Graphic Organisers in the ESL / EAL classroom

Part of the ongoing Professional Development that has been taking place at our school this year has involved looking at different teaching strategies that are considered ‘effective’ according to research and then adjusting them for our English as an Additional Language setting.

One of the latest strategies which we have had to experiment with has been the graphic organiser. My teaching partner and I decided to give the humble old KWL chart a try. The KWL chart has been around for years but for those who may not have come across it before, it is a tool for organising thinking. It acknowledges that students bring prior learning to the current topic being studied and also allows them to think about what they want to learn.

The KWL chart is basically this:

– What I already Know.  (This step is completed before the learning takes place)

W – What I Want to know. (This step is completed before the learning takes place)

L – What I have Learnt.  (This step is done after the learning takes place)


Our first try was when we were studying houses way back in week 3 and 4 of this term. My preferred way of doing the KWL chart with young students (I have seven-year-olds) is to give them a sticky note and have them draw/write for each section. The K section went well. You can only just see some of the yellow pieces that are for this section. We hit a few problems with ‘What do we want to learn?’

First problem: Students don’t know, what they don’t know.

Second problem: When English is not your first language, how do you even begin to write what you want to learn?

The drawings on the blue squares did have some input from me.



Maybe ‘Houses’ was too much of a thing topic rather than a concept topic. So after a bit of discussion with other teachers, we tried again with the next topic of ‘Zoo’. This time, I took the approach of me modelling how I might approach the ‘What I Want to Know’ section. I don’t think the students understood that I was trying to think out loud for their benefit. The conversation that surrounded this KWL was hilarious.




Me: I want to know the names of different animals.

Student A: I like magpies! And ducks!

Student T: Giraffes!

Student H: There’s elephants!

Me: Shh! Stop calling out. I also want to know What kind of coverings do animals have?

Student T: (still calling out) Feathers. Birds have feathers.

Me: (wondering why that wasn’t drawn on his paper?) I also want to know Where do animals live?

Student A: Trees!

Student T: The jungle!

Student H: Do we have to copy this?

Me: (inwardly sighing) And I want to know What do animals eat?

Student T: (still calling out) Lions eat meat!



56A181E6-6659-4DA9-B0E0-A2998FFF775A    While we were on a roll, I thought we should have a try at a KWL chart for Addition.

This is really beyond seven year olds. This is Student A (from above) who is incredibly bright. He did not really understand how to use a KWL chart for Addition. His ‘L’ section shows things he already knew as we did not cover doubles as part of our addition unit at this time.




I have come to the conclusion that KWL charts may not be the best use of time for me with a bunch of seven-year-olds in an EAL classroom. Maybe seven-year-olds in the mainstream classroom could cope with this graphic organiser better or maybe older students in the EAL classroom could cope with this strategy better.





Six degrees of separation and a writing weekend

There is a theory that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else through only six degrees of separation. Well, I am only three degrees of separation away from former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbot. Also I am two degrees of separation away from 2015 Melbourne Cup winning jockey, Michelle Payne.

How did I work this out? Glad you asked, but I need to give a bit of background first.

Last weekend I attended a Magazine and Newspaper Writing Stage 1 course run by the Australian Writers’ Centre, held over the Saturday and Sunday at the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne. The convent is no longer used by the Catholic Church. It now has markets, cafes, and yoga classes onsite. Different groups come in and run quilting workshops, couples workshops and writing workshops.

My writing workshop was held in the old Bishop’s Parlour.  It was a large room with very high ceilings and unfortunately no air-conditioning. It has been very hot in Melbourne. The windows could not have had curtains: they had to be drapes. They were so long. I did wonder about the nuns gliding along the corridors and up and down the stairs near the Bishop’s Parlour. Did any of them ever fall down the stairs?

Our writing workshop facilitator was deputy editor of the ‘The Saturday Paper’, Cindy MacDonald. There was no super fancy presentation for our workshop. No long and tedious Power Point presentation. Cindy simply read from her notes and told interesting stories. She knows her stuff – writing. And for the fifteen of us novice writers it was like scooping up little gems and treasures that she dropped along the way. She gave us tips for how to write well, how not to write and how to approach editors. I am grateful that I have been doing this type of writing in my Certificate IV in Professional Writing and Editing. Without this background information, I think I would have been lost.

Our ‘homework’ for the course involved interviewing a course participant and then writing up a profile on them before the Sunday. This was my first ‘unknown’ interviewee, all the others have been friends. I interviewed a lovely lady called Fiona Telford. I learnt she had worked at various times for the government both at state level and at federal level as a media adviser. I thought ‘Ho hum. How am I going to turn this into a story?’ So I went home and googled her.

Fiona laughed at me the next day saying ‘Look at you and all your research!’ And ‘I thought you would find out about me and Peta Credlin!’ So through meeting Fiona, I know she worked in Canberra for some of the same politicians that Peta Credlin worked for. Peta Credlin then worked for Tony Abbot as his Chief-of-Staff which explains my connections to Tony Abbot. Fiona also has shares in racehorses that are being trained by Michelle Payne, who was the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup in 2015.

I’d love it if you had a read of my profile of Fiona. For the record, she gave me her permission to publish it to my blog. I wish her all the best as she re-establishes herself as a journalist/writer.

I’d also love to hear if you are connect to anyone through different degrees of separation.


At Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne. (25 Nov 2017)







Catching Up

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. Maybe too long, but life has a habit of getting in the way. Also sometimes it’s hard to keep going when it’s quiet on the comments/reply front.

