Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

September 17, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Our School’s Writing Assessment For Some Students With Special Needs

I’ve shared many writing prompts that I use in my classes (see My Best Posts On Writing Instruction).

Included in that “Best” list is a very popular post by my colleague and English Department leader Lara Hoekstra. In it, she describes a pretty sophisticated fall and spring writing assessment process we use with all of the students at our school. Students spend two days writing to the same prompt early in the year and at the end of the year, and all the English teachers get together for two days after each assessment to evaluate all the essays (ones not written by their own students) using an “Improvement Rubric.” We then use the results to guide our future instructional priorities.

We’ve had a modified assessment for English Language Learners and, just recently, my very talented colleagues Jennifer Adkins and Jonathan Mikles created a good one for some students with special needs. They have given me permission to share it here.

They have students read the Chicago Tribune article titled, Inner-city Mentoring Program Helping Youths Improve Lives.

Students then write to this prompt:

Essay Topic:

A role model or mentor is a person you look up to. Before you begin writing, think about someone you look up to.

Why do you admire or respect this person? Write at least a 3 paragraph essay in which you explain whom you admire, and why you look up to this person. To develop your position, be sure to discuss specific examples; those examples can be drawn from anything you’ve read, as well as your experience.

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August 25, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Personal Writing Based on The Times’s Sunday Routine Series” Is A Nice Idea From The Learning Network


Reader Idea | Personal Writing Based on The Times’s Sunday Routine Series is a very useful post at The New York Times Learning Network.

It’s a simple teacher-suggested lesson plan that includes some very useful student hand-outs that is particularly timely at the beginning of the school year.

I obviously didn’t write it but, for now (until I create another “Best” list), I’ll be adding it to My Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

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August 20, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Two Good Videos On How We Learn & How I Plan To Use Them In Class

The Khan Academy (you might want to see The Best Posts About The Khan Academy) recently unveiled three new videos that they have apparently developed with the help of Carol Dweck.

Their main new one is pretty decent and titled “You Can Learn Anything.” It’s the first video embedded below.

The one I really like, though is of John Legend. I don’t agree with his education politics, but he tells a great story of how and what he learned on his way to success. It’s called “Success Through Effort.” That’s the second video embedded below.

I’m not as thrilled with their third video, which has Sal Khan talking with Carol Dweck. You can find better videos of her explaining the growth mindset at The Best Resources On Helping Our Students Develop A “Growth Mindset.”

At some point during this school year, as a reinforcing activity for our lessons on how we learn and the growth mindset, I plan on showing these two short videos and have students respond to this prompt:

According to these videos, how do we learn? Do you agree with what the videos are saying? To support your opinion you may use examples from your own experiences, your observations of others, and any of your reading.

I’m adding this post to:

My Best Posts On Writing Instruction

The Best Resources On Helping Our Students Develop A “Growth Mindset”

The Best Posts, Articles & Videos About Learning From Mistakes & Failures

You might also be interested in Here’s The “Growth Mindset” Article & Prompt We’re Using As Part Of Our Semester Final

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August 14, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Rootbook” May Be The Easiest Tool For Creating Online Choose Your Own Adventure Stories


As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of having students both read and write Choose Their Own Adventure stories (see The Best Places To Read & Write “Choose Your Own Adventure” Stories).

One big problem I’ve found, though, is that there hasn’t really been a super-easy way for students to create their own.

Thanks to reader “Grubie,” though, I think I might have found one. It’s called Rootbook.

The site has lots of choose your own adventure stories you can read without registering or signing-in. In addition, if you register (which takes seconds), you’re also given the ability to create your own. And it seems to be pretty easy to do so — the only trick I found was that you have to make sure to upload a photo cover page first to your story or else it won’t let you continue.

I’ll definitely be having my students give it a try this upcoming school year.

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August 12, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

“The High Price Of The American Dream” Is A Free eBook & Great Writing Model For English Language Learners


My extraordinarily talented teacher colleague at our high school, Dana Dusbiber, along with the extraordinarily talented bilingual aide Alma Avalos, teach a class of adult English Language Learners once-a-week at our school in the evening.

With support from the University of California at Davis, their students have published a “must-read” book that I’m sure will be a model for ESL classes around the country and the world.

And the University has made it available free! You can download an eBook version here.

The stories in it are so moving and so well-written. You couldn’t ask for more engaging, and better-written, models for student-writing.

Here’s information about the process Dana used in the book itself, but here’s a short introduction she wrote. Dana has been an urban educator for 25 years and a National Writing Project teacher consultant for 20 years, including working in ELL leadership for NWP:

The adult learners and I met once a week during this past school year. This was our third year together, so there was a familiarity and comfort already established amongst the core group of students. I believe that this was a crucial element which allowed the students to both trust me and know beforehand something about the process we use to read and write in class. We were fortunate to have a UC Davis Adult Literacy Grant which paid for materials and for the cost of the book publication (see more about the grant at the end of the manuscript).

