(I’m republishing my favorite posts from the second half of 2022)


Peggy_Marco / Pixabay


I’ve written a fair amount about what I think are two key ways schools can “accelerate learning” – dramatically expand the use of peer tutors in the classroom and use the expertise of ELL teachers whose job has always been to do just that (see It’s Time To Stop Calling For Schools To Implement Actions That ARE NOT Going To Happen and I Don’t Think Many Of The Strategies Districts Are Hoping To Use To Respond To Pandemic Learning Challenges Are Going To Work. Here’s What I Think Might…).

Here’s what this is looking like in our school right now…

Last year, my extraordinary colleague Katherine Bell came up with the idea of expanding the number of peer tutors in my ELL classes from the usual one-or-two to eight-or-nine (see ARE SCHOOLS OVERLOOKING AN OBVIOUS STRATEGY THEY CAN IMPLEMENT IMMEDIATELY TO ACCELERATE LEARNING? PEER TUTORS!), and the idea has been enthusiastically supported by Jim Peterson, our principal.  The use of peer tutors last year resulted in accelerated English Language development by our students and, now, with a year’s experience under our belts,  we’ve increased the peer tutor numbers even further so we have  one peer tutor for every two ELL students in my classes.

Searching “peer tutor” on this blog will lead you to lots of descriptions of what they’re doing, but here are just a few of the many ways trained peer tutors are assisting ELL Newcomer and ELL Intermediate students:

  • ELLs are receiving daily personalized reading fluency instruction
  • ELLs are receiving personalized speaking instruction multiple times a week.  For example, students prepare oral presentations, which they present in small groups.  Peer tutors provide immediate feedback, and then students move onto another small group where they make the same presentation incorporating the feedback that they had received, where they then receive more immediate feedback.
  • ELL students write a weekly Dialogue Journal, where they receive written responses from “mystery” peer tutors (they are anonymous until we have an end-of-year party) who are trained in providing written instruction through “recasts” (if a student writes “I go to Los Angeles last weekend,” the tutor would respond, “So you went to Los Angeles last weekend!  That sounds like fun.  What did you do?”) See THE BEST RESOURCES FOR LEARNING HOW TO USE DIALOGUE JOURNALS.

And, as my previous posts about peer tutors have shared, countless studies, including our own past tracking, shows how peer tutoring/mentoring benefits both the tutors/mentors as well as the students they are helping.

As I mentioned earlier, and as all ELL teachers know, our job has always been about doing accelerated learning – our students are learning content and language simultaneously, and many have had substandard or no schooling for years prior to entering the U.S. school system and we have to get them ready to graduate on time.

I’m working hard to “up my game” on the usual accelerated learning I would do in light of some of the COVID challenges students have experienced over the past two-and-a-half years.  I’m trying various strategies out, and here’s just one (I’d love to hear what other ELL teachers have been doing!).

Regular readers know that I’ve been a fan of the Picture Word Inductive Model for many years (see The Best Ways To Use Photos In Lessons).

Typically, that process begins with students labeling an image with words, then categorizing and adding to those words, completing cloze sentences about the picture, categorizing those sentences, adding to them, turning them into paragraphs, and writing a title.  Then, we move on to the next thematic image.

This year, in my ELL Newcomers class, I’ve modified that process to put it on a more “accelerated” pace, and it seems to be working out well.

Students have labeled an image, but skipped the word sorting and moved directly into the cloze sentences.  We then categorize them, add sentences, and do the rest of the sequence.  However, this year I added some steps that I might ordinarily only do later in the year.

This year, I taught the idea of topic sentences after the first paragraphs were done.  Then, I showed a new image on the same topic (a school classroom), and had students write new paragraphs using the same categories (without doing clozes first) about the new picture, where they also used topic sentences.

Then, I showed a different picture of a classroom, which I used to teach about an introduction and thesis statement. Students then used a similar process to write an introduction and topic sentences for paragraphs following similar categories from the previous pictures.  Depending on their English proficiency, many then also made “inferences” about the class (I taught what that meant), along with writing what they thought happened before and after the picture was taken.

My students, many whom have been in the U.S. only a few weeks, rose to the challenge.   It’s clear to me that, though I clearly have implemented accelerated learning in the past, there is a great deal of room for me to do better…