Category Archives: Writing

ESL, ELL, Generation 1.5—Why Are These Terms Important?

by Cathy Fleischer, Series Editor for NCTE’s Principles in Practice Imprint

The medley of words and acronyms used to describe those students who speak and write in languages other than English can be confusing to ELA teachers—especially for teachers who are not immersed in current research and practice surrounding the topic.

What is ESL? Is that different from ELL? And what do we mean by Generation 1.5 or LEP?

Why are these terms important? And why do they keep changing?

In a new strand of NCTE’s Principles in Practice Imprint, Teaching English Language Learners, the authors of the four books take the time to help those of us who feel a little confused.

They explain why they (mostly) use the term English language learner in these books and then share a collaboratively-written glossary of commonly used terms, carefully explaining what these terms mean, where the terms come from, and why how we name matters.

Read the full Statement of Terminology and Glossary below.

Cathy Fleischer’s note appeared in the September 2017 issue of The Council Chronicle as part of a focus on supporting English language learners.  Read more in that issue. 


Statement of Terminology and Glossary

Steven Alvarez, St. John’s University
Betsy Gilliland, University of Hawai‘i Mānoa
Christina Ortmeier-Hooper, University of New Hampshire
Melinda J. McBee Orzulak, Bradley University
Shannon Pella, California State University, Sacramento

As authors of the various books in the Teaching English Language Learners strand of the NCTE Principles in Practice (PIP) imprint, we have made a concerted effort to use consistent terminology in these volumes. All of us have thought long and hard about the ways in which we label and describe bilingual and ELL students and the programs that often provide these students with additional support. Even so, readers will notice some variation in terms used to describe students, classrooms, and teaching practices. The concern over terminology is part of a long-standing discussion and trends in the labeling of these students, as well as of the fields that conduct research on teachers and students working across languages to teach and learn English. Often the shifting among terms leads to confusion and contention for teachers, administrators, teacher educators, and policymakers.

To address this confusion and tension, we begin each book in this strand with a glossary of common terms and acronyms that are part of current discussions about meeting the needs of these students in English language arts classrooms and beyond. For many readers, the terms themselves and the ongoing shift to new terms can be alienating, the jargon dividing readers into insiders and outsiders. But often the shift in terms has a great deal to do with both policy and issues of identity for students. For example, up until the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, most educational documents referred to these students as bilingual or ESL, both of which acknowledge that English is a second language and that a student has a first language as well.

The term English language learner was adopted with NCLB and brought into our schools and the larger public discourse. In fact, in 2002 the US Department of Education renamed the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs. It became the Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students, now identified simply as the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA). The change indicated a shift away from acknowledging students’ home languages or bilingual abilities. Close to two decades later, the term English language learner remains prominent in educational policy and in many textbooks geared toward teachers and teacher educators. Its prominence and familiarity in the literature makes it an accessible way to talk about these students. Yet, as we have heard from many students through the years, the term English language learner can also be limiting. As one student asked, “When do I stop being an English language learner and get to just be an English language user?” The term also works against efforts to acknowledge the competencies and linguistically sophisticated talents these students have as translators, bilingual speakers, and cross-cultural negotiators.

In these PIP volumes, we use the term English language learner as a way to reach out to readers who see and hear this term regularly used in their schools, in their hallways, and in other helpful books in the field. However, some of us also use the terms multilingual or bilingual in order to encourage a discussion of these young people not simply as novice English learners but as individuals with linguistic and academic competencies they have gained from bilingual/multilingual experiences and literacies.



Bilingual, multilingual, or plurilingual: These terms refer to the ability to use (i.e., speak, write, and/or read) multiple languages. For many ELL-designated students in US schools, English is actually the third or fourth language they have learned, making bilingual not necessarily an accurate term.

Emergent bilingual: This term has been proposed as a more appropriate term than LEP or ELL, because it points to possibilities of developing bilingualism rather than focusing on language limits or deficiencies (García, 2009).

English as a foreign language (EFL): Refers to non-native English-speaking students who are learning English in a country where English is not the primary language.

