Hi everyone!
So, we have been busy and obviously haven’t updated the blog in a long time… BUT it is now September (okay, actually October) and we are getting started with Year Two of our ESL program using the Community Framework.  Our intention is to blog about what we are doing as we are doing it, so that you can see how our year unfolds and how we adjust our planning and teaching accordingly.

For those of you joining us for the first time, we hope that you will find lots of ideas and inspiration for planning your year of ESL instruction.  For those of you who have used our framework before, we hope you will find lots of new ideas for your year!

This year I have two pull-out groups.  One primary group of six grade 2’s and 3’s, and one intermediate group of seven grades 5’s, 6’s, and 7’s.  Both groups have students that were in my groups last year, and new students.


A great resource for teaching about self, family, school, and world.

With both my primary group and intermediate group, we have started the year by reading a book by Unicef, Just Like Me.

We read profiles of students from the same country of origin as my students: China, Israel, and Poland.  We also read the Canadian boy’s profile.


With my primary students, I sit on a chair and they sit on the carpet in front of me. With my intermediate group, we all sit on chairs in a circle.  We talk about all of the captions on the page of the book.  We discuss similarities with food that we eat, our school, things that we like, etc.

The students in both groups are quick to make connections to the pictures and captions in the book.  We have rich discussions about our lives.

Student Activity

We brainstorm the ‘categories’ of each child’s profile in the book.  We guess what questions were asked to the children in the book.  Then, I choose one for the students to write about.  I write sentence frames on the board, and answer with my own, authentic answers.

We haven’t actually answered the above questions yet.  So far, we have focused on names.  What is your name?  What does it mean?  Who named you?  Do you have any other names?  Any nicknames?  How do you feel about your names?  This has led to discussions about vocabulary (What is a nickname?) and families (Does everyone in your family share the same last name?) and culture (Who uses your different names?  Why do you use different names?)

The frame might look like this:
Hi!  My name is __________. My ____________ chose my name.  My name means____________.  I like my name because___________.  I also have another name.  It is _____________.  ______________ use my other name.  I have a nickname.  It is ______________.  I like/don’t like my nickname because______________.

More advanced students in the group are free to write in much more detail.

Observations and Surprises

-Reading about children from other cultures was immediately engaging for all of my students.  They were eager to connect to familiar things on the pages of the book- food, school in another country, religion, etc.

-Discussing names is always a lengthy and interesting topic.  Students were initially shy about sharing their ‘other’ names and this led to discussions about how special and important names are, and why we have to be respectful of each other’s names and pronunciation of those names.  When they finally shared their Polish, Chinese, and Hebrew names, it brought us closer as a group as we established a safe and trusting atmosphere.

-Students (even the primary ones!) are VERY open about their feelings about racism and global conflicts.  In both of my groups, students voiced dislike of other cultures- sometimes based on skin colour, and others based on what their parents have told them about World War II and other events that have brought cultures into conflict (ex. the current conflict in Japan and China over an island).  This is a great opportunity to talk about Canada and Canadian values.  When these sensitive topics are raised by my students, I don’t squish them, but rather talk about them.

Student A: “I don’t want to read the profile about country X”

Teacher: “Why not”  Student A”I don’t like them there.”

Student B: “They all have brown and black skin.”

Teacher: “What is wrong with brown and black skin?  My skin is fairly brown.”

Student C: “Yeah!  My skin turns brown in the sun!”

This led to a discussion about different skin colours and appearances and how in many of the countries that the students emigrated from, they felt that there was not a lot of diversity, whereas Canada is very diverse and something they are getting used to. It also led to discussions about how even though countries may be in conflict, it doesn’t mean that people need to be in conflict on a personal level.  Pretty heavy talks…. and teachable moments that would not likely happen in a regular classroom discussion as our ESL students often are not comfortable enough to speak up in class, let alone share their deeply personal stories and opinions.

So that has been a bit of our September start up, so far!
-Mrs. Livingston


First of all, I love that I have barely touched my teaching folders for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas so far this year.  I have really struggled in the past with how much, if any, vocabulary, activities etc. I should be teaching around these ‘seasonal themes.’  It seemed to me that the students would quickly gain an understanding of these western celebrations through schoolwide and classroom activities, and teaching seasonal themes in ESL would often become a year of disconnected topics.

