Here’s how engaging lessons motivate English learners

To bring our English learners and all of our students up to proficiency, lessons need to engage and motivate students to do the hard work of practice


The children at my school, Manzanita Community School in Oakland, California, face the multiple challenges of poverty and learning English.

More than 75 percent of our students receive free or reduced lunch, and over half of the children are learning English as a second language. Our newest immigrants speak Karen (from Burma), Arabic (from Yemen and Jordan) and Nepalese. These and other unfamiliar languages present a challenge to our teaching staff.

I work with this diverse group of students during school and in a literacy and technology-based after school program called Expedition. One of our biggest challenges is how to engage students. Students who are very engaged when writing their own scripts or taking photos become listless and bored when they are faced with reading and math practice and homework. These often consist primarily of worksheets, such as 50 math addition problems on a single page.

This type of work has long been referred to in education as “drill and kill.” Unfortunately, it is all too common. I literally witnessed bright kids being turned off to school and to reading during homework time. English language learners were even more stymied by the worksheets, with many students hopelessly lost.

What if learning multiplication tables and grammar rules could be fun?

(Next page: Helping students learn English the fun way)

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