English as an international language (EIL) or English as a lingua franca (ELF): These are terms used to refer to global conceptions of English, or English used for communication between members of various nations.

English as a second language (ESL): Readers may be most familiar with this term because it has been used as an overarching term for students, programs, and/or a field of study. Currently the term usually refers to programs of instruction (i.e., study of English in an English-speaking country); however, ESL was used in the past to refer to English language learning students.

English language learner (ELL): In keeping with the terminology used in the NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners (ELLs), this PIP strand employs the term ELL, which is commonly used in secondary schools as the short form of English language learner. The term refers to a complex, heterogeneous range of students who are in the process of learning English.

English learner (EL): This is the preferred term of the California Department of Education (and, increasingly, other states). California is the state with the largest number and percentage of emergent bilingual students enrolled in public schools. Over the past twenty years, California has moved from LEP to ELL and, most recently, from ELL to EL.

First language (L1) and second language (L2): L1 has been used to refer to students’ “mother tongue” or “home language” as they learn additional languages (referred to as L2).

Generation 1.5: This term, originally used in higher education, often refers to students who have been long-term residents in the United States but who were born abroad (although the term is sometimes also used to refer to US-born children of recent immigrants). The designation of 1.5 describes their feelings of being culturally between first- and second-generation immigrants; they are often fluent in spoken English but may still be working to command aspects of written English, especially academic writing. As long-term residents, these students may reject ESL as a term that has been used to refer to recent immigrants to the United States.

Limited English proficiency (LEP): This abbreviation may be used in some educational contexts to refer to a designation used by the US Department of Education. Many scholars see this as a deficit term because of its focus on subtractive language (language that implies a deficiency) under a monolingual assumption of proficiency.

Long-term English language learner (LTELL): Currently in use in some states, this term refers to K–12 students who have been enrolled in US schools for many years and continue to be stuck with the ELL designation long past the time it should take for redesignation. Like Generation 1.5 students, LTELLs may have spent most if not all of their education in US schools. For a variety of reasons, including family mobility, inconsistent educational programs, and personal reasons, they have not had opportunities to learn academic language sufficiently to pass English language proficiency tests and other measures of proficiency for redesignation (Olsen, 2010).

Mainstream: This term is increasingly antiquated due to shifting demographics in the United States. In practice, it often refers to nonremedial, nonhonors, nonsheltered classes and programs. Sometimes it is used to refer to native or monolingual English speakers as a norm; changing demographics, however, mean that schools increasingly have a majority of culturally and linguistically diverse students, so it’s been argued that a linguistically diverse classroom is the “New Mainstream” (Enright, 2011).

Monolingual: This term is used to refer to people who speak only one language, although often this label masks speakers’ fluent use of multiple dialects, or variations, of English—an issue of particular concern when working with culturally diverse students who use other varieties of English (such as Hawai‘i Pidgin or African American Vernacular) in their lives outside of school. The monolingual English label can mask these diverse students’ need to learn academic English just as much as their immigrant classmates do. Much of what this PIP strand discusses is relevant to students who utilize multiple varieties of English; teachers can support these students by acknowledging their multilingualism and helping them learn to use English for academic and other purposes.

Native or non-native English speakers (NES, NNES): Some materials contrast native English speakers (NES) with non-native English speakers (NNES). As with monolingual, the term native speaker is increasingly unclear, given how many long-term ELLs speak English fluently without a “foreign” accent and yet technically have another world language as their home or first language.

Newcomer: Some school districts have separate one-year programs for “newcomers,” or students who are newly arrived in the United States, in which students learn not just “survival” English, but also how school works in the United States. As the position statement discusses, it’s sometimes argued that newcomer programs benefit “low-level literacy immigrant students” and/or students with interrupted formal education who may have limited literacy in their first language (L1). Other newcomers may be fully literate in L1, especially by high school, and may or may not benefit from being isolated from the mainstream curriculum. For older students, the challenge is to move away from “low-level” ideas of literacy assessment that may discount the literacies of these students.

