TESOL Connections

TESOL Advocates Take on Capitol Hill

by John Segota
On 18–19 June, TESOL educators from across the United States met in Washington, DC, to advocate for education policies supporting ELLs and their teachers as part of TESOL Advocacy Day 2012. Now in its seventh year, the program features a full day of briefings and training, followed by a full day of visits to congressional offices on Capitol Hill. 

On 18–19 June, TESOL educators from across the United States met in Washington, DC, to advocate for education policies supporting ELLs and their teachers as part of TESOL Advocacy Day 2012. Now in its seventh year, the program features a full day of briefings and training, followed by a full day of visits to congressional offices on Capitol Hill. Approximately 45 educators participated this year, with close to 30 U.S.-based affiliates represented.

Advocacy Day Media:
Watch videos •  See photos 


Naomi Elliot, Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA), Joan Johnston, and Treela McKamey

Reflecting current legislative activity in the U.S. Congress, the program covered issues affecting both K–12 and adult education. The briefings held on the first day included staff from Congressional offices discussing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as well the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which impacts adult education. The speakers discussed important issues around each of the bills, as well as the views of their offices regarding ESL and the education of ELLs.

Angela Bell from Colorado, Patricia Aube from Massachusetts, and Christel Broady from Kentucky prepare for their meetings with members of Congress


In addition, representatives from the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education provided an update on the activities of their office. This included discussion around the ESEA flexibility provisions now being enacted by the administration, and other professional development initiatives for the field.

To help prepare for their visits to Capitol Hill, attendees were given information to help them set up their meetings with their Congressional representatives, and they participated in activities to help prepare for their meetings, including a mock legislative hearing, role-playing activities, and discussion of talking points and other background information. A number of accomplished advocates who had participated in Advocacy Day in the past also shared their tips and experiences with those new to the program.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Debbie Vaughn of
Tennessee TESOL, and
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)


“The briefings and training were well organized and very helpful,” shared Angela Bell, who represented Colorado TESOL. “I enjoyed hearing the perspectives from those working on Capitol Hill, as well as learning from the experience of those who have participated in Advocacy Day before.”

The following day, participants went to Capitol Hill for their meetings. Each participant had at least two meetings with Congressional offices, while some participants teamed up with others from their state for as many six meetings. Leslie Morris from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania found the experience enlightening: “It was empowering to meet with Congressional offices and discuss ESL issues. It not only gives you a greater connection to the democratic process and to elected officials, but a deeper sense of advocacy for our students. The experience was striking—I highly recommend Advocacy Day for all TESOL educators!”

To conclude the program, the participants discussed their experiences and shared what they had learned over dinner. Each of the participants was given information to follow up with not only with the Congressional staff they met with, but also with their colleagues back at home to share what they had learned by their experience.


Julia Maffei (l) and
Michelle Bagwell (r) of Texas outside the U.S. Capitol

Michelle Bagwell of El Paso, Texas, captured the thoughts and enthusiasm of most of the participants: “These have been two of the most informative and exciting days in my professional development. This was an amazing experience, and I'm so proud to have been a part of it. I have such momentum—I want to do everything that I can now for my students and fellow educators!”

While Advocacy Day occurs once a year, advocating for your students and programs should continue throughout the year. To learn more about your congressional representatives or other legislative issues TESOL is tracking, go the TESOL U.S. Advocacy Action Center at capwiz.com/tesol.

To obtain information about next year’s Advocacy Day, contact John Segota, Associate Executive Director for Advocacy, Standards, and Professional Relations.

Advocacy Update: The Quarter in Review

Between a recent heat wave and increased rhetoric as the 2012 U.S. presidential election creeps closer, the temperature in Washington, DC, is rising both figuratively and literally. Although there was some legislative action on issues important to the ELT field, there was much more activity from the Obama administration. Here’s a brief overview of important developments. 

Between a recent heat wave and increased rhetoric as the 2012 U.S. presidential election creeps closer, the temperature in Washington, DC, is rising both figuratively and literally. Although there was some legislative action on issues important to the ELT field, there was much more activity from the Obama administration. Here’s a brief overview of important developments.

NCLB Flexibility

In both May and June, the U.S. Department of Education approved 13 more states for flexibility from key provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), bringing the total up to 24. The recent states approved are:

New York
North Carolina
Rhode Island
South Dakota

According the Department, states who receive flexibility under NCLB agree to develop state-level plans to prepare all students for college and career, focus aid on the neediest students, and support effective teaching and leadership.

