“What can I do for my child at home?”


The title of this post is the most frequent question I get from parents during parent/teacher conferences. It is the question I hear from almost every single parent who has a child learning English as their second, third, or fourth language.

For the past six years, my answer to that question has remained the same.


Read to your child, have your child read to you, have a baby-sitter read to your child, have your child read to a baby-sitter (or a sibling!), have your child read on their own. Read. Read. Read.

I have never done an official study on this, but I can tell you what I have seen happen in my classroom. This is my sixth year teaching in an international school setting and every year I have at least one or two students who start the year with no knowledge of the English language (this year I had four!). I also have students who speak very little English, or speak English as their second language. Most of my students fall into those three categories: No English, Some English, Multiple Languages. The beauty of international schools.

I have never had a child in my class who has not been able to learn to communicate in English by the end of the year through speaking, reading, and writing. But I have noticed that the students who grow the most in these skills, are students who read (and are read to) the most.

Reading builds vocabulary and permeates into every other subject.

Because I am in Korea and we lack a plethora of English books, especially at the beginner reader’s level, I introduce my students and their parents to http://www.kidsa-z.com. (I am grateful that this is a supplemental program my school invests in.)


On the side… it is also important to note that being able to read doesn’t just mean you have the skills to sound out letters and blend them into a word. Reading is also about comprehension. It is essential to talk about what you read, and ask questions, and answer questions and all that jazz. When my students achieve a level of fluency where they have the skills of reading simple words and stories I  ask them what the book is about and encourage parents to get their child to talk about what they are reading at home.

If you have resources, such as websites, that work really well in your classroom or for your child at home, please share in the comments! We LOVE comments.


*images courtesy http://www.pixabay.com

to confer or not to confer…

“Will you meet with every student?” I had an eager student come up to me and ask me after I shared with my class about my workshop routines. I shared how during independent reading or writing time I will meet with students individually or in small groups. My student seemed genuinely excited about getting feedback and conferring with me, which is the kind of response you want.

One of my #teachergoals (see my previous post) is to improve my feedback and I feel that conferring is the perfect place to start. In order to improve in this area, I needed to first improve how I keep my conferring notes. I’ve tried quite a few different ways to keep track of my conferences from a big 3 ring binder with tracking sheets, clipboards with student names on each box, to using different apps on my iPad (confer and evernote).

This year, I decided to go back to paper, but I created my own conferring notebook. I didn’t like the models I’ve used in the past and I had trouble finding a template that fit what I wanted, so I created my own. I wanted it to be simple enough and without too many categories, but I wanted to focus on a few areas like small group instruction, individual student goals, and teaching points.

So my DIY conferring notebook looked like this:IMG_1477

In the beginning I put a class roster page, so I can keep track of which students I meet with for individual and small group conferences. Then, I have a few pages of conference tips/reminders, and then a section for small group conferences that I can plan out in advance for the week.

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The main section of my conferring notes are pages for my individual students which I color coded each name with a label. Then, I put a goals sheet in front of each student’s section of notes so I can make sure I know what their goals are and I can check off when I the student meets a goal. So in theory it should all work out perfectly, but we’ll see how things go.

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For my writing workshop conferences, I’ve started conferring individually and in small groups for our narrative unit. When I go around to confer, I bring my conferring notebook along with my writer’s tool kit. The writer’s tool kit is something I learned from a summer writing institute I went a few years ago. Christy Curran, from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, shared this idea in a workshop about carrying a writer’s tool kit for the different genres (narrative, opinion, and informational) you teach. Inside my writer’s tool kit, I’ve have sections for: charts, mentor texts, writer’s notebook, and post-its & stickers. It’s an easy way to carry these tools around with you for easy access during a conference. I use the post-its to write the teaching point and compliment I give to my student. They keep the post-it note in their notebook to remind them about what we talked about.

It’s easy when the students are reading or writing independently to try to get other “stuff” done, but think about that student that is eagerly waiting to get your feedback, so keep conferring friends!

How do you keep track of your conferences? Please share any great ideas with us!


The Inquiry Cycle on Display

My new first grade teaching partner this year is going to teach me a lot of fun new things, I can already tell.

