Six Steps to Planning an Effective English Language Lesson

dreamstime_l_39119483A highly effective English language lesson should be fun and engaging with lots of teacher modeling, guidance, visuals, games and hands-on practice. Every English lesson should include all four modes of language; listening, speaking, reading and writing. Each mode of language uses a different part of the brain. When students use all four modes of language in a lesson, they have more brain power and thus better retention of the skill. Here are six steps for planning an effective English language lesson and productive follow up activities:

  1. Objective: Decide which specific language words and skills the students need to learn and practice. You can look at the Common Core Language standards to get some ideas.
  2. Materials: Gather and prepare materials to use with the lesson. These might include word and picture cards, stories, hands-on items, posters, videos, games, writing and drawing supplies, and/or white boards.
  3. Introduction: How will you introduce the lesson objective in a comprehensible and memorable way? Stories, videos and colorful posters showing examples of the language skill are perfect to use for an introduction.
  4. Guided Practice: Plan an activity which will engage students in the skill as the teacher supports and coaches. Reading, sorting, matching, talking, playing a game, drawing and writing are good ways to practice the skill with teacher guidance.
  5. Independent Practice: Prepare an activity which will engage students so they can continue to practice the skill independently or with a small group of students. Card games, board games and digital games are great activities for independent practice, because they are engaging, easy to differentiate and provide repeated practice.
  6. Writing: Plan a writing activity that can begin in guided practice and continued in independent practice. Writing is usually the most difficult of the four modes of language, so it’s important to provide students with many opportunities to write. Writing is one of the most differentiated activities, because students will write from their own personal experience and at their differing language levels. Instead of giving students a worksheet to fill in, have them write and illustrate their own meaningful sentences using the words or skills they have learned.

Here is the first in a series of English language lessons I created in response to many teacher requests.   Click here to download a blank lesson planning page.

1 ELL lessons cover

Six Best Alternatives to Worksheets

dreamstime_xl_75234079No more worksheets please! A worksheet is a printed page that usually has one correct answer and is used one time then turned in, graded and/or tossed. Often the whole class is required to do the same worksheet, even though it may be too easy for some and too hard for others. We all know that worksheets are not very exciting to complete or to correct, yet I see tons of worksheets in schools everywhere and in products purchased by teachers. Buyer Beware: Just because it is a “cute” worksheet does not make it a more effective learning activity.

There are many more engaging and effective ways to differentiate instruction, provide valuable practice, encourage deeper thinking, improve achievement, inspire creativity, and most importantly keep the joy in learning.  I challenge you to give the copy machine a rest, save the trees and empower students with these six great alternatives to worksheets!

  • READING: Now there’s a novel idea! The best way to become a better reader and a successful student is to read, read, read! We all know this, so let’s give students lots of time to read. When they come to school in the morning, instead of giving them morning worksheets, let them read a book of their choice. Reading should be the go to activity when  finished with other work.
  • WRITING: Instead of giving students a worksheet about the story they just read or the science concept they just learned, have them write about it. Instead of the fast finisher worksheet tub, let the students write stories, poems, articles or anything else they choose to write.
  • INDIVIDUAL WRITING SLATES: I know this takes us back to pioneer times, but look how much the pioneer children learned without worksheets!  Instead of guiding the students through a worksheet, have them do the problems or write the answers on their slates. It’s an easy way to check for understanding, and students love having their own slate!
  • GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS: After a lesson, instead of a worksheet, place students in groups with a poster paper to create a graphic organizer about something they just learned. Give students poster paper and markers, and you have happy kids!
  • GAMES: Printing games that will be used over and over is the best use of the copy machine! There are also many great games on websites and apps. Instead of giving a worksheet, provide an engaging game which students will want to play over and over. Games can also be differentiated according to the skills the students need to practice.
  • PROJECTS:  A good project allows students to gain deeper knowledge as they interact with a real world problem or challenge. They can work alone, with a partner or in a small group.  The project might be completed in an hour, a week or even a month. Projects are a dynamic way to enhance student learning and motivation.

Now honestly, isn’t this the look we want to see on our students’ faces. Keeping the joy in learning also keeps the joy in teaching!


