Meet Teacher-Author Deb Hanson whose twin sister is also her resource and blog proofreader extraordinaire (we should all be so lucky!). Learn more about Deb right here, including how one special student set her on the path of becoming an ESL (English as a Second Language) specialist.


1. That’s so fun you’re a twin. You say she’s your shadow partner. Tell us a little bit about how you started out together.

Dawn has been my partner and my best friend for as long as I can remember! When we were young, we would divide our dolls, draw an invisible line to create two “classrooms,” and then teach our dolls side-by-side. I suppose that makes Dawn my first partner teacher!

Dawn2Dawn used to work at a publishing company, and she’s always had an eye for catching grammar errors and fine-tuning written pieces. When I started my TpT journey in 2012, I immediately asked her to proofread my products before I posted them.

Those 2012 products were created in Word and were definitely… let’s just say “rough-looking.” (I shudder when I recall what they looked like!). It was Dawn who introduced me to the awesome possibilities of creating in PowerPoint, and she used to design all of my product covers.

After proofreading several products for me, she began to pitch ideas for future projects. For example, my partner play scripts for upper elementary students were initially her idea, and she even wrote some of the scripts in these sets! The game-like recording sheets you see in many of my task card sets was another one of Dawn’s ideas! I definitely would not be where I am today without her help!


2. What are your favorite resources to create and why?

perspectives craftivityPowerPoints and craftivities are my favorite resources to create, and they’re my favorites for opposite reasons! I enjoy creating PowerPoints because I’m such a logical, sequential person. I create my PowerPoints so that they can be used when introducing a new concept (like context clues) to students. I truly enjoy breaking down large concepts into smaller skills, and then giving students the necessary tools to master each skill in a way that will allow them to eventually become proficient in the overall concept.

Craftivities, on the other hand, are a favorite because they allow me to be creative and think “outside the box!” I also know from experience that students tend to enjoy craftivity projects, and it’s exciting to create something that engages students in a unique, hands-on way. My craftivities are standards-based and usually include a practice worksheet or two, but I’ve found that students often don’t mind completing a worksheet if there’s a fun activity to do with it afterwards.


3. What are three things teachers with ESL or ELL students in their classrooms can and should start doing immediately to help create a welcoming and learning environment for their students?

To create a welcoming and learning environment for ELLs, avoid being one of those teachers who “just talk.” Rather, try to do the following throughout the day:

  1. 20151207_111046 (1)Use non-linguistic cues whenever possible. This is especially important for students who have just begun speaking English. Draw a simple sketch, search Google images for a photograph to illustrate an unknown word, or use graphic organizers to illustrate concepts to provide necessary support to your ELLs.
  2. Teach academic vocabulary. When ELLs reach an intermediate level of proficiency where they can converse with others, it’s easy to forget that they still need language support. Take the time to teach words such as “peninsula” and “contrast,” and allow students multiple opportunities to interact with new vocabulary.
  3. Model, model, model. Instead of just rattling off a list of verbal directions, model the steps students need to perform in order to complete a task. Model comprehension strategies by thinking aloud as you read a text aloud. Model math strategies by thinking aloud as you read a story problem and determine the answer. Show strong work samples created by other students or yourself.


4. What are your three favorite products and why? 

  • Main Idea coverThat’s a tough one! My all-time favorite product is probably my Main Idea Bundle, because it’s packed with so many engaging activities. This bundle features an ice cream cone theme, and the PowerPoint, craftivity, task cards, and graphic organizer packet all contain ice cream cone connections! There are also a wide variety of other activities, though, including games, worksheets, and projects. There are tons of activities within this bundle, allowing teachers the ability to revisit this important standard throughout the school year.
  • partner playsA favorite product line is my Partner Play Bundles. I have a blast writing these 2-person scripts, which explains why I’ve written more than 200 of them! My daughters help me proofread these scripts — we read through them together, and they give me their suggestions. Kayla, my 5th grader, reads through the 4th-5th grade scripts with me, while Brooke, my 3rd grader, reads through the 2nd-3rd grade scripts with me. The feedback I’ve received from my partner plays are some of my favorites! I love hearing how much students enjoy the plays, and how they cheer when their teacher unveils a new set of scripts!
  • i versus me ppt pinMy favorite free item is one I just created recently, my “I or Me?” Grammar PowerPoint. I created this short PowerPoint because my older daughter didn’t believe me when I corrected her grammar mistake one day. Apparently she misunderstood her teacher, because she claimed that her teacher said “Brooke and I” was always correct… even when names are being used as the object of the sentence. Kids that age always prefer to believe their teachers over Mom, so I was having trouble convincing her that I knew what I was talking about! Needless to say, I created this PowerPoint especially for Kayla, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.


5. Think of a time a student pleasantly surprised you. What did he or she do?

Rounding Ninja Style (2)I will never forget Salvador, a 2nd grader who was assigned to my classroom mid-year during my first year of teaching in 1998. He didn’t speak English, and he turned my classroom upside down when he arrived. He was an energetic little guy (to put it mildly). I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for him to try to sit still when he didn’t understand what his teacher or classmates were saying!

I did my best to teach him, using my limited Spanish along with the help of my bilingual students. During those early weeks, he learned isolated words, but I will never forget the first time he attempted a complete sentence. “Can I… bathroom… please?” I was overjoyed to witness such progress.

Throughout the remainder of the year, I became fascinated as I observed Salvador’s language develop. I enrolled in ESL endorsement classes that summer, and a year later I applied to be the elementary newcomer teacher for my district, working with a full class of recently-arrived students for part of the day.

When I switched to my ESL teaching position, I knew I had found my niche in education. Teaching English language learners became my passion, and it all started with Salvador!


Deb has  a B.A. degree in Elementary Education with an endorsement in Early Childhood and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in English as a Second Language. She has 16 years teaching experience and began her career as a 2nd grade teacher. The majority of her career, she worked as an elementary ESL teacher. She believes in hands-on activities with lots of visual aids and graphic organizers. Follow her blog, Crafting Connections, for more great ideas and follow her store to receive notifications about new resources and resource updates.