How to Boost Teaching and Engage English Learners with Technology

How to Boost Teaching and Engage English Learners with Technology

One thing every teacher asks when they have an English Learner in their classroom is, what more can I be doing to help support this student? Technology can be a great resource to help a teacher who wants to engage their EL as a literacy learner.

First and foremost, it is important to remember that learning a new language takes time. In our high-stakes testing environments, we want to have ELs reading on grade level as soon as possible. We see that they are intelligent and are curious about the world. We want to learn what they are thinking and share our passion for learning with them. We must remind ourselves that learning a new language, especially when there may be gaps in a student’s education, caused by time away from school due to travelling or differences in curriculum, which insist on us to give the student time to acclimate and listen first.

When the student is ready to work on literacy skills, there are digital tools that can support a variety of learning goals.

Communication: Teachers and students can make use speech to text programs. Tools like Google Translate and American Wordspeller & Phonetic Dictionary can support students communicating into their home language and converting language into English. Likewise, if a concept the teachers is talking about is unclear, it can be translated back into the student’s first language for better understanding. While not perfect due to issues in the connotations of all languages, it can help get an important message across.

Listening Vocabulary and Comprehension: Especially for entering, emerging, or developing listeners, hearing stories read aloud is essential. There are many resources with read aloud features:

  • Scholastic’s Storia has a “read to me” feature for some of their e-books
  • PebbleGo offers spoken-word audio and audio/video media to support emergent reader research
  • Scholastic’s BookFlix pairs classic children’s storybooks in video format with nonfiction e-books
  • Scholastic’s TrueFlix offers multimedia science and social studies readings for older readers
  • Storyline Online, a free site featuring actors who creatively read books aloud
  • One More Story a site that features high-quality oral reading and the ability to read books independently with support

A low tech, but very helpful suggestion is to encourage the family to turn on the closed captioning on their television. Students will see and hear English spoken this way.

For students who are ready to be stretched in their listening and speaking skills, the app Speaky allows them to practice language socially. There are also a number of language learning tools, some of which are game based, like Duolingo. With Duolingo one can learn over 20 languages through gamification. Many more languages are being added monthly. More importantly, English can be learned from many of those languages, making it accessible for the learner of English, not just for someone speaking English learning a new language. And it’s free. To support academic and content learning, Voice Thread allows multimedia to be accompanied with narration.

Most importantly, get to know your student(s), his or her family, and celebrate their heritage and culture. The best strategy is being patient and finding creative ways to engage the EL in learning.

Aileen P. Hower, Ed.D. is the K-12 Literacy/ESL Supervisor for South Western School District. She also teaches graduate level reading courses for Cabrini University in Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching, she is the Vice President for the Keystone State Reading Association and conference chair for the KSRA 50th Annual Conference in Hershey, PA, in 2017. You can find her on Twitter at (@aileenhower) or on her blog (


How to Boost Teaching and Engage English Learners with Technology

A Poem: Camomile Tea by Katherine Mansfield

Camomile Tea
Katherine Mansfield

Outside the sky is light with stars;
There’s a hollow roaring from the sea.
And, alas! for the little almond flowers,
The wind is shaking the almond tree.

How little I thought, a year ago,
In the horrible cottage upon the Lee
That he and I should be sitting so
And sipping a cup of chamomile tea.

Light as feathers the witches fly,
The horn of the moon is plain to see;
By a firefly under a jonquil flower
A goblin toasts a bumble-bee.

We might be fifty, we might be five,
So snug, so compact, so wise are we!
Under the kitchen-table leg
My knee is pressing against his knee.

A Poem: Camomile Tea by Katherine Mansfield

Book Review: The Selection by Kiara Cass

Book Review: The Selection by Kiara Cass ​
By Sarah Kauffman

The Selection is my favorite book series. With all the romance and drama, what teenage ​ girl wouldn’t love this book. It is about America Singer, just a regular sixteen year old girl living in a future society where, after World War three, the world is split up into castes: Ones being Royals, and Eights being the lowest in the system, the homeless. America is a five, which consists of entertainers like Musicians and Artists. When America is selected to be part of a contest called The Selection to find the Prince of her country, Illéa’s new wife, her life is forever changed.

America is unlike the other 35 girls selected, she doesn’t even want to become royalty. She likes her life the way it is, with her family, her jobs singing with her mom, and most importantly, her secret boyfriend, Aspen, who is a caste below her. But when America meets Prince Maxon, her whole perception of the fancy, stuck up prince, is gone. Instead she sees him for who he really is, funny, sweet, and kind. Will America choose Maxon and try to win the contest to become a princess, or marry her secret love back at her home, Aspen?

I love this book for so many reasons. I’m not a fast reader, but I read the first three books in this series in five days, which for me, is very quick. I guarantee the dramatic love triangle between Aspen, America, and Maxon will make you laugh, cry, and scream at the book, all in the same chapter. The stink eyes and cat fights between the other competitors in the contest is another one of the many reasons you’ll never want to put down this book. I would recommend this series to most teenage girls, and honestly anyone who’s looking for a book with a big dose of drama. I re-read this book all the time, and it never gets old. I rate in 5 out of 5 stars.

Sarah Kauffman is a seventh grader at Delta Middle school. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, and theatre.