Build Mastery in Multiplication and Division

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An successful way to increase  multiplication and division skills is with a mastery blast. A mastery blast is an engaging immersion technique to provide students with exciting across-the-curriculum activities to increase understanding, fluency and application of multiplication and division. In third grade I had a  week long multiplication and division mastery blast.  In fourth, fifth and sixth grade I had a multiplication and division mastery blast for several days at the beginning of the school year. Most of each school day was spent doing multiplication and division activities across the curriculum. It turned out to be a highly effective way to build understanding, fluency and application of multiplication and division, which is so crucial for success in math in the intermediate grades.  Here are some ideas for a differentiated and successful multiplication and division mastery blast!

Pretest: It is crucial to find out what students already know, so you can differentiate their activities. The pretest should include facts and word problems. Click here to download a pretest I created. This pretest assesses four different areas:

  1. multiplication with factors 0,1,2,5,10
  2. multiplication with factors 3,4,6,7,8,9
  3. mixed division
  4. word problems

You may decide how long you will give students to complete the pretest, but there is no need to stress some students by setting a timer. It is important to encourage students to do their best, as you are only using the pretest to inform your instruction. I do not return the pretest to the students, and I give it again as a post test to check for progress at the end of the mastery blast. It is very exciting to see the progress students make in just a few days.

Guided Small Groups: Place students in leveled groups based on the pretest and plan small group lessons according to the needs of the students.  Even in third grade I have some students who breeze through the pretest. These students will be working on multiple digit multiplication/division and challenging word problems.

Activities: Provide games, projects and activities for students to complete which will build understanding, fluency and application of multiplication and division. Here are some ideas:

Build Understanding 

  • Make Equal Groups – Have students solve multiplication and division problems with manipulatives then draw and write the solution in their journals. Create some basic word problems then laminate the cards. Write different numbers in the blanks with a wipe off pen depending on the level of the students.


  1. Sally had ______ boxes. She put _______ apples in each box. How many apples are there in all.
  2. There are _____ children on ______buses.  There are the same number of children on each bus. How many children are on each bus?
  3. Create an array with ______ objects and write the division and multiplication equations that describe the array.
  • one equation many ways

  • One equation Many Ways – Have students create a poster showing all the different ways to represent one multiplication or division fact.




Strengthen Fluency  multiplication fact families color

  • Fact Family Flashcards – Have students make and practice fact family triangle flash cards for the facts they need to work on. Click here to download this Fact Family Chart.
  • Skip Counting – Have students use this colored number line to skip count through each factor.
  • Fact Mastery Games – Card games, board games and apps provide repeated fact mastery practice. You can find a variety of fact mastery games on my website.
  • Music and Videos – Search YouTube for a variety of great multiplication songs and videos to get students up and moving as they sing the facts.
  • The Big 15If you take out all the 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, 9’s, and 10’s from the fact family chart, big 15there are only 15 left. These are the facts students need to memorize. Have students choose their favorite fact from the big 15 and draw a picture, write a poem or a story about their favorite fact. Have students wear their favorite face on a name tag (factors only, 7×8, 6×7, etc.) During the day everyone must call them by the product.

Real World Applicationsarray city

  • Have students create, write and illustrate their own multiplication and division word problems.
  • Have students create an art project then write equations to go with it such as this Array City project.
  • Have student write how they use multiplication and division in real life.
  • Have students research and report on how different professions use multiplication and division.


Click here for many more multiplication and division activities.



Reading Aloud to ELL Students

read aloudA strategic and engaging read aloud experience is an effective way to model fluent reading and develop language, vocabulary and comprehension for ELL students. Here are some steps to making read aloud beneficial for students who are learning English.

1. Choose interesting books that have some words and content new to the students. The choice of book depends on the English level of the student. I would suggest teaching five to ten new words during a read aloud.

2. Activate prior knowledge by finding out what students already know about the topic. In a narrative text have students make predictions about what might happen in the story by looking at the pictures.

3. Preteach new vocabulary by bringing in actual objects or photos of objects from the text. During the reading explain and discuss vocabulary  in context. Encourage students to let you know if they do not understand a word.

4. During the reading make comments and explain ideas in the text. Encourage discussion by asking questions and allowing students to ask questions. Share the strategies good readers use to make meaning of text.

5. Provide a closing activity that provides practice and review of  vocabulary and content. Creating a graphic organizer,  writing and/or drawing  about the story and oral retelling with a partner are some good closing activities.

