Working with an Interpreter

Last week I shared the way that I go about setting up parent teacher conferences. Now that ours are over, I have decided to make one change for next year. At the beginning of the year, I’m going to send home a note asking parents to select if they would like an earlier (1-4) or later (5-8) time for their conference. I’m hoping this will help me avoid the last minute changes that plagued conferences this year. 

Now, onto tips when working with interpreters. 

·         Make sure to introduce yourself to the interpreter, and the interpreter to the parent.

·         Make sure you’re making eye contact with the parent as you talk, not the interpreter.

·         Speak in shorter sentences, with frequent breaks.

·         If you are uncomfortable with an interpreter who interprets at the same time as you talk, ask them to wait until you’re finished speaking (this conversation should happen before the parents arrive).

·         If special education terms, psychological terms, or testing will be discussed, make sure to explain the terms so that the interpreter and the parent can be clear as to what you’re referring to.

·         Make sure to give the parents time to ask questions. Since this is often one of a few times a year there is an interpreter available, be sure that you’re prepared to answer general questions as well (or at least know where to find the information)

In order to make this easy to share with your teachers, I’m including a  handout that you can print and slip in mailboxes, or email as a PDF.  (Click on the picture to purchase for $1.00). 

interpreter handout

Tips for working with interpreters

Do you have any additional tips that may help? Please share! 


Parent Teacher Conferences with ELL Parents

Later this week we have our spring conferences. As a classroom teacher, I loved conferences because it gave me a better insight into my students, and provided a great opportunity to talk with parents who are not as available.

As I have transitioned to a full time ESL teacher, I’ve found that one of the hardest transitions was during conferences. I cannot be at all of my kids conferences due to time restraints and the fact that I work in two separate buildings. This makes me miss my time in the classroom, getting to really interact with families.

Once I became the ESL teacher, I was in charge of finding all of the needed interpreters for conferences. I have to be honest, before I became the full time ESL teacher, our families had to find interpreters on their own, or their children tried to interpret.

My district is small enough, that out of three elementary schools, we only have one bilingual para, and she is located in the building I do not work in. Now we use a service to provide interpreters for our families. This service has always been around, I just finally figured out how to really make it work.

Here are some hints to using and scheduling multiple families who need interpreters during conferences, when you have to be budget minded and keep the number of interpreters down to a minimum.

1. Schedule your conferences FIRST. Do not let teachers schedule anyone else first. (Keep in touch with SPED teachers as IEP’s might be scheduled during this time).  This allows you the flexibility to fit one student per slot, and keep them all together. Be sure siblings are scheduled back to back.

2. Really communicate (over and over) with classroom teachers the times that have been chosen for their students.

3. Be sure to check in with the business that the interpreters will arrive on time, and as expected. It’s even better if they can give you names of interpreters so you can let your classroom teachers know.

4. Document everything. Keep everything. You never know.

5. Check in with your teachers as often as possible to make sure conferences don’t change. When they do change and you don’t have a translator, check back in with the teacher to see if another time will work.

6. Let your school office know that you have an interpreter coming. I always like to give them a copy of the schedule so they can help guide the interpreter if they get off track.

7. Be nice to your interpreter. Be overly organized and give them a list of all the conferences they will need to translate, the time the conference begins, and the location. I even like to color code (this is because my school is broken up into different color pods).

8. Be even nicer to your interpreter. Have water available, at the bare minimum. They’ll be doing a lot of talking.

Up next week: Information to share with classroom teachers about how to work with an interpreter. Including a free printable that you can just slip in teachers mailboxes.

Free Grammar Games

Teaching grammar can be difficult. It’s one of those things that you have to circle back several times each year, and re-visit year after year to make sure that your students really “get it”.

Games are a great way to revisit the skills after a quick review section. I’ve found the students become really engaged in the game and therefore the skill.

One of the best, new websites I’ve found in a while is this:

You can have the kids play individually or with teams. And the best part is that you can choose specific skills that are often targeted in ESL instruction.

Anyone else have any good, free games that they play with their students?

Fluency Practice

I love that I am able to have several ipads in my ELL classroom. This enables me to use them during center time.

My favorite new thing to use them for is to help my students work on reading fluency.

This week we’ve been practicing what reading fluently sounds like. We’ve also been using a student friendly rubric that I created.

Fluency Rubric

The students use the free app called Educreations. They take a photo of their fluency passage (from a book, worksheet, magazine, etc) and then they’re able to record themselves reading the passage.


The student is then able to save it to my personal “account” and then they can listen back to themselves and fill out the rubric. I like them to do read one on Monday, and then they practice with a partner on Tuesday through Thursday. On Friday they do their second read. This enables us to compare both reads.