Here is a picture I took of her inquiry cycle board after our first six-week unit:


Pretty amazing right? The students were able to see a visual fill up week by week as they journeyed through the inquiry cycle that is tuning in, finding out, sorting out, going further, making conclusions (reflection), and taking action.

I obviously had to create a board like this in my own room. Here is what it looks like after we  had our tuning in learning engagements for the first week of our Sharing the Planet unit with the central idea: Mini beasts play a role in our lives.


While this is on the back wall of my room, my lines of inquiry, key concepts, etc. are displayed in front of the room:


You’ll notice that under my central idea I have it translated into Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. I have students in my classroom who speak very little English, during this unit I had them guess what words they thought would be in our central idea, many of them said “mini beasts” and were very excited to hear what the central idea was, then when students heard it in their mother tongue they got even more excited.

The questions on post it notes are questions my students wrote when they came into our changed classroom atmosphere the first day of our unit. I love giving time for my students to ask questions!

How do you display your inquiry cycle in your PYP classroom? How do you have students ask and answer wondering questions?


*Here is what my board looked like at the end of the unit!


Building Community & Inferring

One of the many benefits in working in a big grade level team (13 fifth grade teachers) is that I’m always getting amazing new ideas for my classroom from my fellow colleagues. This year I put into place a new idea which I took from my colleague. One of my colleagues, Leigh, does this great inferring interactive bulletin board in her classroom. I saw this in her room and immediately asked her what it was all about.

She starts the year by decorating this board with different items and mementos that are important to her. She puts books, photos, awards, cards, notes that show who she is. Then she has students infer about what they learn about her. Then, weekly, different students take turns to post items on the board about themselves.

This is a great way to get students to infer and also to build community in the classroom. Here was my board that I created for the first week of school.


Now that we have been in school for quite a few weeks, it’s been great seeing the board change as different students take over. During our community circle time in the morning, the students will share what they infer. The student will let us know if we are correct or not. It also allows us to ask some great questions and hear more from the lives of our students.

Do you have any great interactive bulletin board ideas that you do in your classroom? Please share with us! 



Well if Taylor Swift can bring about new popularity to an age old word like “goals” by putting a hash tag and squad in front of it (ICYMI, just google #squadgoals) while posting group photos with her beautiful girl gang, I’m going to start a new trend. Well I am definitely no T-swift, but I’d like to revive the idea of having #teachergoals because it’s the beginning of the school year. And who doesn’t love being able to create new goals, says the achiever in me.

As I start my thirteenth year of my teaching career, in case you are wondering I was only 13 when I started teaching (obviously), I always look forward to the endless possibilities that await me with a fresh new class of students on the first day of school. Deep down, my main teacher goal every year is to the best teacher ever, but I guess I do need to make more concrete teacher goals for myself. I really do try to push myself to be an even better teacher then I was the year before. It’s kind of the rule of teaching that you get better each year. I’ve definitely seen growth when I reflect on my practice and then make concrete goals to improve.

Now that I’m becoming a veteran (but still young at heart) teacher, I realize you need to push yourself even more to become better. It’s easy to get better in the first few years, but you have to keep challenging yourself to keep learning and improving, because once you have your bag of tricks that allows you to keep your students on task, quiet, and respectful it’s easy to get stagnant. At the end of the day, are you just good at classroom management or are you truly a great teacher? Are you really growing a genuine community of learners? Are you really differentiating and allowing for inquiry to happen? So I’m always reading new teaching books, blogs, articles and attending workshops to make sure I’m learning and growing. (I recently discovered this great teaching blog: cult of pedagogy)

So this year, I have a few teacher goals swirling around my mind.

  • Be better at giving more effective and timely feedback to my students. I totally had that biology teacher in high school that would take months to return that test, and I always wondered why it took so long. Well now that I’m a teacher, I totally understand how that’s possible. I’m giving myself a week at most to return something. Yes, it’s going to be difficult when the essays get longer and the tests get longer, but I know I can do it.
  • To improve my conferring note-taking system, so that I can be more effective in giving feedback (see goal #1) and be more reflective on where my students need help. For the past few years I decided to go digital with my conferring notes for reading and writing workshop. I used Evernote app on my ipad and it was good.  However, it wasn’t great and it wasn’t meeting all of my needs. So this year, this techie teacher went back to good old paper and I’m loving it so far. I created my own conferring notebook for reading workshop and writing workshop with colorful tabs and they are goal focused. It’s pinterest worthy and I’ll have to do another post with photos on it later!
  • To really push and challenge my students that already have gotten the concepts. As a teacher, you are usually focused on meeting the needs of the students that don’t get the concepts, which is great, but often the students that already have gotten the concepts don’t get challenged or pushed. Often times, those students get a menu of more busy work. So, I want to make sure that I’m really appropriately challenging those students as well. If you have any suggestions or resources, please leave a comment!