US resident or local bilingual, multilingual, or plurilingual: These terms are sometimes used to refer to students who reside in the United States (in contrast to those who are on student visas). Resident students may or may not be US citizens, others may not have permanent resident status, while still others may not have immigration documentation at all.


Enright, K. A. (2011). Language and literacy for a new mainstream. American Educational Research Journal, 48(1), 80–118. doi:10.3102/0002831210368989
García, O. (2009). Emergent bilinguals and TESOL: What’s in a name? TESOL Quarterly, 43(2), 322–26. doi:10.1002/j.1545-7249.2009.tb00172.x
Olsen, L. (2010). Reparable harm: Fulfilling the unkept promise of educational opportunity for California’s long term English learners. Long Beach, CA: Californians Together.


“Words with Friends”: Creating Collaborative Writing Spaces for Girls and Women of Color

This post is written by 2017-2018 NCTE Lead Ambassador Raven Jones Stanbrough and her colleagues, Tuesda Roberts, Theda Gibbs Grey and Lorena Gutiérrez.

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” ―Octavia E. Butler

The above quote by the prolific Black writer Octavia E. Butler reminds us that creating a habit is an art that leads to persistence and progress. For us, as scholar-practitioners, one habit we have in common is writing. Despite the many people in our lives who affirm and support our ideas and thinking, there have been moments and times when we’ve struggled to believe in our own voices and writing abilities. Having first met and befriended one another as women of color who were doctoral students at Michigan State University (MSU), we understood that we needed to support each other’s lived experiences, narratives, and voices. Individually, we’ve experienced overwhelming moments that (un)intentionally allowed us to retreat to places and spaces where our relationship with writing ended, like a bad and emotional breakup—the kind in which we turn to our favorite flavor of ice cream or reckless shopping to cope with our loss. Like most breakups, sometimes it takes the wise counsel of a loved one to speak life over our situation(s), before we remember and remind ourselves, “Wait, I got this!”

We, the Fresh I.N.K. (Inspiring New Knowledge) Collective, offer this collaborative piece as a way for us to honor ourselves, each other, our families, our students, and our communities by becoming better women of habit through our writing and desires to hold one another accountable— even when challenges occur. In an effort to achieve this accountability, our goals are as follows: (1) to offer suggestions on why participating in writing support groups is beneficial, and (2) to outline ways in which other teacher-educators can encourage and support other female writers of color.


There are many different “spaces” in our schools—safe spaces, affirming spaces, drug-free zones, bully-free zones—the list goes on and on. But which protected spaces exist for educators? Where do educators assemble to create, connect, and explore what is possible?  Educators need spaces where they can communicate and create without the gaze of supervisors so they can authentically engage their selves and their work.  The writing collective to which I belong, Fresh I.N.K., is a space we have jointly created to serve the purposes we have deemed critical to our ability to thrive as cultural, intellectual, and powerful beings in the world of education.

Depending on the context, I am perceived as a woman sans culture, a token cultural representative, a means to an end, or an unexpected guest in contested territories.  The value this space holds for me is that it merges and amplifies aspects of who I am.  The sisterhood we have forged in Fresh I.N.K. works because our race, ethnicity, culture, language, what we have, and even what we have lost are not risk factors.  They are guideposts and lighthouses.  They are the worlds we explore and the worlds we share.

Writing groups benefit K–12 educators who are interested in creating transformative learning opportunities for culturally and linguistically diverse girls because they can serve as think tanks and labs where knowledge becomes wisdom.  The intentional curation of group members who share a commitment to confronting their own biases and gaps of knowledge in relation to the intersectional identities of these girls impacts teachers and students alike.  Here are my tips to forming successful writing groups among educators:

  1. Allow yourselves to be impacted by your writing, reading, dialogue, and introspection before determining how the products of your efforts could impact culturally and linguistically diverse girls.  Practice writing about the topics you have avoided.  We know students instinctively sense when adults feign care, so take the time to be and to become more authentic in relation to this particular group of students.
  2. Be purposeful and accountable.  Give yourselves permission to be vulnerable and then help each other develop purposeful next steps.  Name your individual and collective goals, needs, strengths, and weaknesses.  Maintain lists of resources and identify who/what can guide you towards meeting your goals.  Share your progress and that of your students so the group can avoid descending into random talk and deficit-based narratives.