More information on NCLB Flexibility is available from the U.S. Department of Education.

WIA Reauthorization

On 7 June, the House Education and the Workforce Committee met to mark up and amend the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012, H.R. 4297. Aimed at reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, the legislation that provides federal funding for adult education, the bill consolidates 25 workforce training programs that have been identified as duplicative and ineffective into a single Workforce Investment Fund that provides flexibility for states to determine the best use of funds.

On the flip side, Democrats John Tierney (D-MA), George Miller (D-CA), and Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) proposed H.R. 4227, an alternative version to H.R. 4297, that maintains set asides for disadvantaged populations; continues to provide supported, integrated employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities; and, while it makes minor consolidations, keeps the nationally effective individual programs funded. Such stark philosophical differences between the two bills made the markup debate lively as well as lengthy.

During the mark-up session, Democratic committee members attempted to change HR 4297 by introducing amendments that reflected their proposals. One amendment would have basically replaced the language of HR 4297 with the language of their alternative bill (HR 4227), while other amendments would have added language from the Adult Education and Economic Growth Act (HR 2226), a similar proposal sponsored by Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX). In his statements, Rep. Hinojosa explained his amendment would strengthen Title II of WIA by helping the nation create a robust education system and improve the lives of adults, and codifying integrated English literacy, civic education, and adult education and training programs to better align them with workforce training programs. Unfortunately, all of these amendments failed on a party-line vote.

TESOL International Association issued a letter with its comments and concerns on the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 (H.R. 4297) in April.
Deportation Deferment for Undocumented Students

On 15 June, the Obama administration announced that it will stop deportations for some undocumented students who were brought to the United States as children. The new policy was issued in response to years of pressure from immigration advocates, and in response to the lack of action on the Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act in the U.S. Congress.

In a press conference, President Obama said of the students eligible under this new policy "They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” Estimates suggest up to 800,000 students could be impacted by the new policy.

While this policy will undoubtedly help thousands of students and English language learners, it is only a temporary solution. It only defers deportation for up to 2 years; it does not change the immigration status of these undocumented students, nor does it create a pathway to citizenship. The DREAM Act would need to be passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in order for that to happen.

While the new policy went into effect immediately, a process has not yet been established for undocumented students to apply for deportation deferment. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is expected to develop and implement a process within 60 days of the original policy announcement.

For more advocacy information and how to get involved, check out TESOL's Advocacy Resources page. 

Fostering Content-Based Instruction Through Collaboration

by Laura Schall-Leckrone and Kevin O'Connor
Foster collaboration by learning strategies to equip language teachers for content-based instruction (CBI) and content teachers to teach academic language. 

English learners face simultaneous pressures to master academic content through English as they develop proficiency in English (Lucas, Villegas, & Freedson-Gonzalez, 2008). This is especially pressing in Massachusetts, USA, due to a 2002 ballot initiative that replaced transitional bilingual education with mainstreaming ELs within one year, despite evidence that academic fluency takes much longer. However, this is not just a Massachusetts problem: U.S. educational policy, particularly the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of 2001, created a national trend towards rapid EL inclusion (McClure & Cahnmann-Taylor, 2010). In addition, an increasing number of nonnative English speaking students study academic content in English in secondary schools, colleges, and universities throughout the world (Hyland, 2009).

To succeed in school, ELs must read and write academic texts in varied content areas; yet, there is no generic academic English (Hyland, 2009. Disciplines use language to construct and present knowledge in different ways (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008). Given these factors, there are several approaches to supporting content-based language learning for mainstreamed ELs:

  • Content teachers can learn about second language learning and, specifically, how to shelter instruction.
  • ESL teachers can gain content knowledge and content certification.
  • Language specialists and content teachers may collaborate to varying degrees.

Each approach has its benefits and challenges. Content area teachers need to learn how to identify and teach the language demands of their disciplines. Conversely, ESL teachers need to become proficient in the standards, pedagogy, and discourse practices of content areas. If each discipline has a specialized knowledge-base and configures language in its own unique way, how can ESL teachers be equipped to teach ELs content-based language when it takes years of subject matter study for content specialists to learn the skills and knowledge of their field?  

Participant discussion at a 2012 TESOL annual convention session about this dilemma provides a snapshot of knowledge in the field and touches on significant theories and practices in research. (Responses have been synthesized and augmented here.) Discussion focused on these three essential questions:

  1. What strategies have you implemented that equip ESL teachers to teach content-based language?
  2. What strategies have you used to foster collaboration between content and language specialists to advance the content-based language learning of ELs?
  3. What challenges persist in identifying and teaching the language demands of the content areas for ESL teachers and content teachers?