We started back in September of 2013 with narratives about childhood. We brainstormed topics and discussed elements of autobiography. We used scaffolding materials designed for an “autobiographical incident” essay to talk about the important pieces we would include in our drafts. From there, I gave weekly mini-lessons on organization, development, adding detail and topics related to our drafting process. Alma Avalos and I worked alongside students during class time to read and provide feedback on their drafts. Some students wrote in Spanish early in the process.

The students decided that they wanted to write holiday reflections and coming-to-America stories for the book. I was excited that they wanted to include writing that reflected a broader range of their life experience and that they had the confidence to risk doing so.

We will write again together next year, and will again publish our writing. We ended our year together in June with some ideas and goals for next years’ stories. The stories will again show the risks that the students are taking as they reach higher to write their lives. I am honored to work with them.

I am thinking now, in the quiet time of these late summer days, about some of the structures I will use next year in the adult class. I will bring in more design elements of Writer’s Workshop and provide more time for the students to free-write and brainstorm draft ideas. I will teach vocabulary through focused topic study (which the students also initiate) and will continue to teach grammar and language structure in the context of student needs as they arise in class.

Thanks for sharing it with us, Dana!

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July 22, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Liberio Says It Lets You Create eBooks From Google Drive

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Liberio is a new tool that says it will let you turn any Google Drive document into an eBook. It also says it lets you upload and use a document from your computer.

That could be a very useful. However, I was not able to successfully upload any document. That may have been because of their being overwhelmed by new users after being written-up in TechCrunch, or it might be a technical problem with Liberio, or something wrong that I was doing (granted, I’m not super technically-knowledgeable, but I do know how to upload a file).

Let me know if you have better luck. Until that problem doesn’t exist, though, I won’t be adding Liberio to The Best Places Where Students Can Write Online.

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July 13, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Video Clips On The Benefits Of Writing Well — Help Me Find More

I’m working on a lesson about the value of writing well, and am developing a collection of video clips that might be useful.

Here are the ones I’ve come up with — I hope readers will contribute more:

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July 11, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Thesaurus.Land” Looks Like A Helpful Tool


Thanks to a tweet from Eric T. MacKnight, I’ve learned about a new site called Thesaurus.Land.

It’s an online…thesaurus, and a pretty neat one. You type in a word, as I did with the word “sad” in the above image. Once you click on the arrow/triangle to the left of each word, it will show you synonyms for each one of them.

I’m adding it to The Best Reference Websites For English Language Learners.

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May 4, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Here’s The Writing Prompt I’m Using As Part Of My Final For Ninth-Grade English

'Writing Tools' photo (c) 2006, Frederic Guillory - license:

I’ve been sharing the writing prompts I have used, and plan to use, in all my classes — both as formative and summative assessments. You can find them all at My Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

Here’s one I’ll be using with my mainstream ninth-grade English class…

The Most Important Question You Can Ask was recently published by The New York Times. It’s a short essay by Tony Schwartz.

Here’s how it ends:

Personal accomplishments make us feel good. Adding value to other people’s lives makes us feel good about ourselves. But there is a difference. The good feelings we get from serving others are deeper and last longer. Think for a moment about what you want your children to remember about you after you’re gone. Do more of that.

After students read the column, they’ll be responding to this prompt:

What is Tony Schwartz saying should be the most important purpose to people’s lives? To what extent do you agree with what he is saying? To support your opinion, be sure to include specific examples drawn from your own experience, your observations of others, or any of your readings.

In the comments, feel free to share prompts you use with your classes….

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May 2, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Writing Prompt For My U.S. History Class

'Smithsonian National Museum of American History' photo (c) 2008, F Delventhal - license:

It’s that time of year, so today I’m preparing writing prompts as part of semester finals for my classes.

For my United States History for English Language Learners class, I will be showing students the video embedded below and giving them the first page of this PDF on why we study history, along with this list from School History on the same topic.

They’ll need to use those resources to respond to this writing prompt:

Watch the video, and read the two lists. In your own words, please share some (at least three) of the reasons they say it’s important to study history. To what extent do you agree with what they are saying? To support your opinion, be sure to include specific examples drawn from your own experience, your observations of others, or any of your readings.

As always, feedback is welcome.

I’m adding this to My Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

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May 2, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Here’s The Writing Prompt I’m Using For My Geography Class

'Cambridge Univeristy Press: Geography for the IB Diploma: Patterns and Change: Paul Guinness' photo (c) 2010, Richard Allaway - license:

As regular readers know, I teach a Geography class for English Language Learners (and will be teaching similar U.S. History and World History courses next year).

Here’s the simple writing prompt I’m using as part of my semester final (you can download it here):

Geography Final Essay

“I was not sorry for loving Charleston or for leaving it. Geography had made me who I was.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings

“Do you understand the sadness of geography?”
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

“All I ever wanted was a world without maps.”
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Pick one quotation from these three and respond to the writing prompt:

Writing Prompt

What do you think the writer is saying about geography? To what extent do you agree with what he or she is saying? To support your opinion, be sure to include specific examples drawn from your own experience, your observations of others, or any of your readings.

