SK TEAL Blog Post – Redefining Instruction and Support with Technology Integration in an EAL Classroom

Check out this SK TEAL blog post I wrote with @GennaRdz.  It is entitled:

Redefining Instruction and Support with Technology Integration in an EAL Classroom

The post discusses different technology tools, supports and strategies to use with EAL learners and how these supports specifically benefit English Language Learners.



WeVideo Vocabulary Project


One of the things that my EAL students need to work on is, of course, building vocabulary. After developing BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) (Cummins, 2008), students need to work on developing their CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) (Cummins, 2008) or academic vocabulary.  In my EAL 9 Literacy Class, I wanted to work on just that with my students.  Using the following text by María Elena Argüelles, Ph.D. and Martha Smith, M.Ed., I created a project using WeVideo to help build my students academic vocabulary.

academic vocab for ells

Before the Project

Before beginning the project, we learned a lot of new vocabulary words in a number of different ways, including:

  • Students read books of their choosing at their instructional levels and picked out and learned new vocabulary.
  • I taught the students how to look up new words in the dictionary to see if they understand the definition and look at how the words are used –  part(s) of speech.
  • I had the students look up synonyms of the words, bearing in mind that synonyms don’t always mean the exact same thing or are used in the exact same way.
  • I had the students use L1 translations for support.
  • I had the students look up the words in a sentence and modeled using the word in sentences. is a great site to find words used in simple sentences.
  • I had the students write sentences of their own individually and with a partner using new words.
  • We shared our sentences with the rest of the class.
  • I had the students take simple notes on the most common way(s) to use their new words.

So, basically, before beginning my vocabulary project, I taught students ways of learning the meaning of words they don’t know and how to use them in sentences.

The Project

For the project, students were put into groups and focused on one concept word and its synonyms.  From there they created WeVideos to explain the meanings of the words, including a visual and audio.  Students also had to learn how to use WeVideo and follow instructions.  I marked the students on their oral language skills, their visuals, their understanding of the vocabulary, completeness, effort and creativity.

Here are some examples of our projects!

Finally, one of the reasons that this project worked especially well to build academic vocabulary is because students were learning the words using a variety of different learning styles including visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  The students used the green screen, created skits, made memes and giphs and were given the option to try stop motion or mannequin challenge videos.   In addition, the students were seeing the words used more than once.  We did worksheets and practiced the words in a lot of different ways before actually creating the videos, coming up with sentences and visuals.

The students worked well together and had a lot of fun creating their videos!


Cummins, J. (2008). BICS and CALP: Empirical and Theoretical Status of the Distinction.

Shakespeare and EAL/ESL

So, believe it or not, I’m teaching Shakespeare this semester (Macbeth to be specific) to a group of students learning English.  As part of the grade 10 ELA curriculum, teachers must teach a Shakespearean play.  In our school, it’s Macbeth – those are the books we have.  As the EAL teacher, I teach a sheltered ELA 10 class of all EAL students to try to support them in getting an ELA credit.  In order to do this, I can adapt, but not modify.  They still have to read grade 10 level approved novels, poems, non-fiction works and short stories, do all of the major assignments for the course and – yes – read Shakespeare.


Now, I personally love Shakespeare and enjoyed it in school, but I don’t think it’s necessary to teach in high school any more, especially to EAL students.  They don’t need to know old English (especially when we’re still struggling with modern English).  In my opinion, we shouldn’t get rid of Shakespeare, but it should be taught as a specialized class, an AP class or even a university class. Now, some may disagree with me, but I challenge you to try teaching ELA to all EAL students, let alone Shakeseare.

So, how did I do this.  I can now say at the end of our Macbeth unit, that we got through it.  I was told that I didn’t have to do the old English, could use the movie and modern text, focusing on themes and literary devices.