I’ve been slack on the writing course front too. I got sick, we went on holidays to Queensland, I got a new class and had what felt like a million follow up appointments and before I knew it I was writing reports again. I haven’t quite finished reports from this term yet, but they are very much well underway. I had to be more organised than normal because I booked a writing course for this weekend which was well worth the money and so being more organised was well worth the effort. I shall post more about the course later this week.

But amongst the busyness, I did squeeze in a small assignment. I have now included a profile of one of my friends who has changed careers in mid-life to become a nurse on my portfolio page. Yes, changing careers and studying later in life does seem to be a common theme with some of my articles at the moment, but maybe that is just where I am at for the moment.

Anyway, have a read and let me know what you think!

– Sarah

The Secret Life of Teachers

Well I’ve been sitting on this blog post for awhile. I’ve just come out the other side of writing reports for Term 3. We’ve also been planning the next holiday and dealing with house renovations.

Anyway it is time to submit the next assignment. The assignment was a non-fiction writing task and I chose to write a feature article much like you might see in the Stellar Magazine in the HeraldSun (a Melbourne newspaper) on the weekend.

I interviewed a colleague about her intended career change which ties in with a very current issue facing many countries. That issue is teacher retention.

Anyway you can follow the link to The Secret Life of Teachers or look on my portfolio page.

As part of the feedback process I had different comments.

  • My 12 year old son said ‘I love your article Mum – I love the facts!’
  • My husband said ‘I love the narrative!”
  • My colleague said ‘It’s excellent – you’ve told it like it is.’

I’d love to hear your feedback too.

And how are your Grandmas?




This question should be mandatory at enrollment at our school.

I work at a school where there is a high proportion of Chinese students. They come to learn English whilst their parents either work here or one parent stays in China and the other comes out to make a new life in Australia bringing the children with them.

Every year there are a lot of sick grandmas in China, especially in August.

“We are going back to China. Her grandma is sick!”

It has happened to me before and it happened to me today.  The office lady snorted when I mentioned it to her and said “School is going back in China!” It’s frustrating and infuriating at the same time. I have basically been used as a baby-sitter for the last five weeks. My poor student has basically spent her summer holiday in cold, wintry Melbourne at school! And all the data that I’ve had to collect and the effort that I’ve put into her has been for nothing. As the assistant principal said, at least I won’t have to write her report.

So, how are your grandmas?

Where are we again?

I haven’t abandoned my blog. Life gets busy. Unfortunately teaching demands a lot at times and not of all the demands are useful, helpful or constructive.

I have been implementing further strategies for our instructional model into my classroom. There is a lot of frustration from many of us because the text-book that we are working from is very much secondary based and mainstream. There is nothing Primary based or for EAL based. We are starting from scratch. And that is tough.

I have been celebrating my oldest child’s birthday. I can’t believe he is now twelve.

I have been chasing up on a few health issues that need attention. Actually, when I get to this point, it is because my body is screaming for attention.

I have also been researching and preparing to write a feature article on a colleague from school. I interviewed her today and will be interviewing her sister on Monday. It was actually quite a bit of fun asking her questions I don’t normally get to ask and finding out more about her. I have been mulling over the direction of my article. I am quite looking forward to the challenge of shaping my article and pulling it together. I seem to enjoy the process of how my work evolves throughout the planning, writing and editing stages of the project. I love reading biographies and autobiographies of people. Real life can be so much more fascinating than fiction. Who knows, maybe I have found my calling?

How have you been going?

And around we go again!

Where did the holidays go?

For me the holidays were spent catching up with friends over afternoon teas, catching up with a bit of shopping, checking out different blogs on WordPress and getting our house renovated. We had the heating installer crawling around under our house one day and the electrician crawling around in our roof the next.

Well, after being back at school for one week the biggest topic of conversation among the teachers is how tired we are already! It’s actually been fascinating to hear how many of us don’t sleep particularly well before returning to school and during the first week back. The other topic of conversation is how challenging it is to return to getting up on schedule, eating on schedule and going to the bathroom on schedule. If that’s challenging for the teachers, how much more so for the students. At our school it is like starting a new year every term and that is exhausting.

I actually had to congratulate myself the other day: no one in my class has been crying and no one has wet themselves. (Yet!) What an achievement! The average age of my class has dropped by about another six months. I began the year with a Year 2/3. Term 2 I had a Year 1/2 and now I have got mainly Year 1. This term we had a huge influx of Prep children which is why my class is younger. The students have all been pushed up.




Student B is back in my class for this term. He began the week looking very settled and seemed to be understanding most of what I was saying. He seems pretty pleased that he is now one of the ‘old students’ and I have had to ask him to help me with the ‘new students’. However by Thursday, he couldn’t help himself. He began niggling other students in line and got into a fight at playtime. After sorting out the lining up order, the next thing on my list to do is to instigate the floor seating arrangement.

One thing I find fascinating about EAL teaching with new arrivals is how much the students learn and how much one actually teaches in a short period of time. By Wednesday, my class was beginning to settle quite nicely. We had played ‘Classroom instructions’ – which is a bit like musical chairs. The difference is that when the music stops, I call out an instruction like ‘Sit on your chair!’ and the students have to follow. We’d also done colours, days of the week, making requests and numbers to 20. Then… on Thursday I scored my thirteenth student… and the poor kid is having to work out which way is up when the other new students have already learnt this. He gets a crash course in colours and numbers to 20 which we revise but obviously don’t get to do in depth again. The class dynamics change yet again.

Such is life in the New Arrivals Program.