Mrs. Bansal and I shared our frustrations and developed our new plan for teaching pull-out ESL this year, and I am really pleased with our new ‘community’ focus for the year.  I have found that exploring a Big Idea deeply with students over an extended period of time, seems to yield deeper understandings, connections, and meaningful writing and discussions.

Introducing Community

We began the year with discussions about “What is Community?”  I wondered if this would be too difficult for my level 1 and 2 ESL students to comprehend and be able to talk about.  But instead of being intimidated into silence, I have been continually impressed that my students have tried to find words to make meaning about and engage in these more complex conversations.  I work with three different pull-out ESL groups:  Grades 2+3, Grades  4+5, and Grads 6+7.  I will usually try discussions and activities with my intermediate groups first, and then use their examples and words when explaining concepts and initiating discussions with my younger group.

When asked “What is Community?”

My students responded with answers such as “Thompson Community Centre!”

“Right, that has the word community in it.  So what do people do there?  Why do they go there?”

“People.  People together.”

Introducing the Key Visual

After discussing what community is, we discussed what communities the students were a part of.  Together, and with some prompting, we identified on chart paper the levels of community that we would be using on our Key Visual.  We also discussed some of the communities that we are a part of that we would not be exploring with the Key Visual such as sports teams and clubs.  My students from grades 2-7 were all excited to make their person/doll who would represent them on the Key Visual.  After I had put up the bulletin board which is colourful and engaging, I noticed that students would stop in the hallway to look at it and show their friends.

Introducing the Guiding Question

“What Makes a Valuable Member of our Community?” is the question we ask ourselves at every stage of community exploration using the Key Visual.  I often rephrase it as “Why are you important to the community?” during our discussions.  After discussing the meaning of community, I had my grade 6+7 ESL group write about what they think it means to be a valuable member of our community.  Below are some of their responses.

“I think that you have to help people very much.  You have to try very hart on study things.”

“I think it means is you are the one of our group so what is important to you in this group.  like you are a part of your family group.”

“I think [it] means How to be a important and great people in our big family or country.  First I think every one have to learn many things. so we can know how to solve problems in our world.  Then we have to use what we learn on our journey. and so we can be a really important valuable person in the big family. “


Topics so far

So far we have discussed ‘Self’, ‘Family’, and ‘Classroom.’  At every stage we discuss the ‘ideal’ community, what students can do to be valuable/helpful/important members of that community.  The discussions are becoming easier for them (everybody is eager to raise their hands and contribute) as they see commonalities across the different levels of communities.  For example, one of the first answers that comes up when asked how they are valuable, is often “being helpful.”  We then discuss how this would be different depending on the community.  In a family, being helpful might mean cleaning your room.  In a classroom, being helpful might mean assisting a classmate with a problem.



Introducing the Guiding Question and Key Visual

 Big Idea/Guiding Question. What Makes A Valuable Member Of Our Community?

 When starting off the year and presenting my grade 1 and 2 ESL level 1 and 2 students with this question, I knew it was a loaded question and that I would have to break it down and break it down some more. We began with a conversation and brainstorm about Community and What is Community?

 The students began talking about different people in the community who do different jobs (nurses, firefighters, etc…). I knew that this knowledge came from a previous unit in which they may have learned about neighbourhood and community helpers during the previous school year. They had completely disconnected themselves from the concept of community and had this idea that community was what the adults in there lives were doing around them. It took some explaining for my students to understand that there are many different types and sizes of communities (family community, classroom community, ESL community, school community, etc…) and that they are all a part of these communities. “Anyone that you work, play, live, see, hear and interact with, is a part of your community.” Then I thought to myself….hmmmm…. “a part of?” Did they understand what I meant by being a part of something? Maybe, but it needed to be more clear. I proceeded to draw the concentric circles of the Key Visual which illustrated how they live in this world with other people and that as they move throughout each level of community there are more and more people in that community but they are still a part of each level of community.


They began to see themselves as a constant even though the communities around them are always changing.  They could see that they were “important” and “special” to each level of community. Little did I know that these words would become the key words for 6, 7 and 8 year olds to understand that they are a part of a community. This is when the ideas of “What is Community?” began to pour out of them.


At this point the Big Idea/Guiding Question also changed for us.

 Big Idea/Guiding Question: What Makes An Important Person In Our Community?

