that my eyes were appreciating that colorful and cheerful classroom, full of friendly and enthusiastic people was very welcoming, it was a breath of fresh air, I felt as if a big weight fell from my shoulders. As the days passed, that room began to feel like home, and I am sure that as I had perceived it, so had the rest of my classmates.


During the lessons, a word was always present in my mind; dynamic, yes, because if I could choose a word to describe the class it is definitely that one. I perfectly remember that on that first day, I made a little poster with my name and country written on it, in that way, the others could identify me, and I also to them; we read aloud, wrote in a sheet, and got up to read that writing to another partner that had “Similar shoes to ours”. There were students from many countries; Siria, Cuba, Japan, Congo, Bolivia, Sudan, Mexico… I had never shared with so many cultures in one place, it was fascinating. Our English was not perfect, some of us were just beginning, and others had a little more experience, but in that instant, it was English what united us, the desire for learning, and no matter how much or little we could say, we had a teacher that exhorted us to learn and that through her amusing methods of teaching helped us to improve every day, and even to teach others; when we least expected it, we were already talking to our classmates and participating in the lessons.

From the first moment, we did a lot of activities in just a few minutes of learning a day, some of them were, for instance: silent and aloud readings, writings, News in Levels, Kahoot! games (Pure adrenaline, everyone’s favorite), watched some videos and even made crafts on special dates. We made letters, posters, and also analyzed a written work and met its author, traveled to a plantation, a historical evidence, and met an archaeologist. Because all these activities were according to our age and context, they were engaging, motivated us and allowed us to know each other as a group, and to understand what was around us; our school, community, state, country and, in general, the world, and what I personally appreciated, was learning all this but preserving our identity and culture. I must mention that a very important part at this stage was undoubtedly doing a presentation, they were free will, therefore, each student had the freedom to choose one of the two topics given, or any other they wanted to explain. I always believed that our room was a good example of cultural diversity and integration and that as each person is a world, it was composed of stories. At this point, I felt the reality as never before, I witnessed vivid and profound stories and experiences, I reflected, I learned, and I admired all the young people who, in front of me, spent a few minutes explaining a little of their lives, or that of some mode is part of them. They took my tears and smiles too because it was a source of inspiration. The values of our base and the knowledge of our best instrument to reach our goals. Sitting there at my desk, I was very fortunate.

When I started at NELD, my teachers and counselor, thought that perhaps taking the class would not be meaningful to me because I had previous knowledge and an intermediate level of English, however, I took the class for a lapse, and I finished it along with the school year. I would like to say that it is not easy being a newcomer, it is not easy to leave a life and start again, adapt to changes, learn a language … but it is not impossible, with tenacity, commitment and effort everything can be; hope and determination keep us on our feet and drive us to achieve what we set out to do. Words are not enough to thank all the participants of our learning, before and now, who with love and benevolence spend time in teaching, a beautiful work. Teachers and people like you make it simpler, and for us, it means a lot to have your support.

I’m glad I could take NELD, it was and will always be one of the best experiences, regardless of the level of knowledge that is owned, opportunities to learn something new are inexhaustible, classes are a place to which all contribute and receive mutually, where minds grow, as well as people. Thank you, thank you very much for allowing me to be part of it, I will always appreciate it.

July 31, 2017
by Larry Ferlazzo

Ways To Encourage Our Students To Get Through “The Last Mile”

I was reading an interesting article today headlined How Do We Solve the Last Mile? It discussed “the stubborn and persistent problems that trip us up so close to the finish line.” It offered suggestions like having college financial aid forms already pre-populated with a fair amount of student info as a way to encourage college entrance. In some way, the suggestions were similar to the idea of “nudges.”

Right after reading that piece, I saw a short excerpt from Dan Willingham’s new book on reading. MindShift published it as What Works For Getting Kids to Enjoy Reading?

In it, he shares a story a teacher told him about the book Guns, Germs, and Steel:

[The teacher] enthusiastically recommended it, and mentioned that he knew the school library had two copies. There were a few murmurs of interest. The next day he checked the library and found both copies still on the shelves. He checked them out, brought them to class, and asked if anyone was interested in reading this book he had mentioned. Five students raised their hands, and he gave the copies to the two most enthusiastic students. So five students were ready to give the book a try if someone put it in their hands, but going to the school library to find it seemed like too much trouble. The library, the teacher told me, was a 30-second walk from his classroom.

Both these articles got me wondering:

What are other “Last Miles” facing our students, and what can we do to help them get to the finish line?

July 30, 2017
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Sites Where Students Can Learn Typing/Keyboarding

I’ve previously had some “learn-to-type” sites on The Best Websites For Students To Learn About Computers, but I thought it would be useful to expand and update that collection to its own “Best” list.

