Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

March 19, 2017
by Larry Ferlazzo

Here’s My Entire ELL Beginners Seven-Week Unit On Writing A Story (Including Hand-outs & Links)

My previous post, Here Are The Ten Downloadable Graphic Organizers I Use With ELL Beginners To Write A Story, was very popular, so I thought readers would find it useful if I shared my entire seven-week unit on writing a story. I hope you can suggest ways I can make it better.

After a simple “Word Splash” (words that I pre-teach like “setting,” “theme,” “protagonist,” and “antagonist”), I use very modified versions of the WRITE Institute’s story unit as we read two books together: The Story Of Ferdinand and Teacher From The Black Lagoon. You can purchase a supplementary copy of that unit from the WRITE Institute for $20 here. We have copies of their full unit, but I only use a three of their graphic organizers (a protagonist/antagonist sheet, a sheet for listing words related to the five senses and a story map) – I’m sure you could create or find other versions (lots of story maps are here, a five senses sheet here, and protagonist/antagonist graphic organizers are here).

So, the first week we do the word splash, then I read The Story of Ferdinand from the doc cam while students have their own copies. As you may remember, Ferdinand has his “favorite spot” in the story. At that point, I provide students with this sentence starter: “My favorite spot is ____________________________ because _________________________.” They create posters and share with the class. Every six pages or so we stop, students are paired-off, given small whiteboards and markers, and they take turns reading the story to each other while the other writes the words down on the board (if necessary, students can “cheat” by looking at the book). The “reader” checks the accuracy of the “writer.”

Afterwards, we complete a story map. The most difficult part of that process is helping students understand “theme” and, to a lesser extent, protagonist/antagonist. So, after the story map is done, students create a poster identifying three of their favorite movies or stories and identify the theme and the protagonists and antagonists.

Next, we read Teacher From The Black Lagoon using a similar process, without the “favorite spot” activity. Then we create a Story Map, without following-up with the theme poster.

Next, students write their own stories, and that’s where my previously posted ten graphic organizers come in.

After they complete handwriting their story, I have a short individual conference to provides simple suggestions (read about my thoughts on error correction at my British Council post, ESL/ELL error correction – Yes, No or Maybe?), and then students type it in Word – the red indicator of errors is obviously very helpful. We conference again, and then students copy and paste it into our class blog. You can see them all here.

Then, students record their stories using Speakpipe’s Voice Recorder. It says they only keep the recording online for a few months, but it’s the only stand-alone voice recorder that gets through our district’s content filters. Students record, past them onto our blog, and then I manually copy and paste them that night so it’s on the same comment as their story.

Students then read each other’s stories and leave a comment. I fell down on the job here and didn’t originally do as much pre-teaching on commenting as I should have, and it shows. I followed-up the next day with more explicit support, which resulted in a better comment like this.

Unfortunately, because of student absences, time constraints and the fact that I was out of class for a couple of days with district meetings, we couldn’t continue with the improved comments (they’ll have another chance later).

Instead, at that point I provided students with this guide for their writing a second and longer story. I gave them the option of either revising their first story or starting from scratch.

Students worked on their revisions/new stories, but we couldn’t get enough time in the computer lab for them to post all their creations on the blog – yet, at least.

Now, we’re moving onto a series of fable lessons. These appeared in my latest book, Navigating The Common Core With ELLs. Fortunately, the publisher has made the lesson plan and all the hand-outs available for free download – no registration required!

Just go to the book’s website, scroll to “Downloads” and click on “Fables Lesson Plan.” It teaches fables inductively and leads to students writing their own. I’m in the middle of doing these lessons now. The only change to the book’s lesson plan is that I have three more advanced beginners who, after having done part of the lessons, are now creating a collection of fables from their home countries that we’ll also study.

Student-created fables will be posted on the class blog and we’ll try commenting again. Here’s the graphic organizer I’m having students use to create their own fables.

So, that’s what we’re doing. Let me know how you think it can be improved!

I’m adding this post to The Best Sites For Learning To Write A Story.

Addendum: See Video: Trailer For New Animated Move Based On “The Story Of Ferdinand”

February 22, 2017
by Larry Ferlazzo

Here Are The Ten Downloadable Graphic Organizers I Use With ELL Beginners To Write A Story

We’ve spent the last two weeks in my English Language Learner Beginners class reading and learning about stories.

Last Friday, it was time for them to begin writing one, and I did a terrible job of getting them started. I think I was tired and wasn’t thinking clearly, and assumed too much and provided must less support than was needed.