There are many, many wonderful read aloud books to choose from. Because of the great visuals and cultural content, I like to read aloud to my English language learners from multicultural picture books.

Click here for a list of some of my favorite multicultural picture books.

Snowball Narrative Writing

snowball kidssnowball sample

Snowball narrative writing is a very exciting activity that get students up and moving! My students LOVE to write narrative stories using the snowball method. It is called snowball for two different reasons. First, the students will actually be throwing paper snowballs. Second, when you make snowballs, they grows bigger as your roll them in the snow. In this activity students will be building narrative stories one layer at a time.

Click here to download snowball narrative writing pages for primary and intermediate levels.


  1. Give each student a snowball page. Instruct them to write the first part of the story.
  2. When they are finished, have students crumple the page into a snowball.
  3. Play some music and let students have a snowball fight. How fun!
  4. When the music stops, have students take just one snowball back to their seats.
  5. Students should read what was written and write the next section of the story.
  6. Go back to step 2 and continue until the story has been completed.
  7. Have a few students share the finished stories. Students may also publish and illustrate the stories.

This is a super fun narrative writing activity to do for seasons and holidays. It is an excellent party day activity, because while being fun and engaging it also builds writing skills. Matching the music for the holiday or season adds to the fun.!


Light Up Math Game for the Holidays

light up mathHere is a super fun holiday math game to practice addition and subtraction facts to 20 or multiplication and division facts to 100.  The only materials needed are crayons, one board game and two moving pieces. Follow my TPT to receive notice of more of these math games for different holidays!

Directions for Two Players:

  1. Each player chooses a different color of crayon.
  2. The first player places the moving pieces on two numbers at the bottom of the page. The player adds or multiplies the numbers and colors a light bulb with the answer.
  3. The next player may move only one moving piece to a different number. The moving pieces may also be on the same number. This player colors the bulb with the answer. Players continue to take turns in this manner.
  4. The goal is to color in five bulbs in a row while blocking the other player from getting five in a row.  If the player wants the 18 bulb, they must figure out which numbers will get them to 18 using their subtraction or division skills.

Click here to download the Light Up Math game boards.

I hope your students enjoy this game!

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Open-Ended Math Tasks

A powerful, effective and easy way to differentiate in math is through open-ended tasks.  Open-ended math tasks…

  • Do not have one right answer
  • May be completed at different levels and in different ways
  • Empower students to make mathematical decisions
  • Engage students in productive struggle to build understanding
  • Encourage student creativity

Open-ended math tasks are used in guided math lessons where the teacher can support students in their decisions, discussions and sharing of ideas. They are also used at workstations with students working independently or collaborating with a team. The three categories you may use to assess the tasks are:

  • Complexity: The work matches the level of the student
  • Correctness: All math terms, computation and information is correct.
  • Neatness: Completed task is neat and easy to understand

Here are some ways to develop open-ended math tasks that do not take a lot of teacher preparation. Click here to download 12 open-ended math task cards.

  1. Compare and Contrast: Students choose two numbers, shapes, graphs, etc and explain in writing and diagrams how they are alike and different.
  2. What’s the Question? Students are given the answer and then write a word problem with a question for the answer. This task card could be given to students at any grade level.  math task zombies
  3. What’s the Answer and the Question? Students fill in the answer and create a word problem for their answer.math card marbles
  4. Adjust Closed Word Problems: Take closed word problems for your grade level and remove some of the values.

Closed: Taylor has 854 baseball cards, and Kyle has 928.  If Taylor and Kyle combine their baseball cards, how many cards will there be? 

Open-Ended: Taylor has lots of baseball cards, and Kyle has even more cards than Tyler. If Jade and Kyle combine their baseball cards, how many cards will there be?

Closed: Bobby saw 3 cows, 2 horses and 6 chickens at the farm. How many animals did Bobby see at the farm?

Open-Ended: Bobby saw some cows, horses and chickens at the farm. How many animals did Bobby see at the farm? 

Closed: In the fish tank there are 28 fish. One fourth of the fish are goldfish. How many goldfish are in the tank. 

Open-ended:MT orange 5

5. Close or Almost: Using these words on math tasks gives students many more possibilities for their answers.   

Add two numbers where the sum is almost 25. What could the numbers be?                    Multiply two numbers where the product is close to 500. What could the numbers be?