My relationship with writing began to blossom at an early age from the encouragement and love of my parents and many great teachers. My parents introduced me to Black excellence in writing inclusive of Langston Hughes, Jamaica Kincaid, and Nikki Giovanni. Teachers affirmed my voice by giving me the tools to strengthen my writing and providing platforms to share my writing at school events, for which my parents happily helped me practice. This love for writing and my understanding of the historical and contemporary significance of writing and literacy in the Black community became the focus of my praxis and provided fuel throughout my doctoral program. However, at times doubt entered my relationship with writing, and I struggled with feelings of disconnection. Does what I have to say matter? In these moments my family, friends, mentors, and sister circle of writers brought me back. As I now enter my third year as an assistant professor, my village, including Fresh I.N.K, has provided nourishment in the form of affirmation that my voice does indeed matter. My sister writers also offer constructive feedback rooted in love that serves to make my writing stronger.

Writing collectives are not only important for faculty and researchers, but they are also important for girls in K–12 spaces. We wish for young girls of color whose voices are often unheard to be able to build and sustain positive relationships and identities as writers. As educators, it is paramount to their self-esteem and academic success to help girls of color build and sustain strong individual and collective relationships with writing. In order to do so:

  1. Support girls of color to build relationships and become familiar with women of color who are writers. Provide texts across genres that connect girls of color to the powerful writings of women of color (nonexhaustive author suggestions: Sandra Cisneros, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Sharon Flake, Jacqueline Woodson*(see note), Zora Neale Hurston).
  2. Allow girls of color to experience and engage in supportive writing groups. Help them seek and find refuge and friendship with other girls. Foster classroom communities where they can safely “share out” their writing, “shout out” and identify the strengths in other girls’ writing, and support each other by offering constructive feedback on areas for growth.


As I basked in the warmth of southern California and the welcoming arms of family and friends, I faced numerous challenges post-breakup with graduate school, including difficulty in finding a job where I could use my expertise; needing to write and publish; and figuring out who I was beyond the doctoral program. And the list goes on. I was overwhelmed by feelings of failure and disappointment day after day as I filled out another job application and attempted to writeIt was not until I began writing with the Fresh I.N.K. crew that I was able to work through these challenges.

During our weekly meetings, we prioritize the first 20 minutes for personal check-ins. We take turns sharing about our lives and families, accomplishments and challenges of that week. Without judgment and fear.  We understand the importance of checking in about our personal lives because who we are (mind, body, and soul) and what we experience are deeply woven into our writing. In those meetings after graduate school, my Fresh I.N.K. sisters did not let me dwell on the hopelessness of my situation; rather, they showered me with words of encouragement (and prayer), reminded me that the challenges I faced were exactly where I needed to be, and claimed my success for the future in their loving, charismatic, and no-nonsense way. All of this translated into writing and academic success.

Having a joint space for us to write as women of color has meant bringing my whole self: the Latina mother, hermana, daughter, partner, academic, and writer in me to my writing and scholarship. In our writing group, we keep each other accountable for uplifting each other, owning our greatness, and speaking truth to power in our writing, teaching, and research.

Lastly, in the midst of a world full of selfies, look-alikes, and wannabes, girls of color are often socialized and taught to be the people other people want them to be. Messages about what they should wear, how thin they should be, how straight their hair should be, and what they should do with their bodies abound in social media. Below I offer tips for K–12 teachers to consider when encouraging girls of color to write.

  1. Those who teach writing to girls of color need to be examples of collaboration, worthiness, advocacy, and support for women of color.
  2. Those who teach writing to girls of color need to teach them how to own their greatness and walk in their purpose.