So, over the weekend, I created a simple set of eight graphic organizers, plus borrowed two others from online, and we began again today. Needless to say, it went a lot better.

You can download the eight I created here. They are in the sequence I’m using them.

You can download the Conflict Graphic Organizer that I’m using here. Students use this as the sheet listed “Conflict” in my downloadables.

You can download the Plot Diagram Graphic Organizer that I’m using here. Students use this as the sheet listed as “Diagram Your Events” in my downloadables.

I don’t think you’ll find anything earthshaking in them, but they are workable. Let me know how you think I can make them better.

I’m adding this post to The Best Sites For Learning To Write A Story.

February 4, 2017
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Good Judgment” Is A Site Where Our Students Can Showcase Their Forecasting Skills

I’ve written some past posts about the work of Philip Tetlock (Quote Of The Day: “beliefs are hypotheses to be tested…” and The Best Resources On The Importance Of Knowing What You Don’t Know).  He’s particularly known for his work in developing a science of “forecasting.”

He recently unveiled a site called Good Judgment where users can forecast an answer to a question and, when and if the action takes place, is “scored” on their forecasting ability.  Users make a prediction, then share their reasoning, and you can link directly to individual’s forecasts.

Some of the questions are bit obscure, but others are very relevant.  The site says there is, or will be, a feature that allows users to submit their own questions (but they won’t be scored). However, that doesn’t seem to be operating yet.

This seems to me to be an excellent way for students to write for an authentic audience, which is why I’m adding it to The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience”

December 26, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

The Best Professional Development Resources On Writing Instruction

As regular readers know, in addition to teaching high school full-time I also teach credential candidates at California State University about English Language Learners.

I’m also now preparing to see how sane it is for me to fit in teaching a class on content literacy for credential candidates at the University of California at Davis.

As part of that class, I’ll be having students in different disciplines review the resources at these “Best” lists:

The Best Resources For Writing In Social Studies Classes

The Best Resources For Writing In Science Class

The Best Resources For Writing In Math Class

In addition to credential candidates from those three disciplines, I’ll also have English and Agriculture student teachers.  I’ll give the agriculture candidates their choice of which of the resources they think fits best, and I’ve also prepared the following list of resources for English teachers.  They’re taken from my much more extensive Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

Here they are (let me know if you think I’m missing something):

I did a series on writing instruction for Education Week Teacher: See Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here , Part Four here and Part Five here.

Five ways to get kids to want to read and write is an excerpt from one of my books and appeared in The Washington Post.

Excellent Review Of Writing Instruction Research is a summary of an article at The Hechinger Report, along with a link to the original article.

The Best Scaffolded Writing Frames For Students is a “Best” list I compiled with lots of useful hand-outs.

Supporting Good Writing Instruction is a simple diagram from The National Writing Project.

What Motivates A Student’s Interest in Reading and Writing is an excerpt from one of my books and appeared at KQED MindShift.

Here Are Some Examples Of Using “Concept Attainment” In Writing Instruction

“They Say, I Say” Is A Great Writing Resource

Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools (I think reading the Executive Summary is sufficient)

New Study Says Emphasize Quality Over Quantity In Teaching Writing, But I Don’t Think That’s Most Important Finding

Yet Another Study Finds That Having An “Authentic Audience” Impacts Student Learning (this post includes a number of links that are worth exploring)

Two New Useful Resources On Teaching Writing – And An Old One

December 15, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Three Excellent Guides To “Writing Frames”



Two weeks ago, I published a very popular post titled The Best Scaffolded Writing Frames For Students.

I can understand why it has been so popular — I’ll be referring back to it regularly myself!

Today, Antoine Germany, another very talented colleague at Luther Burbank High School and the head of our English Department, shared three very helpful documents he developed about writing frames. He’s given me permission to share them on this blog.

The first two are on PQC (Point, Quote, Comment) and on PEE (Point, Evidence, Explain). You can download them here.

The third document is on ABC (Answer the question, Back it up with evidence, Comment with an explanation). You can download that document here.

Thanks Antoine!

December 11, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Guest Post: “Inquiry” vs. “Diagnostic” Frameworks For Writing Assessments


Lara Hoekstra is a very talented colleague whose work has appeared frequently in this blog and in my books. Her previous guest post, “Instead of seeing students as Far Below Basic or Advanced, we see them as learners,” discussed the annual writing assessment process we use at our school and is also on The Best Posts On Writing Instruction list.

