NorthStar 4e is a Winner!

2014 EDD WINN LOGO (1)CVR_NS4e_RW_03-1

We are excited to announce that NorthStar, Reading and Writing, Level 3 was one of this year’s EDDIE award winners! The awards are run by ComputED Gazette, a valuable educational resource, which has been serving the online community for over 20 years. The Gazette sponsors two national awards The Best Educational Software Awards (BESSIES) in the spring, and the Education Software Review Awards (EDDIES) in the summer.

The Awards target innovative and content-rich programs (including apps for iPad and Android) and websites that augment the classroom curriculum and improve teacher productivity, providing parents and teachers with the technology to foster educational excellence. Some selection criteria were academic content, potential for broad classroom use, technical merit, subject approach, and management system.

Checkout the new edition of NorthStar, so you can see what all the excitement is about!

Constructivism: Increasing Student Engagement

susan_gaerSusan Gaer

Constructivism is an educational philosophy that became popular in the early 1990s. The basic framework of constructivism is that students create their own learning; that is, we can’t teach students to learn – they have to learn for themselves. Using this framework, teachers take on the role of facilitator, and each student learns what he or she needs to. This fits in well with the new Bloom’s taxonomy where creating becomes the most powerful rung on the taxonomy ladder. Constructivist learning also fits right in with multi-level instruction and flipped learning.

Constructivist theory posits that there is no learning unless learners have created it from experiences; therefore, when using the constructivist approach, you are also creating a more engaged classroom that is student centered. Here are a few techniques that I use to make my classroom more constructivist. Continue reading

Fresh Beginnings, Blended Learning and FLIPping

SCAD Language Studio ? Professor Christina Cavage, Human Resources headshot, Fall 2013 ? Photography by Stephanie Krell, courtesy of SCADChristina Cavage

In few professions do you get start over every year, every semester, or quarter.  It’s a wonderful thing, and one of the best parts about teaching.  As we begin anew, it gives us an opportunity to try new techniques, materials, employ those innovative strategies on a fresh group of learners.  It was a few years back that I decided to try something new—blended learning.  Extending my students’ learning experiences has not only proved valuable to their learning, but has allowed me to become the kind of classroom teaching I have always wanted to be.

Some of you may have been following my articles on blended learning and flipping your ESL classroom, some of you may have been decided to make that leap.  For those still on the fence, or wanting to know more, I thought I would review some of the finer points I covered in the last few newsletters. Continue reading

Project Success Videos Model Key Competencies

Project Success is a new six-level, four-skills series for adults and young adults that includes a strong focus on workplace skills and 21st century challenges. This highly engaging video-based program models key competencies in realistic settings, with many opportunities for students to practice the competency in pairs and groups. Watch this video vignette to get a taste of the New Project Success!

(excerpt from Project Success Intro, Unit 4)

Getting Students to Work Across Levels in the Multi-level Classroom

Sarah LynnSarah Lynn

Getting Students to Work Across Levels in the Multi-level Classroom

In com/ae/emac/newsletters/november-2009-adulted.html” target=”_blank”>last month’s article, I addressed how to differentiate instruction by sorting students according to their skill level. In this month’s article, I provide some tips on working with mixed-ability groups.

Mixed-ability grouping is a great way for students to learn from one
another and to build classroom community. Grouping students across
levels works particularly well when the task is open-ended and less
structured. Pre-level students benefit from working with their more
skilled partners, and the above-level students are challenged by their
leadership roles. However, this perfect-world scenario sometimes falls
apart. Occasionally the more-skilled students dominate the process
while the lesser-skilled students withdraw and take no risks. By doing
some prep work up front, you can help students manage the dynamics of
group work so that it is an engaging and challenging experience for

1. Explain how above-level
students can help their pre-level classmates.

When teachers assign students to groups, we often say “help each other”
or “work together.” Remember to get specific. Describe how students can
help one another. For example:

Read the story together.

Above-level student:
Read the story aloud to your partner.

Practice the dialogue together.

Above-level student:
Model the pronunciation of each line first.

Ask and answer the discussion questions.

Above-level student:
Respond to the question first in order to model answers.

Practice new vocabulary

Above-level student:
Give an example of the word in a sentence.

2. Talk about good teaching practices.

Have students follow these principles in their group work:

  • Wait! Give your partner time to
  • Don’t tell! Give an example but
    don’t give the answer.
  • Ask for help! The teacher is
    always here to help.

3. Equip students with language for managing group work.

Write a list of phrases on the board (or even better, post them permanently on the wall) to remind students of useful group-work language. For example:



  • You go first.

  • It’s my turn.
your partner to participate

  • What do you have for
  • number . . .?

  • How about you?

  • What do you think?
Ask to
make sure you understand

  • What do you mean?

  • What does ________ mean?

  • How do you pronounce this word?

  • Could you please repeat that?

  • What did you say?


  • Let’s . . .

  • Maybe we can . .

  • What if we . . .
your partner you understand

  • I see what you mean.

  • That’s an interesting idea.

  • That’s right.
about differences

  • I have a different answer.

  • I see it another way.


4. Divvy up the responsibilities.

Look at what each group activity requires of students, identify different roles, and assign the roles to students according to their skills. For example:

Role plays: Students act out situations using vocabulary and
grammar they have studied. The pre-level student plays the role of the person who asks the questions. (The teacher can provide a paper with the questions listed.)
The above-level student plays the role of the person responding, which
allows for lots of improvisation and embellishments.

Here are some examples:


Employer Applicant
Doctor Patient
a doctor’s appointment
Receptionist Patient
Waiter Diner
Dispatcher Caller
Returning a purchase to a store Customer Service Person Customer
an apartment
Applicant Landlord

Team projects: Students work together in groups of three or more to make a product or complete an activity. These projects can vary widely, but include such activities as:

  • design a poster on a topic;
  • solve a problem;
  • do a survey and make a graph;
  • discuss ideas;
  • create a menu;
  • plan a party;
  • write up a community guide;
  • make a holiday calendar;
  • play a board game; or
  • write a story.

The pre-level student can: The above-level student can:
  • keep the time
  • assemble the supplies
  • read aloud the directions,
    questions, or anything else printed on the activity handout
  • copy the group answers on the board
  • draw the group poster or calendar
  • collate and assemble information
    for a booklet or directory
  • lead the discussion
  • model the activity
  • take notes during the discussion
  • be spokesperson for the group
  • edit the groups first
  • write a summary of
    the group work


Group work is a great vehicle for practicing language. If you
anticipate the kinds of tasks, roles, and language needed for the group
work, your students will benefit from the experience and learn valuable
collaborative skills.
Sarah Lynn
currently teaches at a literacy/learning program in Cambridge, MA. She
has trained volunteers and led workshops on many aspects of teaching
adult education students. Sarah has taught ESL for 20 years in the U.S.
and abroad. Sarah is a series author and a featured instructor on the
Future Teacher Training DVD.

“Ask Sarah Lynn “Our Teachers Helper” is part of the Future