 It All Begins With ME

 The first topic in our year plan was to explore the self (see Year Plan).  Along with teaching all the necessary vocabulary (ex: all about me, likes, dislikes, needs vs wants, body parts, clothing, etc…)

we began to explore the importance of self within community.  I posed the questions, “How am I important to myself?” or “I am important to myself because…”  This became the assignment that everyone completed and posted onto the center of the Key Visual under “Self.”

The students also began collecting there work in their personal portfolios at this point.  Since our Big Idea or Guiding Question for the year is What Makes An Important Person In Our Community?  Their personal portfolios have the title ME: An Important Part of My Community.



Family Life

We began to explore family life and our roles within our Family Community.  We talked about where they and/or their families were from and compared their lives in other countries to their lives here.  We spent some time on family members and related vocabulary.  They drew family portraits and labeled all members.  


We learned all about “How families are different.”

We explored the idea of home vs house and all related vocabulary. 

The students made quilt pieces about “I am helpful in my family when…” in which they wrote and illustrated their roles and importance to their families (emotional, physical etc…). 

Using the Key Visual During Discussions

 The Key Visual has definitely guided our planning and teaching. This was expected since the visual was a product of our collaborative development of a year plan for our ESL level 1 and 2 students. What I have been pleasantly surprised by is just how much this visual has become a focal point for discussions and how it has allowed for such deep and meaningful discussions amongst 7 and 8 year olds. For example, before beginning a lesson on clothing and getting into all the related vocabulary, we used the Key Visual to talk about clothing and how it connected to each of the 8 levels of community.

 By posing the “right” questions, and sharing some children’s books about clothing, the students used the Key Visual and began to talk about…

Self – themselves and how they dressed and what was appropriate to wear throughout the changing seasons as well as various settings (school vs wedding).

 Family – shopping and who purchases their clothes for them, who takes care of their clothes etc…

“I wear my sisters old clothes that don’t fit her anymore.”

 Class – everyone wore different clothes in their class, how the girls wore more pink, how everyone wore different sizes

 “Sometimes girls can wear boy clothes but boys can’t wear girl clothes.”

 School – how the older kids dressed differently than the younger kids and the teachers dressed differently than the students

“Mr. Wilson wears different clothes than everyone because he is the vice principal.”

 Neighbourhood/city – how different people with different jobs in the community wore different clothing

 “when I go to Subway, the people who make my food all wear the same clothes and something on their head.”

 Country – how many different people with different cultural backgrounds live inCanadaand wear clothing that is traditional to their cultures

“I have an Indian suit and I’m Chinese!”

 World – people all over the world dress differently.

“Some countries are hot and some are cold too so people wear different clothes.”
“In my country some people don’t wear any clothes because they don’t have money to buy clothes.”

 Using the Key Visual to lead our discussion about clothing resulted in a deeper understanding of the statement “everyone dresses differently.”

A Check In

 With all the learning we have been doing around the Big Ideas of Community and focusing on our Guiding Question, I decided to do a little “check in” about what my students now  understood (so far) about “What makes an important person in our community?”

Some “check in” samples…

“Important people in our community would be kind to people and play with them.  Anthony and Vanisa came to my house to visit and we were kind to each other and then Sakshyam came later and then we were all kind together with Sakshyam too.”

-ESL level 2 student

An important person in our community would be kind.  They can be good and friendly.  This person doesn’t have a mommy or a daddy and has no food or house.  This other person said, “you can come live here” and the other person said, “but I have no money” and then the other person said, “you can live here for free for a few years.”

-ESL level 2 student

“Important people in our community would be nice and play together sharing the toys.  It is me it is my friend. This girl go to slide and this boy push her and she hurt.  I give her a tissue and a flower.”

-ESL level 2 student

“Important people in our community would be helpful and share.  The books fell down and this girl is helping her pick up the books.”

ESL level 2 student

Have you ever gone to an educational resource store and bought many useful books with lessons and plans…. only to have them collect dust on your shelves as you make your own resources?  Our bookshelves are a testament to our dedication to finding new ideas and lesson plans for our classrooms, but why is it that we often resort to reinventing the wheel?  We feel like this is because every classroom is different, with a unique set of learners… it is rare when you can take something someone has created and apply it directly to your own classroom situation.  So we just remake it on our own.