Here’s a new post on our school’s writing assessment process that she’s written:

This is my eleventh year at Luther Burbank High School.  For most of this time we have been administering a school wide writing assessment in the fall and spring.  We developed this writing assessment process in conjunction with the Area 3 Writing Project, using the University of California’s writing assessment and an improvement rubric developed by the California Writing Project.  Each time we do it I am amazed by my colleagues and where it leads our thinking, our conversations, and our teaching.  But, as many of us have been together for ten or more years, we had fallen into a routine with the grading process and we had begun to stagnate as a department in terms of the writing assessment.  

This year, under our new department chair, Antoine Germany, our norming/scoring process was different than before.  The focus was not on scoring all essays within the given time frame, but more on setting the tone for the year and figuring out how we were going to use the information we gathered.

So often in the past we would get sidetracked by just trying to score all the essays, and then after scoring what felt like millions of essays, our conversations would become more focused on what we were seeing and not seeing.  It became a diagnostic tool and we were left with little time to focus our talk around how we would take this information into our classrooms and our teaching.  (And in case anyone thinks I’m criticizing the former department chair, I am, as I was the former chair.)

This year I began to see our assessment differently because of the changes Antoine brought to the two day process.  It occurred to me that our fall assessment really is about setting a tone of inquiry for our year and not a diagnostic tool. So often, when we used it as a diagnostic tool, we would slowly slip into judgments.  We used terms like students don’t know how to or they aren’t able to; although we have always used an improvement rubric and we have had multiple discussions around avoiding deficit language, we would still go there in our reflections.

It makes sense; scoring assessments is difficult work and by the end everyone is mentally exhausted. So often in education, we get tunnel vision when looking at tools, processes and strategies.  We want clear answers or trajectories.  Assessments become formative or summative, when in reality many assessments can be used as both; but that can be a difficult conversation to have because it is complex and messy.

Because Antoine kept talking about how we needed to focus more on figuring out how this would inform our teaching, I began thinking about it differently.  Our teaching becomes much richer when after norming and scoring we look at the results and begin to formulate questions.  Instead of thinking, “Our students aren’t doing x,” or, “Our 9th graders are doing y,” we develop questions around what we are noticing.  My thinking went much deeper when I would look at papers and state observations as questions.  My questions would range from, “Why am I seeing x?” to “How could I teach y?”  For me, just stating it differently allowed me to think about our students’ writing, and my teaching, in a deeper way.  I left those two days with a sense of excitement about the year and a feeling of wonder about what will happen when our spring assessment rolls around.  

December 1, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Scaffolded Writing Frames For Students


I’ve written a lot about the value of scaffolded writing frames for students – English Language Learners and those who are proficient in English – to use when they are responding to prompts. As my colleague Lara Hoekstra says, “As long as we’re clear that these are some ways to write, not THE ways to write, they can be helpful.”

Some of the teachers at our school met today, and shared the different writing frames we use. They’ve given me permission to share them here, and I’m also including links to previous posts where I’ve shared different related ideas (you can lot of other resources at The Best Posts On Writing Instruction). Please share your own in the comments section:

“Point, Quote, Connect”

Helping Students Respond To Writing Prompts

“They Say, I Say” Is A Great Writing Resource


Here Are Some Examples Of Using “Concept Attainment” In Writing Instruction

“RACE” Looks Like A Useful Writing Strategy

The Text-Evidence Strategy That Changed My Classroom is from Scholastic and is also about RACE.

I’ve previously shared an example of how I scaffolded an ABC writing prompt (Answer the question, Back it up with a quotation, make a Comment & Connection). Based on the conversation we had today, I made some minor, but important changes. I have a picture of the revised version here, and you can download both the old and new versions here (the new version is the second one in the file).


This next one is from my talented colleague Nichole Scrivner – the well-known PEE frame is simple and effective:


Here’s a short excerpt from “They Say, I Say” (see a link earlier in this post) that Lara Hoekstra gives to students so they can use it as the “Back it Up With A Quotation” part of the ABC writing frame (or as the “Q” in the “PQC” – Make a Point, use a Quotation to back it up, and make a Comment):


Nicole Simsonsen shared a strategy called T-BEAR:

T- Topic Sentence

B- Brief Explanation/Bridge to Examples

E- Examples\Evidence

A- Analysis

R- Recall/Reflect/Relate

You can find lots of examples and graphic organizers illustrating T-BEAR online. Here’s an image of one she uses:


You can download the next three examples here.