Equipping ESL Teachers for Content-Based Instruction (CBI)

Gaining Content Knowledge
In order to prepare for CBI, ESL teachers need to become familiar with the epistemology (how content experts know), pedagogy, and discourse practices of the content area. Participants in the TESOL discussion suggested ESL teachers do so by:

  • observing content classrooms,
  • engaging in professional development including book studies with content specialists, and
  • coteaching or “pushing in” instruction in content classes.

Resources and tools that aid ESL (and content) teachers in teaching content to ELs include:

  • manipulatives,
  • realia,
  • electronic textbooks,
  • adapted readers, and
  • scaffolding approaches like the sheltered instruction observation protocol (SIOP) (Echevarría, Vogt, & Short, 2008).

Utilizing Language Expertise
Given their expertise with language, ESL teachers can analyze language and literacy skills in content standards and instruction. Then, they can develop language-based content curricula tailored to EL proficiency levels and, more specifically, craft language objectives that align with content objectives but go beyond teaching vocabulary. Such instruction ideally provides ELs with ample opportunities to interact as they engage in instruction targeted to develop discipline-specific reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. In sum, ESL teachers can identify language demands of particular content areas and work collaboratively with content specialists to teach them.

Strategies to Foster Teacher Collaboration

Ideally, collaboration should draw on ESL and content teachers’ pooled expertise in equal measures. In reality, ESL teachers fill a spectrum of roles from serving as teacher assistants in mainstream classrooms, providing push-in or pull-out instruction, and coteaching alongside content teachers, to coaching content teachers in sheltering techniques. Engaging in genuine collaboration takes time and support; in the interim some ESL teachers may feel marginalized.  

Two key strategies that foster collaboration between content and language specialists emerged from the TESOL session:

  • Engaging in two-way observations to identify aligned content and language objectives
  • Planning together how objectives will be implemented in strategic, complementary instructional approaches.

When to Collaborate
Time to collaborate can be built into

  • workshops
  • flextime
  • professional learning communities
  • “happy hours” (or any extracurricular teacher gatherings) with incentives (food/door prizes)

Communication between content and language specialists also can be facilitated through electronic media when teachers post curriculum, lesson plans, and assessments online.

However, successful collaboration requires a shared vision and responsibility for EL learning guided by supportive school and district leadership. Status and logistical issues need to be tackled given the move in the United States toward mainstream inclusion and the largely positive and “unproblematic presentation of co-teaching as a panacea for educating ELs” (McClure & Cahnmann-Taylor, 2010, p. 101).

Equipping Content Teachers to Teach Academic Language

Challenges persist in equipping content teachers to teach academic language. Beyond addressing issues that may otherwise undermine the collaborative planning and coteaching of language and content teachers, some practical problems also must be solved. Discussion participants suggested that these include providing adequate time and sufficient ESL personnel, instructional resources, training, and administrative support to help content teachers prepare to teach ELs.

Possible Solutions
Overall, content teachers must be equipped with the orientations and skills of linguistically responsive teachers, such as

  • knowledge of language,
  • processes of second language acquisition,
  • awareness of the linguistic challenges of academic language,
  • impact of sociocultural factors on learning, and
  • willingness to examine how their own perspectives and backgrounds influence instructional practices  (Lucas, Villegas, & Freedson-Gonzalez, 2008).

ESL teachers can serve as allies and coaches to content teachers as they develop these dispositions, understandings, and skills. Similarly, content teachers can support and guide ESL teachers toward a better grasp of the knowledge, pedagogy, and discourse practices of their discipline. Ideally, all teachers might embrace roles as language teachers and share responsibility for ELs’ development of content-based language skills that are key to academic success.

Collaboration between ESL and content teachers holds the promise of boosting ELs’ academic achievement. For this promise to be realized, supports can be provided to content and language specialists alike to enable them to pool knowledge and learn from and with one another. School and district leaders can facilitate this process by promoting a shared sense of mission, establishing common meeting times, and providing material resources. When those with complementary areas of expertise together identify linguistic demands of content areas, develop and implement strategies that integrate language and content instruction, and study their efforts, knowledge of how to meet the needs of ELs will continue to advance (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).

We would like to thank session participants for sharing their knowledge with us, especially Francis Bailey, who reviewed this article before we submitted it.