This frustrating scenario is one that we have kept in mind while planning our ESL year plan framework.  We want the bones of the framework, the Big Ideas, to be easily transferable and applicable to any ESL classroom, while more specific lesson ideas can be just tweaked to fit each unique situation.

Although we come together to further develop our year plan and lessons, we often find ourselves adapting our ideas out of necessity, as Mrs. Bansal teaches ESL to grades K-2 in a large school with a very diverse population, while Mrs. Livingston teaches ESL to grades 2-7 at a small school with a slightly less diverse ESL population.

What has been a pleasant surprise, is how easy it has been to use our year plan framework in both of our very different teaching situations.  We do many of the same activities, with small changes in wording or delivery.  You can see evidence of this in our Key Visuals, which are based on the same Big Idea, but look unique because of our different styles and student needs.

Mrs. Bansal and Mrs. Livingston


As the cliche says, “two heads are better than one,” we are certainly discovering this to be true… and if not better, than at least not so lonely!

You see, in our SFU cohort for our program Today’s Classrooms Tomorrow’s Future, there are classroom teachers of all grades and subjects, from K-12, but alas, we are the only two ESL/Resource teachers.

Thus, it seemed natural that during discussion times about different articles and theories, we would pair up and relate ideas to our ESL teaching.  We began talking about what we wanted for our ESL students, and realized there was a lot we could to do to improve our practice.

As we talked about our visions for the ideal ESL program, we realized we shared the same passions and values about ESL teaching.  We decided the next logical step was to explore and align our ideas further through our diploma field study.

We now understand that collaboration is not just about sitting down once and deciding what the year will look like.  It is about inspiring and supporting each other over time as your ideas evolve with practice.

We have had to be accountable to each other and make time for reflection and documentation so we have something to bring to the table when we get together to talk about our lessons.  We have found that after meeting we will each try things that the other has tried in their classrooms, and our meetings constantly spark new ideas.

-Mrs. Bansal and Mrs. Livingston

The Key Visual

When beginning our discussions about community we realized that although our students can be a part of many different communities, especially in the 21st century (online communities, cultural, religious  ect…), they are all a part of what we feel are eight essential communities: family, classroom, school, neighbourhood, city/town, province, country and the world.  We used this framework to develop a year long plan for our ESL level 1 & 2 pull-out program delivery.

As we were brainstorming what our year would look like, we would make messy notes while trying to visualize our plan. Our first question was, “What is community?” We came to the realization that community begins with oneself.  As you grow and experience life, you move through different levels of community, eight of which are common amongst all of our students.

At this point, we looked at down at our chicken scratch brilliantly organized and clear plans, and saw that we had drawn our concept of community as a series of concentric circles, beginning with the self.

This picture that we now refer to as our Key Visual, has become a cornerstone of our program.  We introduced it at the beginning of the school year, and it has guided our planning and teaching, and has permeated all of our discussions and lessons.

We have each interpreted the Key Visual in a way that is unique to our classrooms and students, while retaining the main framework.

-Mrs. Bansal and Mrs. Livingston

We, (Mrs. Bansal and Mrs. Livingston) are elementary school teachers in Richmond, BC.  Specifically, we teach ESL and Resource to grades K-7.

We are also gluttons for punishment really into learning, and are completing our graduate diplomas at SFU.

For our current field study, we are working on developing a year plan for teaching ESL Level 1 and 2 pull-out groups.  We have been reflecting on our past practice and have discovered that our former frameworks for teaching ESL 1 and 2 have primarily focused upon seasonal themes and isolated topics.  We question whether this is the best program that we can deliver for new English language learners in our public elementary school system.  Consequently, we are examining and developing new frameworks for teaching ESL Level 1 and 2 pull-out groups.

We have decided to frame our teaching around the Big Idea of Community.  Our guiding question is “What makes a valuable member of our community?”

Along the way to creating a new ESL program for our field study, we have discovered that the underlying learning journey taking place, is one of collaboration.  Working together has helped us push each other beyond comfort zones (“Hey, let’s make a blog!”), and held us accountable to put into practice all of our Big Ideas that we are so passionate about.  This blog is a space that will allow us to collaborate further, to reflect as we continue on our journey, and to invite you in to question, comment, and offer your ideas too (this is a learning community!).

Thanks for joining our community!

Mrs. Bansal and Mrs. Livingston