Here’s an example:

(Not going to lie, I cannot figure out how to embed that into this post….if you know how, please share!)

I like it because I can then go back and listen to ALL of my students fluency reads at one time while seeing what they were reading. In the past, I’ve had the students record themselves using voice recorder, but then I have to keep track by uploading them onto a computer, and keep track of paper copies of what each student read.

Anyone have any other tips that would help the kids enjoy practicing fluency?

Teacher Tech: What I’m Doing

One way that I’m using technology in my ELL classroom is for my planning.

I use my ipad almost daily to access the Common Core App and the app that is available for our reading series where I can access teachers guides for all grade levels.

 Common Core App



When I am setting up centers for my students, I will purposely pick apps that are appropriate for each students English ability level. My favorite apps to use during centers include:


Futaba – I love this app because I can create my own flash cards, so it can easily be geared for any skill or ability level. There is a free version to try out, but I bought the paid version ($6.99) because I found it so helpful, and the kids loved the competition.


Montessori Crossword – This app is so useful because it really hits phonics skills. I also appreciate that I can target a specific phonics skill (blends, long vowels, short vowels, etc). This app is $2.99.

Montessori Crossword

Sight Word by Photo Touch – Pretty self explanatory. The kids are not entertained for long, but I like that I can have several students playing this at once (with headphones) and I’m still able to identify who is getting them wrong or right. This app is free!

Sight Words by Photo Touch

Classroom Organizer – This app is actually a classroom library organizer. Since I have kids in two buildings checking out books, I had to find an easy way to keep track of who had what. While this isn’t perfect, it’s free.

Classroom Organizer


Does anyone have any favorite apps that they use regularly in their rooms?

ELL Schedule & Daily 5

This year I’m using a modified version of “The Daily 5” to guide my time with my ELL’s.

Daily 5 Book

My reasoning for switching from what I’ve been doing to the Daily 5 stems from some assessments that I did at the end of the year last year. Many of my students are missing skills. But of course, they’re not missing the same information.


In order to help each of them make up what skills they’re lacking, I wanted to be able to do smaller groups. Which lead me to watch what my fellow teachers were doing. There was a grade level who successfully implemented Daily 5 last year, and I was thoroughly impressed with the work their kids were doing.


So, now I’m working on doing a shorter, more focused “Daily 5”.

My kids will be meeting with me for 15 minutes each day, and they will have a choice of centers for the other 15 minutes.


The other activities that students will eventually be doing include:


~ Word Work (spelling activities)

~ Sight Word Activities (Using Fry’s Sight Words List)

~ Fluency Activity (students record themselves reading using an iPod, and use this fluency rubric to assess themselves)

~ Writing Station (once we’ve started doing writing mini-lessons, this choice will be added)


I’ll share more examples of specific activities as I introduce them to the kids.

Goals for the Year

Before I get to the goals, I thought it might be good to share a little bit about my ELL program. I work in a small district in a suburb of a large city. I currently work in two different buildings, but I am primarily at one building for 80% of my time. At of the end of last year I worked with students who speak Spanish, Cambodian, Russian, Swahili, and Chuukese.

I am the only full-time ELL teacher at the elementary level (3 buildings) in my district. There is a part time ELL teacher in the middle school and a part time ELL teacher at the high school.As we transition to a new year, the middle school ELL teacher and I are working on re-working the way that ELL is done in our district. I’ll be sharing a bit about some of the decisions we make along the way.

However, I think it’s always important to improve, so I like to start a new school year with some things I’m working towards.

So without further ado, my Goals for the upcoming school year:

~ Provide something similar to Can-Do Descriptors to classroom teachers. Unfortunately, my state is not part of the WIDA Consortium, so the actual Can-Do Descriptors do not match the assessment that we give to our students. I would like to have this to teachers by September 1.

~ I would like to continue to use Facebook as a communication tool for our ELL families. This includes sharing information, pictures, videos, and student created projects.

~ I would like to hold at least one ELL Family meeting this fall. I would like to discuss the changes happening in my district (we have a new superintendent as well as one of the buildings I’m at has a new principal).

~ I would like to send weekly emails to all classroom teachers with ELL students sharing what we are working on during the pull-out time. I would also like to share teaching tips for specific students and situations.

~ I would like to continue to work on administering assessments in a timely manner. It should not take me 6 weeks to get all of the state assessments done, especially when this means I am not providing services.

~ I would like to re-assess ALL students at the beginning of the year in all four domains. My district only requires us to re-assess students who are new to the district, or who might be ready to test out of ELL services.

~ I would like to move from teaching my states ELL standards to the new Common Core Standards.

Do you have any goals for the upcoming school year?