Teaching students about what it means to be multilingual

I was aware of a vague background noise in my classroom. A slight anxiety that students had, voiced through comments such as, “I wouldn’t be able to do this in Chinese”, or “I don’t know how you say this in Korean”. I decided that it was time to dedicate some class time to exploring with my students what it means to be a multilingual learner.

First, I got them to focus on their first language with a simple activity called But, Because, So. I gave them a sentence stem, “My first language is important…” Students had to complete the sentence in three different ways, using but, because and so. They then shared their sentences as a whole class.

but-because-so-2

Next, much like this blog, we tried to come up with a definition for multilingual. We did this as a Think, Pair, Share activity, maximising oral interaction in the classroom. In later classes, we explored the benefits of multilingualism through a Market Stall activity. I printed the 15 benefits of multilingualism (see my previous post) on individual numbered strips of card. These were divided out randomly among the students. Students also had a graphic organiser on which to note down all the benefits. First they had to carefully read their own benefits and make sure they understood them, checking for any difficult vocabulary. Then they mingled round the room, “selling” their benefits to their classmates. They were not allowed to show their card; they had to communicate and explain it orally.

Students went on to do a reading comprehension looking at additive and subtractive bilingualism. They used that material for a group activity in which they had to pretend they were the school leadership team and come up with three ways in which to support and celebrate multilingual students at the school. They came up with great ideas, such as providing first language support classes after school.

Finally, I asked the students to write an essay on the prompt: What benefits can multilingual students experience and what are some ways to support these students at our school? Students had to incorporate language from our unit language objectives and were assessed on the WIDA writing rubric.

This semester I have noticed a concerted effort on the part of my students to make sure they are doing their best to transfer knowledge to their first language. They talk about the importance of developing their first language and overall show a greater awareness of what special people they are and the benefits of the education they are receiving.

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