Here are my choices – let me know what you think I’m missing (there are a lot of these kinds of sites out there – I focused on ones that didn’t seem to have a lot of distracting ads and ones that were free):

The audio support that the BBC’s Dance Mat Typing provides makes it the best site for English Language Learners – by far. It doesn’t let you create virtual classrooms to monitor student progress, but I guess you can’t have everything! lets you create virtual classrooms to monitor student progress, and it’s free.

Turtle Diary also lets you create virtual classrooms and is free for teachers.

Ditto for Alpha Typing, which is similar to the last two sites.

Typing Club is similar, but is only free for up to three classes.

July 30, 2017
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Online Homework Sites For English Language Learners – Please Offer Your Own Suggestions

This post is a combination of my describing my homework policies and actual homework sites for my ELL classes.

Once or twice a week students probably have a little non-online homework to do at home if they don’t complete some of the writing tasks we do in class. But that’s pretty minimal.

Online homework is a different kettle of fish.

As part of more than one personal conversation I have with each student, I learn their goals, their personal situations (including age, work schedules, family and living situations, and access to the Internet). We discuss the difficulties of learning a new language, what the research says about the length of time it takes, and how much time they have left in high school. I explain that I make individual “contracts” with students about online homework based on their goals, age, and access to the Internet, and also tell them that our school library is open for two-and-a-half hours after each day so, if they don’t have a Smartphone or service at home, they can use computers there (and/or receive tutoring).

At the end of our conversation, I ask each student how much time they think they can spend on one of the sites we use (I have this conversation after students have become familiar with using them during classtime). Sixty percent of the time, students say an unreasonably high amount of time and I say, “That’s great, but why don’t we start at a lower amount and then build up to that time?” I’m happy with thirty minutes a day, five days week. However, that amount can be challenging for students who are working full-time or who have had minimal prior school experience or don’t have a smartphone or Internet access at home. In those situations, we make different agreements.

In each case, we make a joint call home to talk with a family member (if a family member is not available during school hours, I’ll call home at night if the family is Spanish-speaking) and both explain the agreement. I do this both to support the student if there’s only one computer in the house or if there is a limited data plan and to help ensure there’s a little more accountability support at home.

All the sites students can use – and choice is important – provide me with reports on student progress and students know this – I show the reports to them. The atmosphere, however, that I work hard at creating in my classroom is not one of “If you don’t do it, then your grade will go down.” Instead, it’s more of “What’s going on? Has something changed? Do we need to re-adjust the time expectation?” I use a system where students have a major influence in grading themselves (see The Best Resources On Grading Practices) and grades don’t function as a big motivator in my classroom.  But it’s clear that most students want me to believe that they do follow-up on what they say they are going to…

So, with that lengthy introduction, here are the sites that my ELL students can presently use for their online homework (new ones are added periodically).  All let teachers monitor student progress:

Raz-Kids costs $110 per year for a classroom, and has tons of leveled books with audio and visually support for the text.  Many of the books offer comprehension quizzes.

Duolingo, which is free and everybody loves!

English Central, which lets students watch videos, record themselves repeating what is said, and then automatically provides “grades” on accuracy and pronunciation.  Many of the videos are free, but you have to pay for “seats” in a classroom to get unlimited access (I think it’s worth it).

USA Learns, which is free and provides good online introductory activities for Beginners and Intermediates.

StoryWorld provides text and audio stories in Spanish, English and Chinese. I’ve had Spanish-speaking students who are not literate in their home language use this site, which is not free, but does offer a lengthy free introduction period.

Lyrics To Learn is another site that I’ve sometimes tried with students who are not literate in their home language. It costs for a subscription but it, too, provides a free introductory period. For me, the jury is still out on its effectiveness for ELLs. However, some of my students with minimal prior school experience seem to enjoy listening to the music, so I’m not quite ready to take it off this list.

There are lots of other options at The Best Sites Where Students Can Work Independently & Let Teachers Check On Progress, but these are the sites that seem to work best with my ELL students.

What are others that you use?

July 30, 2017
by Larry Ferlazzo

Guest Post: “PD in your Pjs: How to navigate #EllChat_BkClub on Twitter”


Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dr. Katie Toppel.

Dr. Katie Toppel is a K-5 English Language Development Specialist in Oregon. She also works as an Adjunct Professor for Portland State University, teaching classes in the ESOL Endorsement series. Katie has 12 years of educational experience which includes teaching Head Start, Kindergarten and First Grade as well as working as a K-12 Support Services Teacher at the Franconian International School.