Here’s what I did:

  • I began by reading  a summary of the play and characters with the studmacbeth quick textents and watching a short video summary.
  • I began with essential questions and group discussions to get the students thinking about the play and themes, and getting them in the right mind set.
  • We read some brief background information and learned about the setting of the play, as well as some very basic information about Shakespeare.
  • I provided the students with a cheat sheet that we referred to throughout of themes, plot development, motifs, symbols, setting, genre, literary terms and so forth.
  • I used the graphic novel, modern language, quick text.  It isn’t wordy, it’s to the point and written in modern English with descriptive pictures.
  • We broke the play in acts and scenes and I read it with the students, explaining as we went and then reading a sparks note summary after each scene and an analysis after each section. I also provided them with a link to the old English text next to the modern text in case they were interested.
  • As part of the curriculum, I chose to do journal entries throughout our reading.  The students did 10 journal entries on Seesaw (which served as a digital journal where students could post all of their entries, see each other’s posts and make good quality comments, all of which is teacher mediated).  Our journal entries were not only written responses, but oral and visual including pictures, collages, a Venn diagram and a word cloud.

Macbeth Seesaw

  • We watched the movie after we were finished reading.  Although we did not have a Macbeth movie with the modern English, we watched the old English with subtitles and I explained to the students that, although we may not understand the old English, watching the movie will provide us with a visual of the play.  Plus, the teacher can stop the movie throughout and get the students to paraphrase what they watched.
macbeth clip
  • We did a quiz on quizizz as an assessment (along with the journal entries).  This also worked as a formative assessment to see what students know before the final exam.

Macbeth quiz

  • Finally, we did a Macbeth Creative Project where students created some kind of a visual representation (from a choice of 3) to show their understanding of the play and present it to the class.shakespeare-1716106__340

New Book: Educating Refugee-background Students: Critical Issues and Dynamic Contexts

I’m really excited to share the release of a new book: Education Refugee-background Students: Critical Issues and Dynamic Contexts.  I’m especially excited because the brilliant Dr. Andrea Sterzuk and I wrote one of the book chapters entitled Sociocultural Literacy Practices of a Sudanese Mother and Son in Canada.

The Book

The book is written about the education of refugee-background students in North America, Europe and Australia, focusing on adolescents and adults.  It was ed

educating refugee background student

ited by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry.  It is broken up into two sections: Language and Literacy & Access and Equity.  You can go to the Multilingual Matters site for more information about the book, the specific chapters and how to purchase it.

I am really excited to read it.  When I first began my thesis research in 2011 or 2012, there was not a lot of information on refugee-background students, especially in regards to literacy practices, so I think this book is a wonderful addition to the research and will offer a lot of insight.

Here is a sneak peek of the book – the introduction.  You can also find a copy on the Multilingual Matters site.  Education Refugee-background Students Introduction

Our Book Chapter – Sociocultural Practices of a Sudanese Mother and Son in Canada

The chapter written by Dr. Andrea Sterzuk and I discusses the sociocultural literacy practices of a Mother and Son from what is now the Repbulic of South Sudan.  I taught the son many years ago in elementary school when he first came to Canada when I was a regular classroom teacher and then later when he was in high school as the EAL teacher.  I loved him and was determined to do my best for him as his teacher, which I never felt was enough.

In our chapter, we look at the participants’ life experiences and changes due to relocation, including a disconnect with one’s community and how their social networks of information sharing have changed.  We discuss aligning in-school literacy practices with already existing literacy practices and choose to focus on students’ assets, rather than deficits.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, this is going to be a great book and I really look forward to reading it.  I hope some of you out there in the online world will give it a try.  Let me know what you think!

Here’s more information:  Educating Refugee-background Students Information

On Teaching Grammar

I have one student in particular who always comes to me with specific grammar related questions.  He always wants to know what the grammar rule is for something that has been corrected in his writing, and can’t stand all of the exceptions in English that have no real explanations – they’re exceptions!  So, this begs the question, how important is grammar in learning English?  How much grammar should we be teaching?  Is too much grammar instruction overwhelming?  And is it better to learn grammar implicitly or explicitly?

So many questions…  I’d love to hear what all of you out there have to say about this.


My Approach

For me, I’ve always been a fan of a blended approach.  I like to focus on specific grammar issues that plague my students.  There are some things (such as simple present third person, plurals or prepositions of time) that seem to be common grammatical mistakes in my students’ writing that I have officially planted into particular units and lessons, or grammar teachings that are part of one of my EAL curricula.  Other grammar lessons, I teach based on student need.  What am I noticing in their writing or speech?

Otherwise, I do believe that grammar can be learned implicitly to some degree.  Students can pick up correct grammar just from being around the language and using it, having opportunities inside and outside the classroom to read, write, speak and listen in English.