Ok, so even if I don’t start a new internet trend, please share with us some of your teacher goals for this new school year through your blog/facebook/twitter/instagram/snapchat and make sure to include #teachergoals. I would love to hear what your goals are!



How To Take Your Read Alouds Further

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I was at an amazing IB Workshop this past weekend called “Reading and Writing Through Inquiry” and I have many, many things to share. My workshop leader, Rachel, was fantastic and all of the workshop participants (myself included!) were excited to collaborate and really wanted to be there. Which makes a difference with professional development, you know?

One of the learning engagements Rachel led us through was a way add more language to your read alouds, or writing and reading workshop time, or ELA lessons, you get the picture.

She read the book “The Island” by Armin Greder, an incredible though slightly controversial picture book. I had never heard of this book before. After Rachel read the book she had eleven different writing prompts, differentiated for upper and lower level grades, as well as English Language Learners. She read the choices and let us choose which one we wanted to do.

Here were our options:

Theme- What is the theme of the book? Write about it!

Write a review of book 

Supporting character- choose a character you liked or didn’t like and write about why

Perspective- pretend you are a character from your book “the best life for me would be” from the viewpoint of character

Resolution- rewrite the ending of the story

Poem- compose poem

Plotline- draw plot line 

Setting- draw a picture or map of the setting and describe it

Emotional response- draw a picture of the funniest, most exciting or saddest part of the story write paragraph describing scene

Make a T-Chart- comparing physical and character traits through main characters eyes and in the eyes of others

Climax- write the climax of the story

Author- find four facts about the author and find titles of other books written by the author

I created a simple google doc with the prompts. The more language friendly ones are translated into Korean, Chinese, and Japanese for the ELL students in my class.

Printable Version of Prompts 

What are ways that you extend your read alouds in class? 


Guest Read Aloud in Jee Young’s Class

In my previous post, I mentioned visiting Jee Young’s classroom in Singapore this past fall.

Not only was I able to observe a science lesson, I also got to read aloud ish by Peter H. Reynolds. During the read aloud, Jee Young prepared questions for me to ask her students based on things they were already discussing as a class.

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Each student sat with a pencil in hand and their Reader’s Notebook opened. Since I am used to working with younger students, I tried my hand at a few jokes, loving it when the students not only got my jokes but responded back… Or even when they didn’t get my jokes because of cultural differences, meh, it happens.

Throughout the reading I paused to ask questions and give the students time to “Stop and Jot” their answers.  It was great hearing their responses and listening to them connect what they wrote to what another classmate said.

This is something I do with my first grade students, only it looks a little different. Instead of them writing I model it for them during our read alouds, stopping to jot my thoughts on sticky notes. During their independent reading time is when they get to “Stop and Jot” on sticky notes which they keep collected in their Reader’s Notebook.  Since they don’t stop and jot during read alouds, I have them do the good ‘ol “Turn and Talk” with their partner. Then, they have to share  with the class what their partner said, to help them listen to each other better.

After my read aloud I took my own mini-tour of Jee Young’s classroom and here are a couple of things I really liked (out of the many!).

Jee Young giving her students book recommendations (thumbs up Jee Young!):


The baskets she uses to organize her books, I love them!


When I arrived back in Korea I shared the same book, ish,  with my class, and they loved it. A few other favorite read alouds of mine are:

the dot by Peter H. Reynolds
The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems (I mean anything by Mo, you can’t go wrong…)
Press Here by Herve Tullet (Jee Young and I did a project using this book with our classes years back and wrote about it here!)

Read about Jee Young doing a guest read aloud with my class a couple of years ago here.

What are some of your favorite read alouds? I would love to know, leave a comment!