Currently, #EllChat_BkClub is in its 6th round with a book study on Boosting Achievement by Carol Salva (@MsSalva) and Anna Matis (@AnnaTeachesELLs). Participation is at an all-time high thanks to Carol’s fabulous skillset in both writing and sparking interest in her book and also the power of our community to sustain interest via new pathways for participants to share ideas and reflections about the book’s content. Whether you’re a veteran participant to our book chat, a new member, or you’ve never heard of us, here’s all you need to know about navigating #EllChat_BkClub on Twitter, including “how to” links and ideas for anyone interested in creating their own online book chat.

1. Who to Follow: #EllChat_BkClub was the brainchild of myself, Katie Toppel, a K-5 ELD Teacher/ESOL Adjunct Professor and Tan Huynh, an ELL teacher in Laos/author of  It began with the idea that it would be fun to read Collaboration and Co-teaching by Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove and then discuss via Twitter. Tan came up with a hashtag so that we could tag tweets with our own unique hashtag and also locate what other participants had tweeted by searching #EllChat_BkClub. We never expected how big our community would grow, but it has blossomed into an outstanding group of educators who are passionate about ELLs. We continuously engage in book chats based on books the participants have voted on and we think we’ve started a pretty exciting movement that capitalizes on engaging, convenient, and personalized professional development. Unlike many of the #educhats on Twitter, our book club operates as a slow chat, meaning participants can read, reflect, and tweet at their own pace. We do have a suggested reading schedule, but it is not necessary to stay on schedule as we are all familiar with the fact that life happens. Some key players to follow on Twitter are:

        • Katie Toppel, @Toppel_ELD
        • Tan Huynh, @TanELLClassroom
        • Carlota Holder, @Carlota_Holder
        • Valentina Gonzalez, @ValentinaESL
        • Emily Francis, @emilyfranESL
        • Shaeley Santiago, @HSESLTeacher

      Some authors who we’ve read/plan to read:

    • Carol Salva, Boosting Achievement, @MsSalva
    • Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld, Collaboaration and Co-teaching/ELL Frontiers, @AndreaHonigsfel
    • Dr. Jana Echevarria, No More Low Expectations for English Learners @jechev
    • Cathy Beck, Leading Learning for ELL Students, @Cathypetreebeck
    • Nancy Motley, Talk Read Talk Write, @NancyMotleyTRTW

2. How to “join”: First and foremost we want to emphasize that anyone is welcome to participate in #EllChat_BkClub. People in a variety of different educational realms have come together in the interest of improving instruction for ELLs. There is absolutely no exclusivity about our group and we welcome everyone! There is not an official way to “join” #EllChat_BkClub. If you’re interested in participating, search #EllChat_BkClub and take it from there. You can click on “recent” and you will see the most recent tweets that have included the hashtag.

3. How to Participate: We now have quite a variety of ways to engage and the beauty of #EllChat_BkClub is that participants can engage to whatever extent they wish! Here is a breakdown of the different ways to comment/reflect on the book:

    • Weekly Questions: I post a reading schedule prior to each round as well as weekly questions from my Twitter account (Toppel_ELD). The questions are listed such as 1Q2. The first number indicates which week of the chat the question is for (chats typically last between 4-6 weeks depending on the length of the book). The Q stands for Question. The second number indicates the number of the question (we typically have between 3 and 9 questions each week). 1Q2 would be week 1, question 2. Participants can respond to any/all questions if they wish. We ask that responses identify which question is being answered by using the numbers listed and changing the Q to an A to indicate Answer. For example if a participant is answering 1Q2 they would include 1A2 in their tweet.  Make sure to include our hashtag so other participants can find your tweets!
    • Photo Tweets: Tweet a pic of your highlighted text, your notes/takeaways, or yourself reading the book. We kicked off round 6 with book selfies, which was really fun! Make sure to include our hashtag so other participants can find your tweets! 
    • Regular Tweets: Nothing fancy here, just tweet anything about the book that fits within 140 characters. Maybe there’s a quote you liked or an idea that came to mind when reading….anything goes. Make sure to include our hashtag so other participants can find your tweets! 
    • BookSnaps: Some participants use #BookSnaps to capture interesting quotes and passages from the text. Essentially a book snap is a photo of text (possibly highlighted text) that allows the reader to annotate and reflect on the content. Many booksnappers add Bitmojis as well. A Bitmoji is your own personal emoji that you can design to look like you. You can create booksnaps using a variety of methods, however common ones are Snapchat, Seesaw, and Buncee. 
  • To learn how to create your own book snaps, see a tutorial here:


  To learn how to create your personalize Bitmoji, see a tutorial here: 


  • Padlet: Sometimes we use Padlet (a virtual bulletin board) to create a shared spot to brainstorm ideas around a particular concept or question. For Boosting Achievement, we asked participants to post ideas relating to how teachers can go about getting to know and building relationships/trust with SIFE. The link to the padlet will be tweeted and then any participants can contribute.