If it were not for Theda, Lorena, and Tuesda, I would have gone insane in graduate school. Period! They were all in the same cohort and a year ahead of me in our doctoral program. Their advice, hugs, and conversations kept me from dropping out and poppin’ off at a few colleagues and professors, especially since I was the only Black woman or person in a lot of my courses. During one of our conversations as we were carpooling back to our hometown of Detroit, I told Theda about one of my professors not grading one of my assignments because she said my writing “does not meet the academic standards for the course” and that I should “make an appointment with the writing center.” This same professor also accused me and another person of color in the class of “forming a clique.” She tried it! After I emailed the professor to discuss the writing assignment and derogatory comments, she never met with me. Instead, she had her co-teaching colleague schedule an appointment with me. I was devastated and deflated. For several weeks that followed, I lost my voice. I lost Raven. I broke up with writing. I did not speak in class because I did not trust my professors or colleagues. It took my Fresh I.N.K. sisters, family, and other close friends to remind me that I was and am a wonderful writer and that I deserved to be in graduate school.

For me, connecting with my Fresh I.N.K. sisters is not just about writing, it is about advocacy, community, and love. It is about seeing them interact with my two-year-old daughter, Zuri Hudson, and ask her about what is going on in her busy and curious life. It is also about recognizing that, as women of color, we have the ability to rise above severe adversities and triumph over challenges. Furthermore, it is about discussing how we can show up and show out for other girls and women of color. In closing, I offer my suggestions for K–12 teachers and others to support young girls of color with their voices and writing.

  1. Provide opportunities for young girls and women of color to make writing a habit. Octavia Butler reminds us that “. . . habit is persistence in practice.” In order for young girls and women of color to make writing a habit, they need time and space to tell their stories and use their voices.
  2. Teach young girls and women of color to “reclaim. . . [their] time.” Recently, Rep. Maxine Waters (a.k.a. Auntie Maxine) (D-California) made several people proud with yet another verbal victory ( During a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, Waters questioned Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin regarding a letter she sent him in May that he did not respond to. When Mnuchin failed to directly address her inquiry, Waters repeatedly stated, “Reclaiming my time!” Young girls of color and women of color in K–12 classrooms do not deserve to have their time wasted with teachers who do not care about them, their lived experiences, or writing prowess. Instead, K–12 teachers should create spaces and opportunities for young girls of color to write about an array of topics that are of interest to them—even  bad break-ups.


Tuesda Roberts is an assistant professor of Multicultural Education at Missouri State University.  Her research engages the sociocultural roles and impacts of teachers with a focus on urban schooling.  She is a fan of red velvet cake, hails from the proud lines of Roberts and Chappells, and will always be Carol’s daughter.

Theda Gibbs Grey is a proud Detroit native and currently an assistant professor of reading in the Ohio University Department of Teacher Education. Through her teaching, research, and practice, she is committed to creating more equitable learning spaces that embrace the literacies of Black middle and high school students.

Lorena Gutiérrez is a postdoctoral scholar in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. Her research highlights the ways Latinx migrant and seasonal farmworkers survive and thrive in their educational pursuits in spite of the inequities they face in K–12 schools. Her research is rooted in learning with migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Midwest, her own experiences in growing up bilingual in Colton, California, and the heritage of farm work that her abuelo cultivated in El Agostadero, Jalisco, Mexico. Twitter handle: @Lore_Gutierrez 

Raven Jones Stanbrough is a Detroit native and a K–12 product of Detroit Public Schools. Dr. Jones Stanbrough is an assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University and the co-founder of The Zuri Reads Initiative, an effort to provide and organize literacy-related events and resources for Detroit-area children, students, and families. Twitter handle: @RavenForevamore

 Note: Jacqueline Woodson will be the keynote speaker for the Saturday General Session at the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention. 

How Do You Know When to Use a Comma? The Value of Individual Conferences in Writing Instruction

This post is written by member Alden Bird.

In just seven years of teaching, I’ve already witnessed a dizzying number of educational initiatives, but the fact remains: the best proven way to reach students is with time and individual attention. While public schools are often desperately short of both, last year I got a chance to see what education would be like if they weren’t when a forward-thinking administrator scaled back my teaching load to four classes instead of five, freeing me up to use the extra period conferencing outside of class with my eleventh- and twelfth-grade writing students.