Echevarría, J.,Vogt, M. E., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP model (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Hyland, K. (2009). Academic discourse. London: Continuum.

Lucas, T., Villegas, A. M., & Freedson-Gonzalez, M. (2008). Linguistically responsive teacher education: Preparing classroom teachers to teach English language learners. Journal of Teacher Education, 59, 361–373.

McClure, G., & Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2010). Pushing back against push-in: ESL teacher resistance and the complexities of coteaching.  TESOL Journal, 1(1), 101–129.

Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40–59.


Laura Schall-Leckrone is a doctoral candidate at Boston College with teaching and administrative experience with bilingual learners in U.S. public schools. Her focus is on preparing teachers and school leaders to work with ELs. She currently is studying how novice history teachers learn to teach bilingual students the language and content of history from  preservice coursework to classroom practice.

Kevin O’Connor has worked as an adult ESOL teacher and administrator for more than 15 years.  He is currently associate director at Framingham Adult ESL Plus and is pursuing a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction at Boston College.  His focus is on preparing mainstream teachers to work effectively with ELs.


Ideas for Teaching Spoken Grammar

by Amanda Hilliard
Spoken grammar has arisen to meet the needs of natural spoken conversation—teaching it to English learners can improve their communication and comprehension skills.

Traditionally, formal descriptions of English grammar have been based on standards of written English. However, recently, particularly as a result of analysis of large corpora of spoken data and an emphasis on spoken communication, researchers and linguists are beginning to focus on describing features of spoken grammar, and there has been increasing interest in understanding and teaching spoken grammar. After all, spoken grammar has arisen to meet the needs of natural spoken conversation, and teaching it in the language classroom can help teachers avoid “producing speakers of English who can only speak like a book” (Carter & McCarthy, 1995, p. 207). Although there is still some debate as to what constitutes spoken grammar and the extent to which it should be taught, raising students’ awareness of spoken grammar can help improve their communication abilities and comprehension skills, particularly in cases where students are learning English in order to communicate with native speakers. This article presents some activities and ideas teachers can use to raise students’ awareness of and ability to produce features of spoken grammar such as fillers, backchannels, heads, tails, and ellipses.

Fillers and Backchannels
Fillers and backchannels are utterances like “er” and “erm” that do not have a specific meaning but rather fill time and allow speakers to gather their thoughts (Willis, 2003). Fillers are used by both the listener and speaker. At the beginning of a turn, they signal that the listener has heard the response and needs a little time to respond; after completion points, when it seems that the speaker may have finished his or her turn, they signal that the turn is not really over and that the speaker intends to continue (Willis, 2003). Backchannels, on the other hand, are utterances such as “uh-huh” and “really,” which are used by the listener to acknowledge what the speaker is saying and encourage him to continue. Both fillers and backchannels are common in English conversation because they serve important conversational and interpersonal functions, and it would be both difficult and awkward to have a conversation without them (Willis, 2003). Moreover, international students who underuse fillers and backchannels may have difficulty maintaining natural communication with native speakers.

To raise students’ awareness of fillers and backchannels, the teacher can explain their function and then ask students to categorize a group of words as either fillers or backchannels, as in the example below. Once the class has discussed the answers, the teacher can play a short video clip and ask students to count the number of fillers and backchannels they hear in the clip. This activity shows students how common these words are in conversational English.

Directions: Put the following words in the correct column below.

Oh, hmmm, ah, um, I see, uh huh, er, really

Fillers: words that give you time to think, create a pause, or indicate you’re not finished talking 

Backchannels: words that show you are listening and understand what someone else is saying










Heads and Tails
Heads are a way to introduce and orient listeners to a topic before giving information on the topic. For example, in the question, Your sister, does she speak English too?, “your sister” is the question head that introduces the listener to the topic. Heads allow speakers to highlight the topic they want to talk about before commenting on it, giving both the speaker and the listener more processing time in real-time communication (Cullen & Kuo, 2007). On the other hand, tails are comments that are added to the end of a phrase. Tails allow speakers to emphasize or evaluate their comments, and can also be used to clarify the subject of the sentence (Timmis, 2009). For example, in the sentence, She’s a very pretty girl, Amanda is, “Amanda is” acts as a tail that clarifies the subject “she.”

