Larry Ferlazzo: Ideas for strengthening English skills over the summer

Our school year ended in mid-June and our District had little money for actual summer school.
Ideas for strengthening English skills over the summer

Our school year ended in mid-June and our District had little money for actual summer school. We used to have over one thousand of our students attending for at least six weeks — not because they were failing and had to retake classes, but because they wanted to get ahead. Now, we’re down to four classes for students who have failed a class and have to take it again. And there are no classes for English Language Learners.

As I’ve done in the past, though, I have created a virtual classrooms at a number of sites where students can easily enroll and do online activities. They will receive “extra credit” for doing so — either from me (since many will have me as a teacher again next year) or from their new teachers (who have agreed to give them extra credit).

Most of the sites are specifically for English Language Learners but, this year, I’ve also expanded to a few more advanced sites that would be more appropriate for many advanced ELLs and mainstream ninth-graders who are entering tenth-grade. In addition, a few other teachers of other mainstream classes invited their students to participate, as well. One great thing about most of these sites is that once the classrooms are set-up, it doesn’t really make any difference if 3 or 100 enroll.
Based on student feedback from last year, and because some new tools opened-up in 2014, I’m using a somewhat different set of tools than I’ve used before. You can see last year’s list, which I shared in two parts, here and here.

My students spent two or three class periods in the computer lab registering on these sites and trying them out. And I’d love to hear suggestions from other teachers about sites they think should be on this list but aren’t — yet, at least. You can also see more options at The Best Sites That Students Can Use Independently And Let Teachers Check On Progress.
And you can see lots of other resources at The Best Resources On The “Summer Slide.”

All but three of these eleven sites let you create your virtual classrooms for free so you can monitor student progress, and they all are easy to set-up and, except for one, let students register themselves:

USA Learns is for Beginners, Low-Intermediate and Intermediate ELL’s, and has reading, speaking and listening activities. Teachers set up the class, and students enroll themselves after you set up the class.

Virtual Grammar Lab is all about….grammar, though it has a fair amount of engaging exercises. It’s for all ranges of students, including native English speakers. Students enroll themselves here, too, once you set-up the class.

Raz-Kids costs $99 a year for a class, but I’ve always thought it was worth it, and have used it for many years. It has many “talking books” and interactives.
Zondle has a ton of learning games. It’s easy to set-up the class and have student enroll on their own. The only negative to it is that you have to either create or identify the learning activities you want them to use. It’s not that big of a deal — I just searched for things like “EFL,” “vocabulary,” etc. and found a bunch. I definitely wasn’t isn’t in creating anything new, though.

English Central is great, of course. You set up the class and students enroll themselves. You can assign videos or, as I did, just let students pick any and you can track their progress. It’s very inexpensive to create virtual classrooms, and you can get fifty “seats” for free just by attending an online Webinar about the site.

English For All is very simple to use — all you do is register and get a password for your class. Anyone with the password can then enroll in it. It’s designed for learning very practical English skills, and is free.

No Red Ink is another grammar-based tool. Like Zondle, however, you have to choose lessons and quizzes you want to include as class assignments, but that can be done quite quickly.

I've recently learned about Quill, which is another grammar site, though it seems particularly engaging. Again, here, you have to add specific exercises for the class to do, but that can be done pretty quickly.

Power My Learning seems pretty interesting. It has a engaging activities for a wide-range of subjects, and most seems to be accessible to ELLs. Here, too, you have add lessons to a “playlist,” but it’s an easy and quick process.

Curriculet is a site I’ve added for advanced ELLs and mainstream students. It provides higher level stories, books, and “units” in English and Social Studies, and ready-made exercises and quizzes. You have to choose which ones you want to add as assignments. One very nice advantage to this site is that they provide you a unique url address that students click on in order to register — it makes it very easy.

I paid $25 for a teacher upgrade to the popular Quizlet site so I could create a class and see how well it works. Here, again, you have to add “sets” one-by-one that you want students to learn.

As I mentioned earlier, I'd love to hear new suggestions for this list!

Larry Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He has written six books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher, and has his own popular resource-sharing blog. He writes a weekly post for the New York Times on teaching English Language Learners.

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