The results were immediate and successful—so successful, in fact, that my entire department was granted this same schedule next year. Never before in my seven years of teaching has such a simple change made such a difference in my ability to reach students.

For my AP students, I made conferences mandatory for the first quarter, after which they were voluntary. For my two heterogeneous groups, conferences were mandatory all semester, usually held every three to four weeks: before or after school, during free periods we shared, or during our thirty-minute afternoon Callback time. My fourth class, an elective, did not conference, but I assigned them far more writing than I ever had previously.

At first the sheer number of conferences was overwhelming, but I learned to stagger them. Four or five each day seemed ideal, with twenty minutes for each: ten to read an essay beforehand and ten to conference.

Surprise, surprise: the individual attention changed everything—but not in the way I expected. I found the greatest value was not in learning a student’s writing needs, but in learning his or her thought process. Think of the gulf that so often separates us from our students: the advice that falls on deaf ears, the red-inked errors made repeatedly, the thoughtful comments inexplicably ignored. For years I’d felt that gulf—as though I couldn’t really tell what my students were thinking.

However, suddenly—conferencing six or seven times a semester—I could.

I learned to use questions to lead conferences. Instead of a slash of the red pen, I could ask, “What was your thought process when choosing this organizational structure?” or “How do you know if you need a comma?” Finally I could understand the students’ sometimes highly individual misconceptions, and then push them to grow and change. By questioning them in person about their writerly decisions, I could push them to begin not only correctly punctuating, but also thinking as writers.

In addition, conferences were invaluable for building relationships. Perhaps my greatest successes this year came from moments during conferences when I urged students to go beyond themselves—moments that would never have happened if my only advice had been written and not spoken with a personal touch. One senior boy had written about a fond eighth-grade memory of his best friend, a young man whose death just months before had shocked and saddened our entire community. Though beautifully written, I could tell that his essay had much more to say. By the time he returned for a second (voluntary) conference, we’d built enough rapport for me to say, “I think there’s more you want to say.” His ensuing thousand-word addition was shared thousands of times on the Internet and brought a measure of healing both to himself and to his community. It never would have happened without the relationship we’d formed through conferencing.

I realize that conferencing outside of class isn’t always a reasonable option. I was lucky enough to have a supportive administration; mature, older students with some measure of free time; and a well-designed, adaptable curriculum to support my goals. In exchange for teaching fewer classes, we are taking on larger sections. It remains to be seen whether teachers at all levels in my department will find this method workable, let alone successful.

There are really only a few proven strategies that work in writing education. Individual attention and more time devoted to practice and instruction will always be at the top of the list and should be an ingredient in any writing initiative. Last year taught me what a difference those simple factors can make. I look forward to building on these gains and conferencing with a completely new crop of writers in just over three weeks.

Alden Bird is an English teacher at U-32 High School in Montpelier, Vermont. He is the author of Let It Rain: The Whitewater Rivers of New England, New York, Quebec and Ontario and the blog Notes from the North Country.

Mrs. Stuart Goes to Washington: The Last Word

Before I begin my tour of the museums here in DC, I want to take a minute to extend my utmost gratitude to a few people. First, the NCTE team in the DC office, Jenna Fournel and Lu Ann McNabb, for being gracious and welcoming. I will miss our little office camaraderie. Second, my family. I was only able to have this incredible experience only because of the support of my amazing mother-in-law, who came down to DC to watch the kids for three weeks, and my sweet parents, who flew out for grandparent duty for the remainder of the time. Finally, my darling husband, who has been alone at home with a screaming cat for over a month. My deepest thanks to you all.