Some basic activities to teach students about heads and tails include questions and statements written with and without heads and tails, as in the examples below. The teacher asks students to decide which is more or less formal, or which is more likely to be found in written or spoken English. After discussing and explaining the use of heads and tails in spoken English, the teacher then asks students to underline the heads or tails in each of the example questions and sentences. In another possible activity the teacher gives students some sentences or questions that already contain heads and tails and asks them to rewrite them without the heads or tails. Then, the teacher gives students sentences that do not contain heads or tails and asks them to rewrite them with heads or tails. These activities raise students’ awareness of the function and use of heads and tails in spoken English.

Directions: Which sentence or question below is more formal? Can you underline the head or tail in the sentences and questions below? Why does the speaker use them? Can you rewrite the sentences and questions without the head or tail?

1. a. Isn’t your brother a soccer player?
b. Your brother, he’s a soccer player, isn’t he?

2. a. Robert is really clever.
b. He’s really clever, Robert is. 

Because heads and tails create two-part sentences and questions, the class can also be divided into pairs and create their own heads and tails together. If the first student starts with a head, the second student finishes with the rest of the question or sentence; if the first student starts with a statement or question, the second student finishes with an appropriate tail. This can be turned into a game in which students receive points for correctly completing their partner’s sentence or question.

Situational ellipses, used when omitting items that are apparent from the immediate situation, are common in spoken English and often result in the omission of subjects and verbs. Because speakers have a shared context, they are able to reduce the length and complexity of their comments by leaving out unnecessary information (Cullen & Kuo, 2007). To teach students about ellipses, teachers can select a short video from a TV show where two friends are talking. The teacher gives students a script that includes all the omitted subjects and verbs and asks students to cross out words that they do not hear in the video clip. Once students have listened and crossed out the words, the class can discuss which words were omitted and why. Students can also discuss which words can and can’t be omitted.

In another activity, teachers can start with a short conversation that includes ellipses and ask students to write a long version of the conversation by filling in the missing words, leading to a discussion about which words can be omitted and why. Alternatively, teachers can ask students to write out two identical conversations with a partner: a long version and a short version. This activity helps students incorporate ellipses into their spoken production.

Finally, ellipses can be incorporated into short games. After dividing students into groups, the teacher writes a long question or sentence on the board. The teacher then goes around the room, giving each team a point for every new, shorter question or sentence they create. When no group can come up with a new, shorter question or sentence, the teacher writes a new question or sentence on the board, and the game starts over. Similarly, in groups of four, students can challenge each other. Pair A creates a long question and answer, and Pair B makes a short version of it. If Pair B creates an acceptable short question and answer, the pair gets a point; if Pair B does not, Pair A gets the point. The students can decide for themselves if the shorter version is acceptable or not, and if they are not sure, the teacher acts as a judge. After a few rounds back and forth, the game changes so that Pair A creates a shorter version of a sentence or question and Pair B must give a longer version. Again, the teacher monitors the groups and settles any disputes.

This article has presented some specific activities teachers can use to teach elements of spoken grammar in the ESL classroom, particularly fillers, backchannels, heads, tails, and ellipses. With the emphasis on communication and speaking, it is more vital than ever to teach features of spoken grammar in order to help students become more effective and natural speakers of English.


Carter, R., & McCarthy, M. (1995). Spoken grammar: What is it and how can we teach it? ELT Journal, 49(3), 207–218.

Cullen, R., & Kuo, I. (2007). Spoken grammar and ELT course materials: A missing link? TESOL Quarterly, 41(2), 361–386.

Timmis, I. (2009). “Tails” of linguistic survival. Applied Linguistics, 31(3), 325–345.

Willis, D. (2003). Rules, patterns, and words: Grammar and lexis in English language teaching. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.


This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of HEIS News, the Higher Education Interest Section newsletter of TESOL International Association.

Amanda Hilliard teaches in the Intensive English Program at Kennesaw State University (Georgia). She holds an MA in TEFL/TESL from the University of Birmingham, England, and has taught English for over three years, including at YBM ECC and Duksung Women’s University, both in South Korea.

Covering Your Bases: Rhyming, Ordering, and Recapping

by Sarah Sahr
In this lesson plan, use "Casey at the Bat" to teach rhyming, ordering, and recapping. The poem's clear meter and rhyme make a great introduction to poetry.  