My Grammar Experience

In my own language learning experiences, I’ve found that I always like to know a bit of grammar.  I need a base.  Perhaps this is because I’m a teacher and I like learning grammar – though, certainly, not everybody does.  And, although, I enjoy learning grammar, it can be overwhelming and if I focused only on grammar and getting it just right – I’d never speak, I’d never write.

My husband is an immigrant to Canada and English is his third language.  He came to Canada with his English Language Skills being strong enough that he passed the required university English Language Assessment and was able to take his master’s degree here.  I remember editing his thesis for him and his grammar was far from perfect.  In fact, there were many mistakes.  However, he did well in his degree, got a job right out of university and is now a manager at an engineering company.  Granted, he didn’t do his degree in English literature, but rather engineering and has an editor on staff to edit his proposals and reports, but years later, he hardly needs it.  His grammar and writing are excellent.  His grammar skills in English have developed from having to speak to people at work, write proposals, give presentations and so forth.  He has paid attention to corrections in his writing, but hasn’t explicitly studied grammar since starting his career.


What do I mean by talking about this?  Well, grammar is important, especially when incorrect grammar impedes comprehensibility, but depending on your career of choice it can be more or less important and it can develop within one’s career over time.

How I Teach Grammar

As mentioned earlier, I like to teach some grammar explicitly, but I also understand that too much grammar is overwhelming and that grammar can improve implicitly as well.  Here’s some things I do in my classroom.

  • Don’t Mark Every Mistake.  By this I mean that I don’t always correct every little grammatical mistake in a student’s writing, but rather focus on a couple of mistakes they make frequently.  However, I still let them know that there are more mistakes.  I’m not correcting everything. grammar4
  • Explicit Correction.  If a student is asking me a question, such as “I go to washroom?” I will often correct them explicitly or ask them to try again.  This does not mean that I correct every little mistake they make – of course not!  However, some research has shown that recasts (repeating what a student said incorrectly, correctly) are much less effective than explicit correction.  I still use recasts, of course, but try to make an effort to get students to consciously notice mistakes they are making often.  I don’t do this in front of the entire class or make them feel bad about their grammar.  We just work on slowly improving it.
  • Writing Checklists.  I often make writing checklists for my students to use when editing their work, including things like capitalization and punctuation, as well as writing structure such as topic and concluding sentences.  I also like to include grammar checks.  Sometimes, I’ll include something we’ve explicitly worked on in class, but often I get students to add to their checklists with a couple of grammar issues that they are, personally, working on correcting in the writing.


  • Peer Editing.  When going through the writing process, I will often have students do peer editing and give peer feedback.  I tell students that it is often really difficult to see mistakes in our own writing, so it often helps to get someone else to look it over.  Most of the time I get students to swap papers with a partner, but I have also had them make good quality critiques on Seesaw and used the site peergrade.
  • Conferencing.  Having the luxury of smaller classes as an EAL teacher, I try to use that as much as possible and often like to conference with students one-on-one about their writing and grammar.  I’ll get the rest of the class working on something and have one student come up and work with me.  We’ll go through their writing and talk about it.  Sometimes I’ll get them to read it to me.  We’ll notice the key grammar mistakes and I may teach a little individual lesson.
  • Music.  One of my favourite ways to teach grammar is through music.  There are a lot of sites out there that connect grammar lessons to songs and
  • music song lyrics.  The students really enjoy listening to a piece of music, looking at the lyrics and trying to pick out the present perfective tense.
  • Recipe Cards.  I like to use recipe cards for a lot of things, whether for vocabulary practice or matching or word sorting activities, but I’ve also used them for grammar.  Students get some sticky tack and have to put cards in the correct order.  For example, it can be as simple as matching the present tense of a verb with the past tense with the past participle.  Students could also manipulate word order and so forth.
  • Websites.  There are a lot of websites out there for grammar practice, where students can submit their answers and see how they did.  I usually explicitly teach a concept to the students, practice it together, then maybe with a partner, give them some worksheets to do on their own and then have them practice the concept again on a website.  I always find it nice to constantly change up what I’m doing whether it’s from independent work to partner or group work, students sitting in their desks to getting them up and moving around, or from working on paper to working on computers.
  • References.  I always give my students grammar reference sheets or links to sites or videos so that they have information for the future or to support them in their mainstream classes.
  • Text to Speech, Videos and Dictation Tools.  I find it helpful to have students’ writing read to them or for them to be able to hear them self speaking or see their speech in writing.  Sometimes this helps them to better recognize their own grammatical mistakes and be able to correct them.  See my blog post entitled “TESL SK/SK TEAL 2018 Conference Presentation: Teaching EAL with Technology Tools and Supports” for links to a number of sites.