It’s tough to explain to a twelve-year-old the sheer power of words. Ironically, words don’t do themselves justice. As I made my way around the sights in DC, I found myself constantly in awe of the words all around me and the way in which they have shaped, and continue to shape, our country. Below is a collection of my thoughts, lesson ideas, and reflections on five museums, in the order in which I viewed them.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As a teacher of the Diary of a Young Girl, the Holocaust is a topic I discuss with eighth graders every year. The main exhibit experience begins with a large group of people packed into a steel elevator, that makes you instantly uncomfortable. When you exit, you are met with videos taken during concentration camp liberation, and a giant photograph of burnt corpses. The silence in the museum is overwhelming. Two areas in particular spoke to me. The first was the section on propaganda. This year I would like to have students analyze the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels to answer a common question: Why were people angry at Jewish people? How did Goebbels use words to confuse and deceive? The second section I found interesting was about the League of German Girls. During our unit study, we cover Hitler Youth, but I didn’t know about its female counterpart. Finally, I have tried researching contemporary genocides in the past, but I would like to revisit that this year. The USHMM website has a rich library of educator resources, including a couple of interesting professional learning opportunities.

National Museum of American History

I uncovered a few neat ideas here. Most important is Wonderplace, a super awesome play space complete with a climbing structure, and kitchen with fake fruit, and the Spark!Lab where kids can be inventors and make stuff.  Kiddos were happy for hours. The exhibit Many Voices, One Nation made me think, How do the words of many people, across time, unite to form a country? I could have my students look at the works of the authors we study, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Wright, Daniel Keyes, and whoever else gets tossed in there this year-to see how each of their unique voices became a part of the narrative of America.

Executive Order 9066 got me thinking about how words can used to strip people of their liberties.

I also saw Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt, which resulted in the removal of over 110,000 Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes. Another question to pose to students: How have people used words to deprive others of their freedoms? (Check out the Smithsonian’s History Explorer for educator resources. You can search by grade level, time period and/or subject you teach.)

Folger Shakespeare Library
Life imitating art. The exhibit had cute interactive elements.

I’ve been a fan of these guys since I met them at NCTE’s Annual Convention in 2014. I’ve used their incredible resources for teaching Shakespeare, and they also offer professional learning opportunities,  including a month-long stay here in DC to study Shakespeare in depth. Of course I had to visit! The current exhibit showcased paintings of Shakespeare, the man himself and the scenes from the plays. The library is home to the largest collection of Shakespeare works, as well as other rare Renaissance works. Since I took the tour, I got to peek in the reading room. Swoon. During the tour, our guide mentioned that Shakespeare was not wholly original and that he took many of his stories from other authors. How can words be refashioned into something new and exciting?  On an unrelated note, while at Folger I enjoyed learning about Project Dustbunny, dirt from the gutters of books analyzed for past readers’ DNA – wild.

First Folio! First Folio!
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The abolitionist paper, The North Star, was founded by Frederick Douglass. My kids will love seeing the actual paper.

This museum is the newest, opening in September 2016. I noticed a few different ways in which words were important, especially for someone who teaches Richard Wright’s, Black Boy. First, Nat Turner’s Bible and Harriet Tubman’s hymnal were on display. Both struck me, and I thought, How do people find strength and comfort in words during times of pain and turmoil? I look forward to examining this question with my students; it’s a topic that pairs nicely with Anne Frank finding solace in books.

Finding comfort in words can be a common thread throughout history.

Alongside the reading of Black Boy, my students and I read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. A question for my students will be, How can we use words to fight for change? This question will be especially useful as we follow Wright on his journey of discovering how authors used words to fight against racism.


The California paper posted outside the day I visited.

The Newseum “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.” Tons of great ideas here! Around the outside of the museum are front pages from each of the fifty states and around the world. What a great activity for teaching media literacy. I want to pull the day’s headlines from three papers and have students analyze the differences. How can we use the same words to paint a different picture? There was also a neat exhibit on each of the five freedoms. This might be interesting to explore as my students learn about the Bill of Rights in social studies. How are the words of the past relevant today? I want to explore the modern issues relating to each of the five freedoms.

This exhibit poses the question, what freedoms do students have at school?

There was also really cool display about the rights of students, which I know mine will enjoy talking about, especially the parts on dress code. A question I will ask is, How can you use words to fight for what you believe in?

And now I, NCTE’s 2017 Kent B. Williamson Policy Fellow, am signing off. I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I enjoyed the journey. Please contact me, I’d love to connect and chat. Peace.