Summer in the northern hemisphere brings baseball to so many nations: Japan, the United States, Panama, Belgium, and a slew of others. Growing up in the States, baseball was a huge part of my life, as was the great American poem “Casey at the Bat,” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. This poem is a great introduction to poetry due to its very clear meter and rhyme. Maybe when the lesson is finished, you could take your class outside and hit a few baseballs… 

Materials: Cut-out lines of “Casey at the Bat” poem.
Audience: Advance beginner, secondary, or adult
(This lesson could work for primary students when learning about rhyming words.  Just do the introduction as a warm-up and then let the children watch the YouTube link.)
Objective: Students will be able to retell the story of “Casey at the Bat” in a short narrative. 
Outcome: Students will organize lines of a poem into the correct order.
Students will also answer questions by using evidence found in the poem.
Duration: 50–65 minutes.

Lesson Preparation
In this lesson, student groups will each receive the poem “Casey at the Bat,” stanza by stanza, cut into line strips.  For the purposes of this lesson, we’ll say that we have five groups of students, though the number of groups you have will vary. For five groups, you’ll need to print five copies of the poem.

Because you are giving the poem to students stanza by stanza, to keep everything organized, print each stanza out on a different color of paper, if possible. (“Casey at the Bat” has 13 stanzas.) For five groups, print the first stanza five times on blue paper, the second stanza five times on green paper, and so on.

Next, cut each stanza out and assemble the different stanzas into a single poem. Then cut each stanza into lines; mix each stanza up and paper clip the pieces of paper together. It might be best to rubber band each stanza of the poem together so you have bundles. You should have five stacks of thin slips of paper, in multiple colors, each stanza paper-clipped together, and the entire poem (13 stanzas of different colors) rubber banded together. 

Introduction (10 minutes)
Organize students in groups of three to four. Review rhyming. If you’d like to make a competition of it, you can give the class words and ask groups how many rhyming words they can come up with.

Next, ask students if they know what a poem is.  I’m guessing one or two people in the class do.   Give a quick definition of rhythm and rhyme, line and stanza. If you’d like, give a quick example of a nursery rhyme:

Humpty-dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty-dumpty had a great fall…

Information (5 minutes)
Explain to students that you are going to give them four lines of a poem.  These four lines will create a stanza. Each group will have to organize the stanza based on the rhyming words found at the end of each poem. Here’s how they should go about it:

  1. First, match the two lines of the that rhyme based on the words at the end of the line
  2. Organize the stanza, which two lines come first? Which come last?

As a class, organize the first stanza together, each group working with the line strips at their tables. Once complete, ask them:

  • What is this poem about? (Hopefully, someone will say “baseball.”)
  • Next, ask students, how do you know? (Hopefully, they will say because of the word “bat” in the title, or the word “inning” in line 2.)

As you move forward with this lesson, you can give students two stanzas of lines, to challenge them; just make sure to give the stanzas in order.  If you have students organize more than one stanza at once, make sure the stanzas stay in the correct order. This is easy to keep straight by simply listing the color of each stanza on the board.

Group Work (30 minutes)
Hand out the next stanza of the poem.  If you think it is necessary, do this one together as well. However, if your groups are ready to complete this task independently, allow them to do so.  Most important, at the end of each stanza, check to make sure the lines are in the correct order.  Then, ask a question regarding the stanza and ask for the evidence that supports the answer.  Here are some questions you could ask (please reword to meet the proficiency levels of your students):

Stanza 2: Who did the fans want at bat?
Stanza 3: What are the names of the other two batters mentioned?
Stanza 4: Where were Blakey and Flynn?
Stanza 5: Did Casey go to bat?
Stanza 6: Explain the emotion/feel of the fans.
Stanza 7: What was Casey feeling?
Stanza 8 & 9: Did Casey hit the ball?
Stanza 10 & 11: How do the fans feel about the umpire?
Stanza 12 & 13: What happened?!

Once all the stanzas are aligned, have students read the poem aloud in their groups, alternating turns. As a class, have a short discussion on how this poem makes them feel.  If appropriate, you could introduce new vocabulary like: confidence, hope, disappointment, arrogance, etc.

Closure (5 minutes)
Have students retell the story of Casey.  Does this poem have a happy ending? If you were a fan of Casey’s team, would you be happy?

Additional Links
If you’d like to go a bit further with “Casey at the Bat,” the internet is full of learner activities that will meet the needs of any age group, any proficiency level. Enjoy!

Download this lesson plan (PDF) 


Sarah Sahr works at TESOL and has her Masters in ESL administration. She has managed a school in Vietnam, trained teachers in South Korea, implemented school reform in Qatar, run a circus train classroom for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and taught 8th grade writing in Maryland. Prior to all that, Sarah was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. She is also a certified ashtanga yoga instructor and has managed an eco-lodge in Chugchilan, Ecuador.

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