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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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Assumptions Not to Make in the English as an Additional Language Classroom.

The last two weeks have been crazily busy with family related things. My youngest turned 8 which required parties and presents, grandparents and cakes. These things are all fun, but did require some serious time for planning and execution.

My oldest, is getting ready for high school next year.  The big transition from Year 6 to Year 7 is looming. And the main issue for us is that we are out of zone for the school that we would like him to attend. So we have been going on school tours and making up application packages. Everything has now been submitted and we have to wait until August 9 to find out where he is off to next year.

Last week at school I was hit by some assumptions that I was making but probably shouldn’t when teaching six and seven year-old New Arrivals in Australia. So for a laugh, here are some photos and some assumptions not to make in the EAL classroom.

 

1: Don’t assume that students have had the same access to physical development programs as in your own country.

 

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This photo shows part of the Physical Education program that we run for the younger students at our school. We try to teach the language of ‘balancing’, ‘jumping’, ‘hopping’, ‘skipping’ and so on as part of the program. The students also need the body confidence and awareness to be able to learn effectively in the classroom. A lot of this learning would typically occur in Australia in Kindergarten programs and in the first year of school. My students are being prepared for the second and third year of school in Victoria. Three weeks into the term and most of our students are running up the ramp and over the A-frame with a jump onto the mat. This child has developed in confidence also, but is still hanging on with her hand as she negotiates the top of the A-frame.

 

2: Don’t assume that students will correctly colour in the flag of your country.

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This is Australia’s ‘official’ flag in terms of country recognition. I know we have our Australian Aboriginal flag but that concept is a little too much at this point for my learners. So despite talking about the Australian flag being red, blue and white and talking about the stars and the parts of the flag, and having a flag on display one student gave me this.

After all, stars are yellow, aren’t they?

They are, especially if you have a Chinese background, and you are six years old.

 

3: Don’t assume that copying is easy.

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This student was so proud of his work and I realised “Copying is so hard….” He copied the date and the sentence ‘Yesterday was ANZAC day.’  The second sentence was his. Compared to his peers, his drawing lacks maturity. There is a lot of work that needs to be done with this student both academically and in terms of overall maturity.

 

4: Don’t assume a student knows how to use a scrapbook.

 

 

This student completed a task at the start of his scrapbook. The next task was glued into the middle of his scrapbook and the last task was glued in near the end of his scrapbook. Oops! I had to get out the date stamp and stamp everything for when I go back through his work. Needless to say that this child is now on my ‘got to get to first’ list when we start new tasks so I can get him to the next page. Hopefully he’ll get the hang of it soon.

What assumptions have you made in your teaching or work? I’d love to hear some of your stories.