Book Review: The Selection by Kiara Cass

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book about a boy named Clay. One day to Clay’s surprise, a box is delivered to his door. A box from Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush. It has to be a joke… Hannah Baker committed suicide two weeks earlier. It’s not a joke. The box contains a mix of tapes recorded by Hannah. The tapes tell why she took her life, and they have been sent to the people who are responsible. What did Clay do? What action resulted in the end of Hannah Baker’s life? All he has to do is listen to the tapes.

I nearly finished this book at the bookstore before even buying it. I couldn’t bear to put it down. Somehow I was sitting right there next to Hannah, somehow I was watching the story unravel before my very eyes.

Jay Asher wrote the book so that it goes back-and-forth between Clay’s life, and Hannah’s voice over the tapes. This method seems to leave an echo of Hannah throughout the whole story without her even being there. It makes her a stronger character and makes a stronger story.
A wonderful thing about this book is that it allows you to see not only how people affected Hannah, but how Hannah affected people. Hannah’s life isn’t the only one that takes a drastic change. Think about being in High School and finding out you were the reason for a death. A somewhat unconscious murderer. How would that change your life? Would it help you to grow as a person, or would it leave a dent inside of you? The book allows you to see how characters react to the tapes, whether it’s blaming the other perpetrators or feeling that they themselves are a killer, either way, nobody takes it lightly.

Thirteen Reasons Why is definitely not a happy book. It leaves you with a strange feeling whenever you read it, an uncomfortable feeling. I expected that while reading this book all I would feel was sorrow for Hannah. That’s not what happened. I found that I kept asking myself the same question, “Could Hannah’s suicide be a bad move on her part?” I wonder if Hannah could have stepped back and asked herself if it was worth it? Life can only get better when you’re a teenager. That thought made me feel bad for every person who received that box, even if what they did was unforgivable.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a beautiful, emotional, breathtaking novel. It couldn’t have been written better. I definitely recommend this book, and I think that everyone should eventually read it. This book is very good, but the subject is quite mature, and the way the book is written may become slightly confusing. I think this book would be good for teenagers ages 13+ (even though I’m 12), and should be given a parent’s permission. But if you have the okay, the I don’t know what you’re waiting for… Go, read it!

Miranda Marks is a student at Delta in State College, PA.

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

A poem for today: “Mr T” by Terrance Hayes

Mr T–
Terrance Hayes

A man made of scrap muscle & the steam
engine’s imagination, white feathers
flapping in each lobe for the skull’s migration,
should the need arise. Sometimes drugged
& duffled (by white men) into a cockpit
bound for the next adventure. And liable
to crush a fool’s face like newsprint; headlines
of Hollywood blood and wincing. Half Stepin’ Fetchit,
half John Henry. What were we, the skinny B-boys,
to learn from you? How to hulk through Chicago
in a hedgerow afro, an ox-grunt kicking dust
behind the teeth; those eighteen glammering
gold chains around the throat of pity,
that fat hollow medallion like the sun on a leash —


A poem for today: “Mr T” by Terrance Hayes

Poem: “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative” by Grace Paley

The Poet’s Occasional Alternative

Grace Paley

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor

everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

Poem: “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative” by Grace Paley

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief — a book that’ll make you laugh, cry and make you throw it across the room all at once. I love this book though because it makes me feel emotions – sad, happy and mad. I also found myself confused at some points because of a character’s mistake or choice of words. I’ve never read a book that has torn my emotions in three parts like this book has. For me, when a storyline evokes so many strong emotions in me, I’m captivated and hooked!

The Book Thief is about a young girl named Liesel who moves to Germany to join her new foster parents. The first chapter in this book is probably one of the best first chapters I’ve ever read. The reader discovers, shockingly, that the book is narrated by Death. This was the first foreshadowing in the book:

“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact. You are going to die.”

Death reveals more and more about Liesel in each chapter. The reader learns that Liesel cannot read, although at a funeral within the first few chapters she steals a book from the Grave Digger. She meets her foster parents Rosa and Hans, and Hans immediately takes her under his wing. She also meets Rudy, who is my favorite character, who becomes her Best Friend and partner in crime. She and Rudy begin to steal books from book burnings – shocking, right? Imagine the government controlling what books are permitted to be read; otherwise, they are banned and burned.

Throughout all of the book there is intense suspense as the reader wonders if Rudy and Liesel will get caught. The reader also learns about different complications in Liesel’s family regarding Max, a son of Hans’ life saver from war. Max is Jewish, and during Hitler’s dictatorship, Jewish people were targeted and removed from society.

I think this novel is heart wrenching, and I swear it almost killed me at the end. When I was finished, I began to appreciate this book. Although it is very sad, I recognized that not all stories can have happy endings. It taught me to take each minute and each second to heart because you don’t know what day will be your last. Love your family, friends and even enemies because you only have so much time on this earth. Death may be kind to you like it was to Liesel, but it may catch you by surprise.

This book reminds me that in the past and even today, people have taken and are continuing to take great risks to their own lives to help others whose lives are in danger for no logical or humane reason. I would rate this book a 10/10 – it is one of my all – time favorite books. It really catches the hardships and terrible deeds that took place in WW2.

Abbey Humphreys is in 8th grader at Delta Middle School. In her free time Abbey likes to play saxophone, read and write.

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak