Advanced Plus Field Trip: Learning about the United States through Its Art

By Cathy Sunshine

On May 22, the Advanced Plus PM class took a field trip to the Phillips Collection, an art museum just a few blocks from Washington English Center. We saw “Made in the USA: American Masters from The Phillips Collection, 1850–1970,” a special exhibition covering three floors of the museum. Ten students and two teachers enjoyed the artwork, with complimentary admission provided by the Phillips.

Students and teachers from the Advanced Plus PM class visited the Phillips Gallery to see American artists.

Our group included students from Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, France/Algeria, Germany, Korea, Mexico, Spain, and Sudan, plus two teachers.

The exhibition, which includes nearly 120 artists, begins with iconic American artists of the late nineteenth century and concludes with the abstract expressionists of the late twentieth century. Along the way, it reflects a society being reshaped by industrialization, urbanization, and immigration from abroad. Our students noticed that many of the American artists featured were born in other countries or were the children of immigrants from Europe, Russia, and other parts of the world.

“For me, it was a great opportunity to know American art, because I’ve never seen American paintings before,” said a Brazilian student. A student from Spain agreed: “I had always visited galleries with European art. I have to say that I was impressed by the American art.” A Sudanese student liked seeing “American scenes and social realism.” He commented, “I learned that United States society is a place that supports its inventors to draw the image of the country in their own way. The vision of expression of one day will not do for the next day.”

We asked each student to choose a picture that they would like to hang on the wall of their house or apartment. An Argentine student picked out Arthur G. Dove’s Red Sun: “I like Red Sun to hang on the living room wall. I like the color combination, simplicity, and realism. It’s like you have a sunset inside of your house. Very optimistic painting.”

Arthur G. Dove, "Red Sun" (1935)

Arthur G. Dove, “Red Sun” (1935)

A German student liked the pictures of New York, a city she enjoys. A painting by the German-born modernist artist Stefan Hirsch shows the Lower Manhattan skyline in 1921.

Stefan Hirsch, "New York, Lower Manhattan" (1921)

Stefan Hirsch, “New York, Lower Manhattan” (1921)

A Mexican student appreciated the Migration Series by African American painter Jacob Lawrence, which shows the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between World War I and World War II.

Panel 1 from the Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence (1940–41)

Panel 1 from the Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence (1940–41)

Our Sudanese classmate chose the earthy paintings of Georgia O’Keefe. Ranchos Church, No. II shows an early adobe church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico.

Georgia O’Keefe, "Ranchos Church, No. II" (1929)

Georgia O’Keefe, “Ranchos Church, No. II” (1929)

Just for fun, we also asked students to name a picture that they would not want to hang on the wall. Portraits of individuals and abstract works turned out to be least popular. “Abstract expressionism style confuses me. I feel puzzled. I cannot find meanings in the paintings, only a combination of colors,” remarked one student.

After spending time in the American exhibit, some students dipped into the European section of the Phillips, where they saw paintings by Renoir, Miró, Kandinsky, and Van Gogh, among others. Later in class, we talked about how the Americans were influenced by European art styles of their time, yet also departed from them.

All in all, a most enjoyable and educational visit!

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Teaching English Abroad: Advice for Teachers and Lessons Learned at Washington English Center by Devin Foil


Former Volunteer Devin Foil sharing Thanksgiving with his Chinese students

I teach English at in the little town of Pengshan, China. Whether or not my students are English majors, keeping them engaged is the priority and the challenge. The hands-on experience that I gained from the Washington English Center helped prepare me for teaching abroad. I really learned how to engage with my students, and connect with them. Below are some things that I learned at WEC, and have since practiced more of here in China:

Don’t rely too much on the lessons from the textbook
In my experience, following a lesson straight from the textbook can be very dull. It literally puts some of my students to sleep, and it really is no fun for the teacher. Textbooks are great guides and they are indispensable for grammar lessons, but they have no personality. This is where being a teacher is fun. I like to combine my own ideas with the lessons in the book. Sometimes I’ll show my students a YouTube video. Sometimes we’ll play a game that complements the lesson well. These kinds of activities get the students’ heads off of their desks and into the lesson.

Spending more time on your lesson plan is always worth the effort
A good lesson plan will always yield a good class session. I try to be as specific as I can in my own lesson plans. I tell myself small little details like, “Remember not to pass out the worksheets until after the recording is done, that way the students can focus on the listening first instead of fiddling with the worksheet.” These little details can be excruciating to insert in to the lesson plan, but I am always glad that they are there when I am teaching.

Pay attention to student feedback
It is easy to get defensive when a student gives some critical feedback, especially after you spent hours developing an awesome lesson plan. However, the student is usually right and his/her feedback can help your lessons immensely. I took the advice of a student from my discussion class, and everyone has enjoyed the class much more ever since (including myself). If your students don’t give feedback, then ask for it from one of your more vocal students. It is well worth the effort of asking. Just remember that feedback is not a challenge to your authority over the class, it is simply a suggestion from a person who knows how he/she would like to be taught.

General Thoughts on Teaching Abroad

I enjoy teaching English abroad, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested. There are times when it is very tough, but those times pass and you usually come out tougher and wiser. I have 4 pieces of advice that might help soften up the tough times:

1. Be open and have a sense of adventure. This is a little cliché, but let me explain what it really means. Having a sense of adventure means being ready for the little comforts of your normal life to be stripped away from you. Be prepared to sweat. Be prepared to be cut in line. Be prepared to be stared at…constantly. Be prepared to have the same conversation over and over and over and over again. Be prepared to not be able to explain yourself in sticky situations. All of these things make the adventure. You might have some cool traveling vacations, but those are the fun times. The adventure is being vulnerable in a culture that is not used to you.

2. Take care of your own self. What I mean is that that you should do everything in your power to make sure that you are A-OK. Just because you are a foreigner in a school does not mean that the administration will take it upon itself to ensure all your bases are covered. Ask questions. Always ask questions. Otherwise, if you miss something important, it will be your fault.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no. Students will probably like you and they will probably ask you to speak at their club, go out to dinner with their class, or just chat for an hour in the coffee shop. The administration will want to utilize you. It’s paying for you to be at the school after all. It might want you to do a lecture, participate in English corner, and teach an additional class. If you say yes to all of these things, you will have no time left for yourself. When you are working in a foreign country, a little me-time goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to say no to students. They’ll get over it. The same goes for the administration, although that can be a bit trickier since it handles your paycheck. Gauge what you can get away with and what other teachers get away with, and plan your nay saying from there.

4. Working abroad is much different from studying abroad. You may want to teach English in the cool country that you studied abroad in as a college student. You may have fond memories of that country and want to relive some of those times. Don’t expect that to happen. Working in a foreign country is much different than studying in one. It makes sense. Working in the US is much different than going to school in the US. It’s no different abroad. You will run into all of the classic work/office problems and drama. That stuff exists outside of the US too.

After the first semester of school, student reviews were posted and I was ranked the #1 foreign teacher out of the 7 foreign teachers in my department. I am very proud of this fact. All the foreign teachers at my school, including me, have a TESL certificate. The difference between them and me is that I am the only one with previous experience. I gained this experience at Washington English Center. Without the hands-on exposure to real English classes that WEC provides for its volunteers, and without the support of my students at WEC, I would not have learned the skills that are necessary to be a good teacher. I am confident of that

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Effective Lesson Planning and Delivery with Your Co-teacher

Weren’t able to make the session on co-teaching on Saturday, May 3 at Washington English Center? Here are some ideas to plan and deliver lessons effectively with a co-teacher.

By Ashley Lipps

Co-teaching is when two teachers take a substantive role in the classroom. This model is different from teaching arrangements that see one teacher as the lead and the other as the assistant. Even if you are a new teacher and you rely on a more experienced co-teacher for a lot of guidance and ideas (or vice versa) both teachers take responsibility and should have the opportunity to plan and lead lessons.

There are many ways co-teaching can be realized, and Friend & Cook (2007) have observed six co-teaching arrangements. They were looking at the context of elementary to high school ESL, which usually sees an ESL teacher co-teaching with a content teacher (science teacher, language arts teacher, etc.). Although our situation is a little different at Washington English, it’s still a useful place to start thinking about what co-teaching can look like.

One teach, one observe

In this arrangement, one teacher leads the class while the other sits and observes students. The teacher who isn’t leading the class should still have a job to do. They can listen and make note of common student errors to review later in the class. They can correct the homework. They can sit with a student who needs extra help and work with them through the lesson.


One teach, one drift

In this arrangement, one teacher leads the class while the other circulates around the room, helping students are needed.


Station teaching

In this arrangement, there are three or more stations in the classroom, each with a distinct task. In groups, students circulate from one station to the next. Each teacher leads a station, and at the third and any additional stations, students work independently.


Parallel Teaching

In this arrangement, the class is split in two equal groups. One group works with one teacher and the other group with the other teacher. This arrangement is popular at Washington English Center for language practice activities and conversation circles. It allows students to do an activity and interact with a group, but a more intimate group so each student has more opportunity to speak and practice.

Of course, these half group conversation circles only work if the teacher can manage to not talk too much and dominate the conversation. This is a common pitfall because I think as English teachers most of us are naturally chatty people! But it’s up to the students to converse, share their opinion, and steer the direction of the conversation. The teacher is just there to answer language questions as needed and ask open-ended questions if the conversation lulls.


Alternative Teaching

This arrangement is similar to parallel teaching, the class is split into two groups- but one group has the majority of the students while the other is a small group of students who need more focused attention. This arrangement is helpful if you’ve got a small number of students who really need extra help and support.

A question that came up- How do you arrange the students so that those who need extra help don’t feel singled out? With parallel teaching this isn’t an issue because both groups do the same activity in the same way. But with alternative teaching, you want students who are farther ahead in one group, and those who need more work in a different group.

Often students know that they need a bit of help in one area, so they’re pretty understanding, and it’s not a concern. But if you’re worried about it, here’s my suggestion- Hand out cards of two different colors. It can be colored paper cut into cards, colored index cards, red and black playing cards, etc. It’s easy to make it look like you’re randomly handing out cards when really you’re handing out the colors intentionally. The stronger students get one color, and the weaker students get a different color. Then you can say students with this color, go work with this teacher. Then it’s about the card, not the student.


Team Teaching

In this arrangement, both teachers are simultaneously leading a class. This arrangement is very useful when teachers are modeling an activity. It can also be used when reviewing an activity that students have done in small groups or pairs, both teachers can elicit responses from students about what they discussed is their groups.



So which arrangement is best? There’s no one answer because it really depends on what the class is doing at the moment. However, Friend (2008) did write a few recommendations for using these arrangement, and she suggested using the station/parallel/alternative teaching arrangements more often than one teach, one observe/drift.

One reason to not rely too heavily on one teach, one observe is that often, I believe, it’s used as a cover of a slightly different arrangement- one teach, one just sit there! If one teacher leads, while the other is sitting observing, the observer really should have a job to do.

But another reason to recommend limited use of these arrangements is that one teach, one drift/observe arrangements are quite teacher-centered. These models work best when you are presenting new information. If you’re presenting new grammar, it can be best to just have one teacher explain it. However, this explanation shouldn’t take very long. The sooner you can get the class practicing the new grammar themselves, the better.

One question that came up Saturday- What if you’re explaining grammar and students just seem totally confused. I think the best answer to that concern is- that’s okay! If your co-teacher can explain the grammar in a unique way, then he or she can take a stab at presenting the new information, but if the students STILL seem confused, don’t worry. Grammar explanations are pretty confusing. The best way for students to understand how to use the grammar is to practice, practice, practice. So spend no more than 5 or 10 minutes explaining, and then start the practice activities and count on context and examples to clarify confusing grammar.

So you don’t want to spend much time with a teacher centered classroom. For me, it’s helpful to think of a seventh arrangement that I want to call “Both drift.” You want to spend as much time as possible in small group work and pair work, and after a small group activity has been set up, students talk in pairs or groups, and teachers circulate, helping out as needed. I say both drift, because it’s good to give students time when a teacher isn’t working with their group, especially if you have students who tend to talk to the teacher and not each other.


Whatever arrangements you and your co-teacher use, another of Friend’s recommendations is key- Discuss and plan beforehand to ensure that both teachers have a role. Plan explicitly what you will do, what your co-teacher will do, and communicate with your co-teacher. Even if you see both teachers team teaching and doing the same things, discuss this with your co-teacher so you’re both on the same page.

I have a lesson planning template that I want to recommend to get you started. This template asks you to describe your lesson in columns. Click the link to download the template:

WEC Lesson Plan Template for 2 Co-teachers


Time- How much time will it take? It’s difficult to predict, but jot down an estimate of how long an activity will take and by what time you expect to have finished, i.e. 15 minutes/7:30pm. Then if it’s 7:30pm and you’re still working, at least you know you’re behind and can decided whether to continue and make up time later or to wrap up the activity.

Task- What activity the class will do, page numbers, etc. I also find it helpful to write “whole class,” “small group,” “pair work,” and “individual work.” Then I can see at a glance if I’ve got enough small group and pair activities.

Student behavior- What will the students do? The students should be doing the most in class, so you want to fill up this column.

Co-teacher 1 behavior & Co-teacher 2 behavior- In these columns, write what each teacher will do. It should then be obvious if one teacher is not being utilized for an extended period of time, and you can reassess the activity to take advantage of both teachers.

I find myself writing across the co-teacher 1 & 2 columns when I want both of us to lead or do the same thing. Even if you’re not differentiating the co-teacher tasks, it’s helpful to write these out. Then your co-teacher knows what to do and they know that you want them to do it. If you write, “read questions and ask volunteers to tell the group what they discussed with their partners” then your co-teacher will know that they aren’t stepping on your toes if they do this.

Many of the issues that come up in co-teaching can be addresses with proper planning. Whether you plan with your co-teacher or each plans part of the lesson at home, be explicit and communicate with your co-teacher about what the students will do, what you’ll do, and what your co-teacher will do.



Friend, M. & Cook, L. (2007). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (5th edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Friend, M. (2008). Co-Teaching: A simple solution that isn’t simple after all. Journal of Curriculum and Instruction, 2(2), 9-19.

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Exciting Technology and Websites for ESL Learners!

Processed with Moldiv

At a recent WATESOL workshop, Becky Shiring, an Instructional Coach at Carlos Rosario International PCS, shared some new,  interesting and innovative websites to help engage students. The following sites use audio, visual, reading comprehension, and creative mediums to help students learn and have fun while doing it. Let us know if you use them and if your class enjoys it!

Newsela is a current events website that adjusts the reading difficultly depending on the learner’s level. If a story is too difficult, a student may select a lower level number and the story updates itself. This allows the entire class to read the same article but at a level that suits them. The site is also great for reading comprehension by offering quizzes and if a class account is created, can store students’ progress.

Kahoot: Create a free login and access free and fun quizzes for your students to take on any topic. You can even create your own! Search ESL and you’ll see quizzes for idioms, grammar vocab and more. With the option of creating your own, you can quiz your students in class or in Language Lab and contribute to the online community.

Flickr is a website that allows you to share photographs with anyone and it’s great for posting pictures of class events or graduations. You can create one for your class if you’re moving up with your students to create a webpage documenting your time together, and also allow students to upload their photos taken by smartphone. You could use the page for Photohunt activities, document a class field trip, party or presentation.

Storybird refers to itself as “A new literacy tool for a new generation” using visual storyboarding to and art to strengthen reading comprehension and writing skills. Students can practice writing a story based on a picture and then share it with classmates. The website is easy to use and class work can be kept private, easily reviewed and teachers can give feedback. If you’re looking to encourage an ongoing writing project with your students, this website is worth considering.

An easy to use animation site complete with storyboarding and silly characters to enhance student’s learning in writing and reading. Students can choose the backgrounds and characters in their animated short and then have to write the dialogue (and select background music). When finished, the website puts it all together into a short film!

In addition to having great podcasts and music, soundcloud allows students to record their voices an share. You can choose to pre-record something for dictation or students can use it for uploading themselves reading aloud. Teachers and students can play back the recording and listen for pronunciation errors and even create their own podcasts.

Freesound is a website of stock sounds—an audio counterpart to a stock photo website (like with commonly used sounds. Students can play guessing games with the sounds to support vocabulary practice, modals or add sounds to presentations or group stories.   Teachers can also have students write a story based on a series of sound effects.

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“Call An American”

by Josh Johnson, Advanced Plus Winter 2014

I’m coming to the end of my first teaching experience at Washington English Center and have thoroughly enjoyed teaching Advanced Plus in the company of my wife, Kelsey, a much more experienced teacher than I am. It has been a great class to teach but also challenging as their language skills are, of course, advanced and the students often have questions that strain my understanding of the grammar and logic behind American English. In this short blog post I wanted to offer a teaching activity that we have found useful during the term. We call it “Call an American” and it’s been entirely too much fun.

The premise is simple: throughout the American Ways book there are suggestions for students to interview an American on various topics such as work, values and religion. Instead of using one of our funnier student’s idea to shout the questions at a passersby from the class windows, we have arranged for the class to make phone calls to Peace Corps friends and, in a pinch, to family. First, we usually post a notice to Facebook with the time and topic to see who’s available. Then we use the portable speakers from the Volunteer Lounge to project the phone call so that everyone can hear. We divide up the questions before hand and place the call to “The American” and the students ask their questions and record their answers.

The “Call an American” activity is valuable as it is a real challenge to understand someone over the phone where there are no visual cues to draw upon. Additionally, our friends and family have not gone through teacher training so they speak quickly, use idioms, and bring up interesting slang. Plus, it’s great for the students to hear viewpoints beyond what we can provide. Lastly, it brings great joy and satisfaction to the American on the other end of the line as they can contribute to language learning and learn about Washington English Center without even leaving their home. When we called my brother he answered the phone while riding his bicycle which brought a lot of amusement to the advanced plus class.

I hope that you can use this no-cost, effective and fun activity in your own classes!


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