Over the past few months, I’ve published two series of guest posts from teachers of English Language Learners: one on teaching math, and the other on ELLs and Special Needs.

I recently put out a call for guests posts from ELL teachers of science, and will be adding them to The Best Resources For Teaching The Next Generation Science Standards To English Language Learners.

Elana Rabinowitz write the first one: GUEST POST: SCIENCE & ELLS

Jacqueline Zacarias wrote the second one: GUEST POST: MAKING ELLS FEEL WELCOME IN SCIENCE CLASS

Today’s post is by Or-Tal Kiriati….


Or-Tal Kiriati is an EFL teacher in a Tel-Aviv Junior High in Israel. She is also the school’s director of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. Her background is in tech entrepreneurship, communications and journalism. She is the mother of 3 kids and an SXSWedu 2013 speaker.


At the beginning of last year I discovered I was going to teach English to two 7th grade classes for the gifted. It is English as a Foreign Language here, as their native language is Hebrew. 7th grade is the first year of Junior High in Israel. There are only 4 periods a week for teaching English.

It is interesting to teach a class of gifted children. A unique challenge, however, was posed to me by one of the students. An independent thinker, self taught like many gifted children, and an enthusiastic reader of books. He would immerse in his thick fantasy books all the time, during lessons and recesses, to a degree he wouldn’t hear the school bell. His teachers were at loss: he didn’t seem to care much about the structured learning in school. If told to put the books aside he would stare in the air and still remain uninvolved in the lessons.

I decided to find another way to teach this student English, and went for SML – a self managed learning program. To simplify, it is like a single-person PBL. I managed several conversations with the student. His English level was good. He understood everything I said, and answered in English most of the time. Argumentative in his nature he kept saying he did not understand why he needed to study English in a structured way at all. So I presented the question: what would you like to study?

To properly plan an SML I followed this methodology, and many versions of these documents could be found online. I especially like the template create by Dr. Bernard Bull (www.etale.org). Here it is:

To add to it I asked the following questions and expanded on them:

Where did I come from? Where am I now? Where do I want to get? How will I get there? How will I know I got there?

I expanded the fourth questions with: Which strengths would I like to develop? What challenges do I want to overcome? Where do I want to grow to? – Relating to English, my student’s strengths were his ability to learn by himself and curiosity. His chosen challenges were more focused in learning English: he wasn’t sure of his grammar or eloquence, and still felt low on vocabulary, especially in the scientific world, which drew him.

His main interest and passion is astrophysics. So I assigned the student a task. Start browsing values in Wikipedia (in English) that he finds interesting, until he sees a topic he would like to study and research.

Now, with a task that related to his personal interest, he could sit in the classroom or even outside, with a laptop, and do some concentrated work in English. It quickly became a lesson he didn’t want to miss. Luckily I could assign him a personal coach: an English speaking Physics graduate, who worked with him outside the classroom 2 out of 4 lessons a week, following my instructions.

The student chose a topic in astrophysics, then had to decide on a final product to demonstrate his learning, and plan the way in between as well as schedule milestones. The final product he chose was a lecture to his classmates. So practicing speaking became a part of the SML program. He also needed to pay an extra attention to vocabulary, since the assumption was that most of his classmates were not familiar with English astrophysics terms.

Gradually I started to ask the student to join the regular lessons when I introduced a grammatical topic, for example. He had to submit some of the tasks in order to keep in touch with the class and not miss on important topics.

Interestingly, as he got deeper into his project, other teachers came up to me and said they believed this task has made him more connected to school and a more involved. Fewer episodes of getting lost in the books were reported.

The day of the presentation was very special to him. He was super excited and extremely energetic. He presented an interesting 20 minutes lecture to his classmates. Added a Kahoot game and time for the students’ questions. His classmates were very supportive and took a real interest in his work.

EFL skills and knowledge gained were incredible: vocabulary, writing, reading comprehension and critical thinking, speaking, conversing, analytical thinking, understanding the structure and origins of scientific terms, and comprehending the role of grammar knowledge in all of these.

Would definitely go for SML for those students who struggle to find their path in the classroom again.