grammar 3

Finally, there are also some websites out there that help with correcting grammar, such as “grammarly”.  Educators have mixed opinions about this.  I can see both its advantages and disadvantages, but think that if students are still explicitly trying to improve their grammar, a site such as this one can support them as another tool.

So, in the end, I think grammar is important, especially to build a foundation for language learning, but too much grammar is definitely not a good thing and be overwhelming and demotivating to students.  I’d really love to hear what other people out there do for grammar instruction.  What works and what doesn’t work for you?

TESL SK/SK TEAL 2018 Conference Presentation: Teaching EAL with Technology Tools and Supports

Hi everyone!

For all of you who attended the TESL SK/SK TEAL 2018 Conference and were at my presentation, here is the PowerPoint, as promised, with links to all of the sites.  I’ve also included a list of all the sites with links below to make things a bit easier.  Hope it’s helpful!

List of Supports

TESL Poster

Taking an EAL Lesson to the Next Level

Recently, a couple of my students have had some major successes, which all started with a lesson I taught in one of my higher level EAL classes.  One of the classes I teach is called “SK Context for EAL Learners”.  It is an EAL credit course to teach EAL students about the Canadian province of Saskatchewan that they now live in.  My goal in this blog post is to share that lesson with you and how it led to future projects and successes, breaking down the walls of the classroom and empowering EAL students.

Petro Nakutnyy Photography

The Lesson – SK Vacation Packages

In short, what I had my students do for this lesson to learn more about the province they live in is, in groups, create a commercial for a Saskatchewan Vacation Package.  Each student was to pick a particular SK destination, create a script for it, find pictures and put together a short video.  Students in each group would then put their videos together to create their vacation package.

canola field SK
Petro Nakutnyy Photography

Before beginning this lesson we had already learned about the climate and seasons of Saskatchewan, the vegetation, animals and landscapes, as well as basic demographic information, such as population, languages, religion, cultures and so forth.   We even learned some Saskatchewan slang.  Did you know a hooded sweatshirt in Saskatchewan is called a “bunny hug”?  With the teacher librarian at my school, I had also already done a mini project where we reviewed plagiarism and how not to plagiarize, how to find reliable sources and how to cite sources.  Check out  I reviewed all of this with them.

wordcloud cite sources
Made with

Here’s the actual lesson plan:


  1. Tell the students we will be learning about different places to visit in Saskatchewan.
  2. Review note-taking methods, showing the Flocabulary video (if you have access to this amazing site) and discussing briefly.
  3. Show the students a PowerPoint of different activities and places to visit in SK, getting them to use one of the 3 note-taking methods to make notes about 5 to 7 places and/or activities that interest them.
  4. Put the students in groups of 4 and have each person fill out one of the “Come Visit Saskatchewan!” sheets. One person will find an outdoor activity, another will find a historic place to visit, someone will find a park, and the fourth person will find a touristy place of interest.  Each person should pinpoint the location they choose on the blank map of SK.


  1. Students will then be told to imagine they are a tourism company and are providing a SK trip/tour to customers (that includes the 4 places each student will be researching). Using the information they collected, they must create a video advertisement for their tour putting together a vacation package. Also, tell the students that at the end of the project a panel of judges (staff) will watch their final videos and vote on which vacation package they would choose.  The winning group will receive a prize. Refer them to the SK Tourism site and Saskatchewanderer site for ideas.  They can also look at the notes they took from the PowerPoint for ideas.