  Take a look at our Boosting Achievement padlet here:

Made with Padlet


Learn how to use Padlet:


  • Flipgrid: We use Flipgrid to add a video component to our discussions. The link to the flipgrid is tweeted and then participants can record videos up to one minute and thirty seconds in length, responding to the questions that were posed or just sharing their thoughts about what they’ve been reading. More than one response can be added when 1:30 just isn’t enough time!

  Check out our Boosting Achievement Flipgrid created by @carlota_holder here.

  Learn how to use Flipgrid: 


  • Storify: At the end of each week, all of the tweets from the current week are compiled using Storify so that participants have everything captured in one easy-to-view place.

  Check out the Storify @HSeslTeacher created for week 3 of #BoostingAchievement: 

  Learn how to use Storify: 


  • Hangouts on Air with Youtube LIVE: During this round, we started doing weekly LIVE Hangouts to discuss the readings. A request for Hangout participants is tweeted and you can choose to either participate in the Hangout (in which case you will be sent a link to join via Direct Message and you are part of the live discussion being broadcast to YouTube) or you can choose to just watch the discussion (in which case you access the video via a link that is tweeted out).

  Check out one of our Hangouts here: 


  Learn how to set up a Hangout on air from youtube LIVE  here: 


  • Share Resources: Another amazing outcome of #EllChat_BkClub is the sharing of resources that has taken place. Participants have created resources and infographics specifically based on the content of books we’ve discussed, which they’ve shared with links and images. Participants have also shared lesson ideas, photos, and articles they’ve found useful and effective for working with English Learners specifically related to the content of the books we’ve read. Why reinvent the wheel when we can share stellar resources within our PLN!

  Take a look at some amazing resources created and shared by @carlota_holder:

  Printable Co-Teaching Models Descriptions

  Free Academic Conversation Cards

As our community of passionate, enthusiastic educators grows, we will likely continue to add additional ways to participate, discuss, and reflect on the amazing books that we are reading. To date we have read the following books:

  • Collaboration and Co-Teaching by Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove
  • ELL Frontiers by Heather Parris, Lisa Estrada, and Andrea Honigsfeld
  • Writers are Readers by Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth
  • Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers & Marie Crawford
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond
  • Boosting Achievement by Carol Salva and Anna Matis

We look forward to growing our community and providing stellar PD for interested educators!


July 22, 2017
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Using “Wrote My Way Out” From Hamilton With Students (Including Writing Prompt)

My wife took me to see Hamilton as birthday present this past week and, of course, it was amazing!

Regular readers know I’m a big fan (see The Best Teaching/Learning Resources On The Musical, “Hamilton”).

I’ve used Hamilton in class (see Using “My Shot” From Hamilton With ELLs & Others (Including Writing Prompt)), and I’ve been thinking about how I could use its song “Hurricane.”  That song has been modified and released as a mixtape titled “Wrote My Way Out,” which is the part of the song that I think I could particularly use with ELLs.

This is a lyrics video of the original Hamilton song:

You can read the lyrics here.

The verse that I’m thinking of using is this one:

I wrote my way out
Wrote everything down far as I could see
I wrote my way out
I looked up and the town had its eyes on me

There are variations of that verse in other parts of the song, and I think those parts could be pretty accessible to ELLs and they’d certainly enjoy it.

The mixtape uses lots of the original lyrics, but adds a lot, too. You can read all the lyrics here and I’ve embedded the video below (which only contains audio):

I  particularly like the final lyrics to that version:

I picked up the pen like Hamilton
I wrote my way out of the projects
Wrote-wrote my way out of the projects
Picked up the pen like Hamilton
I wrote my way out of the
Wrote-wrote my way out of the projects
I wrote my way out
Picked up the pen like Hamilton
I wrote my way out of the

(I wrote my way out)
Really, I saw like a hole in the rap game, so if I wanted to put my
little two cents in the game, then it would be from a different
(I wrote my way out)
I thought that I would represent for my neighborhood and tell
their story, be their voice, in a way that nobody has done it
Tell the real story


I’m thinking that I could use the music with my Intermediate English Language Learners and ask them to respond to this prompt:

What do you think the singer means by “I wrote my way out. I thought that I would represent for my neighborhood and tell their story, be their voice, in a way that nobody has done it. Tell the real story”? Who do you think has told the story of your community? Do you think you could be a voice of your community? If you think you can help tell your community’s story, how could you do it and what kind of help would you need? If don’t think you can tell your community’s story, please explain why not.

What do you think?

I’ll be adding this post to Best Posts On Writing Instruction, as well as to the Hamilton “Best” list.


Skip to toolbar