Jen Adkins shared her own version of an ABC response:


Jen also adapted an excellent strategy from our colleague Chris Coey to help students develop an “analytical paragraph.” Also note the strategic way they have students highlight different parts of their paragraph to help them self-analyze if they are placing a higher priority on the “commentary and context”:


Mary Osteen shared a sheet her students use to provide peer feedback. However, she gives it to them as they are writing, so it functions as a writing frame scaffold, too:


Antoine Germany, another very talented colleague at Luther Burbank High School and the head of our English Department, shared three very helpful documents he developed about writing frames. He’s given me permission to share them on this blog.

The first two are on PQC (Point, Quote, Comment) and on PEE (Point, Evidence, Explain). You can download them here.

The third document is on ABC (Answer the question, Back it up with evidence, Comment with an explanation). You can download that document here.


Robert Peal shares a nice writing scaffold at Planning a knowledge-based scheme of work. Part 2: Writing.

Comprehending Non-Fiction: Setting Kids Up for Success is by Russ Walsh. I’m adding it here because of his discussion of an after-reading writing activity called RAFT.


Mary Osteen, one of my many talented colleagues, shared this one today at an English Department meeting.  She calls it “AREE!” with an explanation point so she can sound like a pirate 🙂

It stands for Assertion, Reason, Evidence, Explanation:


I think it’s a helpful frame.

However, what I believe really makes it stand out from some of the other frames on that “Best” list is this sheet that she’s developed to teach the frame:

She has students fill in the blank squares as a way to scaffold learning the writing frame progression.  For International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge teachers, this kind of form will look familiar because that’s how IB encourages us to teach the concept of Knowledge Questions.

You can download both of the documents pictured in this post here (Mary has given me permission to share). By the way, I’ve recently given up the use of my regular document scanner and instead use an amazing iPhone app called Genius Scan, which works great!

Here’s another one in the form of a tweet:

Here are some links to resources and research on these kinds of frames:

The Impact of Sentence Frames on Readers Workshop Responses

This newsletter contains a nice paragraph frame for science writing (you’ll have to scroll a couple of pages down).

Writing Frames With Content Examples

As you can see, I’m pretty luck to be able to work with such talented and generous educators!

November 22, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

I Can’t Decide If “Write & Improve” Is The Best Or Worst Site To Help ELLs Improve Their Writing


I’ve written a lot about my ongoing search for a helpful an online site that would help all students, and particularly English Language Learners, develop their writing – one that would have model essays, graphic organizers, accessible explanations of errors, etc. Though none have met my hopes, I have collected some that try at The Best Online Tools That Can Help Students Write An Essay.

In my ideal site, teachers would also have access to student first drafts. If we don’t, then we likely wouldn’t see many common errors in our students writing – it might be possible that students correct errors pointed out by the program without any real understanding of why the error was made and the rule behind its correction. That’s just one of many issues I have with computer grading of essays (see The Best Posts On Computer-Graded Essays).

This all brings me to the new – and free – Cambridge English Write & Improve site.

It’s very easy to use – student just copy and paste what they’ve written and, within seconds, the site will give you feedback on writing mechanics. I was very impressed with the quality of the feedback – it caught many essays and, even more surprisingly, offered accurate alternatives. The quality of the feedback the site gives is tons better than the feedback a writer would get from, let’s say, Microsoft Word.

A big problem, however, is that, though the feedback appears to very accurate, it give no explanation of why the word choice might be incorrect. So a student would write an essay with many errors corrected, but I wouldn’t know what those errors were and wouldn’t know if the student understood the reasons why they were errors.

Of course, one huge advantage to students using this tool would be that teachers could concentrate on the “big picture” of student writing and not have to pay as much attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation basics. That might make it more suitable to higher-intermediate, advanced and English-proficient students who, with luck, will have made it past many of those kinds of mistakes.

Some of my concerns would be alleviated if the error explanations were more clear or, at the very least, included a link where a student could learn more about the concepts.

I’m also confused by the “notebook” set-up of the site. You can create “notebooks” with assignments for others in a closed group, but it’s unclear to me how the “owner” of the notebook can access members’ writing, or if that’s even possible. If it is doable, that would make it more attractive to teachers.

What do you think? Do you have suggestions for ways to deal with my concerns?

Thanks to CASLS & EFL Classroom 2.0 for the tip.

ADDENDUM: See a comment left by the site’s creator in response to this post.


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