Quotes found at

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April 12, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Simple “History Of Anything” Project

Teacher extraordinaire Diana Laufenberg shared a simple and useful series of tweets about a project she’s doing with her class

She calls it the “History of Anything” Project.

Diana is planning on doing a more extensive write-up of what she does (and here it is – you can ignore the rest of this post and just go to read what she has now written), but I think the info in these four tweets can be useful right now for just about any teacher:

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April 2, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Our New ASCD Educational Leadership Article: “Teaching Argument Writing to ELLs”


My colleague Katie Hull-Sypnieski and I wrote wrote a lengthy and, if I say so myself :) , excellent article that has just been published by ASCD Educational Leadership.

It’s titled Teaching Argument Writing to ELLs, and it discusses very practical ways to teach writing to Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners — especially in light of the new Common Core Standards. But I think it offers helpful advice even if you’re teaching in a country not using CCSS.

I’m adding it to The Best Online Resources For Helping Students Learn To Write Persuasive Essays and to My Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

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April 1, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Another Good Writing Prompt: Reconciliation

'Mandela Graphic Novel' photo (c) 2007, Michael Sean Gallagher - license:

I have lots of useful resources at My Best Posts On Writing Instruction, and it’s also the place I collect posts about the writing prompts I use in my various classes.

Here’s one I’m using in my class right now. We’re ending a unit on Nelson Mandela, but it can be used in other contexts, too.

I can’t take credit for it, though. It was developed by my colleagues Lara Hoekstra, Katie Hull, and Cary Zierenberg, and I have permission to share it here. I’ve modified the process somewhat, though.

First, I ask students to take a minute and write down what they think the word “reconciliation” means. Students come up with some fairly logical guesses, but generally no one has heard of it before that day. I generally bring up two students to the front, tell them to fake like they are fighting each other, and then have them shake hands.

Then, I introduce the the short essay, The Cycle of Revenge Can Be Broken, by Mark Mathabane. As usual, I quickly introduce the essay and almost immediately go to the writing prompt:

How does Mark Mathabane believe hatred can be overcome? To what extent do you agree or disagree with what he believes? Write an essay responding to these questions; to develop your essay, be sure to include specific examples drawn from your own experience, your observation of others, or any of your reading — including “They Cycle Of Revenge Can Be Broken” itself.

We go through our typical process of breaking down the prompt — underlining the tasks the prompt is asking you to do, and then quickly converting it into a simple graphic organizer using the “They Say, I Say, Why I Say It” framework.

California Writing Project member Jessica Mann came up with the idea of having students listen to some Storycorps recordings related to reconciliation and then have students reflect on them so they might have more grist to use in their response to the prompt. I played a few recordings; after each one, I had students answer if they thought reconciliation had been achieved — if so, how and, if not, why? Students first did a pair share, followed by a quick class discussion.

I also slightly modified an exercise developed by my colleague Lara Hoekstra, and gave people a sheet listing seven words/quotes, and had them write for a minute or two on each one:

1. Hatred

2. Forgiveness

3. The worst thing someone ever did to me was…

4. “I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him.” — Malala Yousafzai

5. I forgave…

6. We should treat our enemies….

7. Overcome hatred…

We then began watching Mandela:Long Walk To Freedom, which just came out on Netflix. We’ve been studying Mandela for six weeks, so it functions as a review and the last third highlights the idea of reconciliation. We’re going to watch Invictus, which starts where the “Long Walk” ends, though we’ll probably only watch the first part before students start writing their essay. During the movie, students are taking notes in their outline to help them write their essay.

We began yesterday — Monday — and essays will be due at the beginning of class next Monday.

It’s gone well in the past, and I suspect it will go well now.

Feedback, particularly suggestions on how to make it better, are welcome.

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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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February 17, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

WRITE Institute Unveils New Website

As I’ve often written in this blog
, and as my co-author Katie Hull and I have written in our ESL book, The WRITE Institute is a great writing curriculum to use with English Language Learners.

They have just unveiled a new website. I might be missing something, but their new site doesn’t seem to have the ability for teachers to purchase their individual units at $20 each (and they are well worth the price). It seems you still have to go to their old site to order them.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing what kind of resources they’ll be adding to their new home on the Web.

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February 17, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Video (& Writing Prompt): “A failure isn’t a failure if it prepares you for success tomorrow”

John McCarthy shared this short video clip of U.S. Olympic bobsledder Lolo Jones. She begins by sharing her favorite quote (though doesn’t cite the source and I can’t find it online, either):

“A failure isn’t a failure if it prepares you for success tomorrow”

I’m going to show the video to my students, along with writing that quotation on the board. Then, I’ll ask them to respond to this writing prompt:

What is Lolo Jones saying about how we should view failure? What do you think of her view? To develop your position, be sure to include specific examples. These examples can come from the video, anything else you’ve read, and/or your own observations and experiences.

I’m adding this to The Best Posts, Articles & Videos About Learning From Mistakes & Failures and to My Best Posts On Writing Instruction (where I collect all my writing prompts).

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February 16, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Great Chart: “the differences between teaching writing and teaching writers”

I’m adding this to The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement (even though it’s obviously not a website):

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