Teaching ELL Newcomers is more often than not a delight, and it is also comes with its own challenges, including a constant influx of new students (see THE BEST WAYS TO WELCOME NEW ELL NEWCOMER STUDENTS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR); the widely-varied academic background they bring to the classroom; and, of course, a mix of home languages.

These challenges, of course, are counter-balanced by the assets students bring with them, including their life experiences and general appetite to learn.

There do seem to be three major challenges in my classroom this year.  I’ve written about them in separate posts, but thought it would be helpful for me, and for readers, to put them all together, along with some updates.


As with most classrooms, this is a challenge for some, though not all, students.  And, there are no easy answers (even for someone like me who has written four books on student motivation!).

I work hard at creating the conditions for intrinsic motivation to flourish (see HERE’S WHAT MY TWO-PERIOD ELL NEWCOMERS CLASS LOOKS LIKE THIS YEAR).  Everyone works in small groups with peer tutors, and I work hard at creating highly engaging lessons.

Nevertheless, motivation is still a challenge for some.  One new strategy I’ve recently attempted is focused on goal-setting (see I’M TRYING OUT WHAT IS PROBABLY MY TENTH (AT LEAST!) DIFFERENT ATTEMPT AT A STUDENT GOAL-SETTING STRATEGY – WISH US LUCK!).

The process I described in that post has gone well, and I have added another component.

Every Friday, after our weekly formative assessment, students complete this “Goal Review” Google Form. What really seems to have an impact is that as they are completing the form, I am going around briefly checking in with them on how they have done that week relation to their goals and providing direct encouragement, including around adjusting their future goals (once students finish the form, they move into using Raz-Kids online, so they are all occupied even if it takes me awhile to visit with everyone).

It is clear that goal-setting process has resulted in higher engagement and academic success of some sort with everyone, and has had high degree of success with a majority of the class.



There are a lot of problems with the National Geographic online assessment for ELLs that our district uses, and I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in it but, in the spirit of being data-informed and not data-driven, it did seem to accurately spot a bigger challenge in reading comprehension that I had thought was there.

Students have always been spending fifteen minutes a day working on True-Stories books.

In light of what I saw in the National Geo assessments, I added two other regular activities:

* at least three days a week, students in their small groups choose a book and take turns reading (led by a peer tutor). After each page, the peer tutor asks the group a comprehension question, with responses written by each student on a mini-whiteboard.

* Students are now using the Raz-Kids online program at least twice a week in class, with strong encouragement to do it at home. Those who take a zero period (before school official begins) class with me are encouraged to use it then, too.

Though it’s too early to reach any definitive conclusions, based on the most recent National Geo assessment it appears that these additions have had a positive impact on about forty percent of the class.

I obviously don’t publicly announce everyone’s scores, but, of course, all the students tell each other their scores.  It’s clear to everyone that the students who have taken these new reading activities seriously are doing better than those who did not, and it appears that this kind of peer “pressure” seems to be working to encourage everyone to “pick up their game.”



It’s become clear in Friday assessments that about forty percent of the class is experiencing challenges with English sentence structure (the assessments always include a number of “scrambled sentences”).

Last week, I wrote about how I was beginning to use “Sentence Navigators” to improve this situation (THE “BEST” RESOURCES FOR TEACHING SENTENCE STRUCTURE).

It’s too early to tell how well this is working, or if it isn’t.  But I have hopes.


Wish us luck on all of this!