Bilingual Classrooms – Guest Post from Lilypad Littles!

I am excited to welcome Ms. R from Lilypad Littles as a guest blogger!  She is a bilingual kindergarten teacher who has offered to come and share some of her expertise!  With so many teachers finding themselves in classrooms with students that are not native English speakers, I know these ideas will be helpful!

In my kindergarten classroom, we spend 90% of our day working in Spanish, and 10% working in English. The students I work with speak Spanish as their native language, and they will gradually learn more and more English as they progress through the grades.  Since such a small portion of our day is devoted to English, I really have to make that 10% count!

When some people thinking about learning a second language (what my students are doing with English), they may think of the drills and grammar exercises from their high school or college courses.  And some adults certainly do learn a second language this way.  However, our 20 or 25 minute English lesson is very different from a typical secondary language class.  When planning a lesson, I start with a content area topic (for example, right now we’re working on a unit about friendship & family), and I also have a language goal.  For instance, a content area goal might be “The students will understand how families differ” and the language goal for the same lesson might be “The students will know the vocabulary mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, grandfather, uncle, and aunt.”  When I’m teaching the lesson, I teach 100% of that lesson in English.  And even though my kids typically begin the year speaking little to no English, they are able to grasp the content area material and learn the language structures/vocabulary.  The way I accomplish this is by sheltering my instruction (making the content accessible to my kids without lowering my expectations for their learning the information).  Here are some things I do consistently that you can easily incorporate into your classroom (they’re best practices for ALL learners and are even better for your English Language Learners!):

– Use visual aids and realia (pictures, showing videos on the SmartBoard, bringing in props, graphic organizers, etc.).  I’m no artist but I love making charts like this one (as a class) because we can use and reuse it to practice vocabulary:

– Repeat yourself! (read books aloud twice or more, use the same grammatical phrases and vocabulary repeatedly)

– Have the kids repeat you (every time you say a new or important word, have the kids repeat it multiple times during the lesson).  With this chart, for example, I read the emotion (“Angry”) while pointing to the word, then I point to the word again and the kids read it.

– Embed definitions of new words into your language, so kids learn vocabulary naturally (“On a farm you can find a barn, or the red building where the animals sleep.”)

– Get kids moving and actively involved (have them act out stories, demonstrate verbs like “throw” or “skip,” create hand motions to poems and songs, etc.)

– Incorporate music (most young kids love to sing and can quickly learn new grammatical structures and vocabulary – not to mention content material – through songs)

And the most important strategy I use is…get kids talking!  I use lots of Think-Pair-Share activities during my English lessons, so that kids can try out the language in a relatively low-risk environment.

Whether you’re a general education teacher, bilingual teacher, or special education teacher, these strategies are a great way to engage all students and teach them a language naturally.

Thanks again to Ms. R  from Lilypad Littles!  Go and check out her blog – I am sure she would love to see you there!

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