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I thought readers might or might not find it useful/interesting to hear how about what happens in a typical day in my ELL U.S. History class  (I’ll do future posts about my ELL Newcomer and IB Theory of Knowledge classes).

I usually teach a Social Studies class to Intermediate ELLs each year – either World History, Geography, Government/Economics or U.S. History.

This year, it’s U.S. History, and here’s how it goes:

1. When students enter the classroom,  peer tutors have already distributed headphones, notebooks, folders and textbooks, and students immediately begin working on assigned Brainpop movies related to the topic we’re studying (the Lead Peer tutor texts a slide outlining the class plan to all the tutors right before class begins – see THE BEST RESOURCES ON PEER TUTORS).  They have to watch the movie, take the quiz, play a game, and choose one other activity to do.  In addition, they need to write in their notebook three key things they’ve learned from each movie (one of the many great features of Brainpop is the ability for students to first watch Spanish language versions of the movies if they want). If they have finished the Brainpops connected to what we are studying at the time, they have a choice to read a history book they pick from our classroom library (or from Epic!) or work on Quill.  Each peer tutor is assigned a group of between one-and-four students (these are generally self-selected groups), and are expected to take each student out to have them read some pages of their book aloud one time each week during this ten-minute Brainpop warm-up time.  They are also expected to take their students out a second time each week for more of an SEL-like “check-in” with a focus question of the week.

2. After those first ten minutes, we do a short Academic Oral Practice.  I’ll display a question using an academic word, along with a fill-in-blank response, often having a humorous element (“How much money would you give Mr. Ferlazzo to persuade him to give you an A?” “I would give Mr. Ferlazzo __________ to help persuade him to give me an A.” OR “I would not give Mr. Ferlazzo any money to persuade him to give me an A.  Instead, I would persuade him by ________________.”

Students write the question/answer in their notebooks, and then peer tutors take their groups outside so students can share what they wrote.  Then two groups get together and share again what they wrote.

At the end of each week, the oral practice entails students writing their own sentences using the words they learned in the previous days

3.  Then, fifteen minutes into the period, I will then either teach very briefly a lesson or just explain the lesson the peer tutors will help their small group accomplish.  These might include:

  • Showing 10-15 key words students will need to know to access the chapter they’ll be reading in the America’s Story textbook we use.  I’ll say them, with the class repeating them chorally.   I’ll split the words in half, and peer tutor -led groups need to create short slideshows for their half of the words teaching what they mean.  They will subsequently present their slides to a group doing the same thing with the other half of the words, with peer tutors giving feedback to group members about their presentation skills.
  • My reading the first page of a textbook chapter and summarizing it, followed by peer tutor-led groups taking turns reading the following pages aloud and writing their own summaries.
  • Introducing projects like students creating presentations about civil wars that had happened or are happening in their home countries (as an introduction to learning about the American Civil War) or on key women in American history, along with a woman in their lives who they think exhibits some similar qualities.  Again, students will then be guided by peer tutors and present to other small groups.
  • Explaining writing frames that students will be completing in their small groups.
  • Going over instructions for a data set (which is a series of short texts that students categorize and supplement with more information they find), using inductive learning, that they will do in their small groups.

Less often, we’ll do a whole-class activity, like doing clozes (gap-fills).

4. Students spend twenty-or-twenty-five minutes in their peer tutor-led groups doing the activity.

5. I’ll spend five-or-ten minutes reviewing with the entire class what was done, or reviewing with the class the chapter they have read.  Other times, we’ll use this time to watch an EdPuzzle video as a class.

6. The last five-or-ten minutes is spent with the class playing a Quizizz, Kahoot, or Blooket game reviewing the topic we’re studying.  Once-or-twice a week the game is a formal test (students are given advance notice).  In that case, we play the same game twice, though student scores the second time around are reduced by a grade.  Using this system, students who study are rewarded, but everyone also gets a decent grade.

Though I’m always looking to improve it, this routine seems to work well, and receives high-marks from students in weekly anonymous check-ins.  Our district is supposed to be doing an evaluation on how well our peer tutor system is doing (in this class and in my ELL Newcomers class), similar to the evaluation process we used to measure the success of our efforts to support Long-Term English Language Learners. I hope they will actually do it…