  1. Use Wevideo to create their commericals, showing the students the different possibilities for using this program (including: music, pictures, video clips, sounds and the green screen).
  2. Next, teach a mini lesson on digital citizenship in regards to citing sources and not plagiarizing. (I taught these concepts, and the students practiced them, in a previous lesson, so it was a review). Tell the students that pictures, music and sounds must also be cited,  as well as print sources.  Show them where to find royalty free options and remind them how to cite sources using  The last slide of the video should be a cited sources page.  Note: I had an amazing technology coach come in and teach the students all of the technology and digital citizen pieces of this lesson.  She’s amazing.  You can follow her on twitter @GennaRDZ for so many amazing teaching and technology ideas!
  3. Now, have the students start to find and drag in pictures, sounds, music and so forth into their Wevideo group accounts.
    Fort Quappelle SK
    Petro Nakutnyy Photograph
  4. Give the students a mini lesson on persuasive language. ESL Library has a great persuasive writing lesson that I used for this. Students can also take a look at some  templates online, using words or phrases as sentence starters, but putting the information into their own words.
  5. Next, each student will create a script for their SK destination to go with their pictures or videos, recording their voices or using the green screen and recording themselves saying their scripts.
  6. Provide the students with the rubric on how they will be marked and go over it with them.
  7. Students must work together with their groups to put their 4 separate destinations into one video. Only one person can edit at a time and students should work on organizing with their group members.  When each group member has added their section to the group video, groups should watch the video together and create an introduction and a conclusion (look at some sample videos for ideas), as well as smooth transitions.  (Note: students should also look at the map of SK where they’ve pin pointed their destinations and consider the location of each and what order their vacation package should be in.)
  8. Have a screening day for students to show their group’s video to the class. Watch for any pictures that don’t depict SK (or aren’t SK), as well as a sources cited page at the end of the video. The teacher and classmates can provide feedback for revising the video before the judging day.  This is also a good time to refer back to the rubric for how they will be marked, perhaps getting students to mark themselves on the rubric.  Pose questions to the students: How could the video be more engaging/interesting?  What are some other ways you could persuade someone to choose your vacation package?  Are you happy with the persuasive language you chose?
  9. Finally, have the judges come in and watch the videos, choosing the vacation they would most like to go on. Provide a prize to the winning group.  I gave my winning students a box of Timbits to share.  Doughnut holes for anyone who isn’t Canadian.


  1. Have the students complete a group assessment rubric.
  2. Debrief the project with the students and then have a discussion comparing Saskatchewan to their home countries. A padlet could also be done as part of this discussion.

Extension and Success: I sent one of my student’s videos that was done exceptionally well to the place the student created their section of the video on (Cypress Hills Park in this case).  We had a great response.  The park sent us a memory stick of their pictures so that she can edit her video and are using it to advertise on their youtube channel.  I can’t claim this idea for sending the video there.  It was another awesome idea from our teacher technology coach. It made the project much more meaningful for that student and in the future, I plan to tell the students that winning individual videos will also be chosen and sent to the places advertised in them in hopes of more great responses.

Here’s the video:

More Successes

This project led to another success.  One of my students was working on the project in her tutorial class and the teacher was impressed with her WeVideo editing skills.  He suggested that she create a promotional video for the school.  She and the student who created the Cypress Hills video ended up working together.

Taking it another step further that same teacher, suggested something else.  He got the girls working on a MindShare Learning contest where they won second place in all of Canada, first place in Western Canada.  We were all so proud! Note: if you are a math teacher and want to know more about Minecraft or formative assessment, even Mystery Skypes,  follow him on twitter @vendi55.

Here’s the Video and the Link:

MindShare Learning Challenge

Final Thoughts

This year I have learned, with the help of some amazing colleagues, that technology really can help us break down the walls of the classroom, empower students in their learning, provide new and exciting opportunities and allow for engaging lessons.  By working together with a group and creating more than just a PowerPoint or poster with pictures and a script, the students had to take their thinking to a new level, collaborate, be creative, communicate, learn about digital citizenship, develop technology skills and think outside the box.

All the while, we still worked on all of these EAL skills to better develop second language acquisition:

  • Learning new vocabulary
  • Writing Skills
  • Practicing grammatical structure through editing of scripts
  • Using good oral language skills (fluency, comprehensibility, pronunciation, varying of tone, volume, clarity)
  • Reading comprehension to learn about the places they were researching
  • Research skills

And, on top of it all…we learned a lot more about Saskatchewan!

grasses SK
Petro Nakutnyy Photography