ESOL Bootcamp – NVWP Summer Institute – Day 4 pt. 1

Our first presentation is Gabby Rivas.

ESOL Bootcamp


She begins by asking us what words and phrases come to mind when we think about ESOL students.

Then, she puts it into a Wordle.


Her job is to target listening, speaking, and writing as soon as she can. She gets one year where they’re exempt from their Reading SOL. Her one year to get everyone as ready as possible for the world of high-stakes testing.  She needs to make sure everyone feels safe and sheltered. Increase the dopamine and decrease the cortisol levels. Get the learning going in the hippocampus and get reasoning and critical thinking going in the frontal cortex.

She then has us complete a puzzle piece. While doing this, she plays Debussy to get us (and her students) familiar with aspects of Western Civilization. I’m reminded of the humanist movement of education dating to the early and mid-1800s. This strain of humanism imagined education to be a civilizing force of acculturating. A way to inculcate a sense of Western tradition and classicism in both native born students and the many immigrants increasing in volume exponentially during the mid to late 1800s. My puzzle piece is a The Shining-type exercise in repetition (All work and no play…). I need a life.


We then walk around and share with our colleagues. She again cites brain-based research that says the brain is a social instrument, and that sociality promotes effective cognitive development. Many of us realize that we share hobbies and life experiences. So this type of activity fosters community for students who might be from warring countries. I’m also reminded of the recent article in The Atlantic about what information Americans should know (not Hirsch).

She talks about Kinesthetic Grammar, a TPP (Total Physical Response) protocol. This involves linking most of her activities to corresponding body movements. Learning the word “stand”? I’m immediately reminded of my time at a charter school. Lots of chants and choral reading and highly regimented movements.

She tells us about the Poetry Café, her first big assignment for the students. She scaffolds this to go line by line.

So, step one, illustrate your favorite place.


Step two: write down the following stems for your place. One stem per sticky note.

I see ___, I hear ___, I smell ___, I touch ___, and I taste ___.

Then, all of a sudden, we have a pretty decent poem draft. I must admit I spent all my time on the drawing. Whoops!

She lastly has the kids create videos of themselves and their peers reading their poems using Animoto. The final result was heart-warming. I won’t post it, though, for privacy reasons.

Gaby talks about how she has students stretch sentences using content vocabulary. Since expectations have risen for ESOL students, Gaby does her best to include as many content areas as possible. Sentence frames to help show students what good, intro level writing looks like. Highly structured, sentence-by-sentence, on notecards.

This is absolutely amazing. Such thoughtful, intentional use of strategies. I’m also feeling some pretty healthy cognitive dissonance. I stopped using most of these types of strategies and methods when I left the charter school environment. Are these techniques I need to begin using again? Using certain techniques with specific sets of students is something that I’ve come to be very wary of. Such a great commitment here, as well, to creating a safe classroom environment. Her presentation (using Google slides, btw) was one of the best I’ve seen.




  1. Katlyn

    Cognitive dissonance! Always. I’m thankful that you’re sharing these strategies on your blog. This is also making me REALLY want to do NVWP next summer! 🙂


  2. Pingback: Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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