Designing Learning to Build Background for Diverse School Populations

Schools today have an influx of students from around the world. Children of all ages come with their own educational and cultural backgrounds. We can no longer expect that all students in the classroom have a shared understanding. To have the same understanding pf topics (vocabulary, images, themes, expectations) and meet state standards, we must start on the same page together. To do that, we have to build the background together, starting from scratch!

Let us get these kids talking using the correct vocabulary so they can participate. We aren’t looking for perfection. Students should be made to feel comfortable with mistakes and learning from those mistakes. My fifth graders weren’t participating in math, not raising hands, not finishing group work, or exit tickets. Not my English Only, not my Second Langage Learners, just 3 (the same 3) of my 32 students were actively participating in their learning. I had to make a shift!

The key was building their language. Did my students really know the terms? No!!! Not the names, not what the terms represented, nothing…and they were in fifth grade!!!! Once I started pre-teaching concepts/terms/vocabulary and giving them a sneak peek and practice of what they were going to learn the following week, the class changed!!!! Instead of the same 3 hands in the air, I consistently had 13-17 wanting to solve the problem (and not always the same 13-17).  Students were willing and able to share their answers, how they got those answers, present teamwork projects, and this carried into other subject matter. It was just what they needed!!!

To build background together here are some things you can do:

Preteach! Before diving into new concepts, pre-teach the vocabulary, watch a clip on the new ideas, and let students encounter new topics with hands-on discovery. Do this before any worksheet is ever introduced.  This pre-teaching occurs at the end of a unit as a segway.

  1. Label everything- the room, the school, and each project, content topic, themes. If you have various languages represented in the room label in multiple languages. This helps connect the idea that language is everywhere as well as making a classroom feel comfortable for non-native speakers and their families when they are visiting.
  2. Word Areas- like word walls, but they change with time and are placed on pictures or realia. Word is placed on anchor charts, student work, posters, etc., to aid with concepts. Math terms on the math wall with images and definitions. To go with word areas are sentence frames that help children speak in complete sentences!!!! It gives students structure, so they know how to organize their thoughts and vocabulary. It boasts students were are beginning language learners, and more complex frames build variety in more proficient speakers. Keep these where students can access them, such as near the board, at their table centers, desk, and on the subject matter word areas.
  3. When you learn a new topic such as fractions, don’t dive right in. Stop and create vocabulary learning time. I use 3 days to a full week to introduce new topics, discover what terms they are familiar with as a whole class, and introduce new terms and concepts. We labeled anchor charts, created KWL posters, defined terms with dictionaries, watched video clips to clarify, and orally recited the terms.
  4. TPR: Total Physical Response or Movement so children with limited English can understand the concept. As well those students who are more kinesthetic can remember better. So children can get away from just a pencil and paper. I would make up movements with my students to help us remember a word or concept. I would often see students using those movements when verbally describing or during the test-taking time. Movement helps the brain remember, according to Eric Jensen, from Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd Edition.
  5. GAMES!!!!! I love to teach and reinforce concepts with games, and my students are all for the idea. Such games as Kahoot & Quizziz are fun, motivating and give me an excellent assessment of what they are grasping. I have, who has gets students to pair definitions with terms or symbols. Board games, Dice Games, Card games, Escape Rooms, and Treasure Hunts all work with some adjustments to reinforce vocabulary and concepts we are learning.
  6. Listening and Speaking occur first in language, and that doesn’t change in any grade level. If we want more proficient writers, they need to listen, speak, and read more. If we want more proficient readers, they need to listen, speak, and read more. If we want better speakers, students need to practice speaking and listening. Listening exposes students to new words, word fluency, opinions, conjures up images and feelings, and is a necessity to have something to write or speak about. Speaking helps students of all ages share their thoughts, practice their language, ask for more information or help, explain, and prompt. All these are pieces that are key to reading and writing. For our students of 1 or many languages to be better readers and writers, they need to practice with speaking. Math Talks are an excellent way to develop literacy during math time. Students have to explain their thinking with words and images in complete sentences (think sentence frames). Students have to either agree or disagree and give their reasoning why (again think sentence frames).

Sample Schedule:

Monday: KWL for new important terms that go through the concepts for the unit. Pre-teach new vocabulary- student share and practice repeating and drawing in the air with a finger the words. Show pictures or items with the term, have students repeat the term.

Tuesday: Define terms, and add movement to them, add to KWL, add new terms, video clips of the concept. Sentence frames to aid with pair sharing what they know and what they don’t about the terms/concepts/vocabulary. Play I Have, Who Has.

Wednesday: Create anchor charts, hand out labels, have students label while you teach, and when you come upon the term, they add the label. Create personal posters/labels in their interactive notebooks/ journal.

Thursday: Start teaching the unit: begin with the basics and have students tell you what they know (have learned this week) with verbal sentence frames. Begin Math Talks with a hands-on demonstration of or picture/ realia descriptions.

*Keep reinforcing skills after the concept has been taught and assessed through games year-round. This helps to continuously reinforce needed skills. Games are applications and fun!

**All learners are language learners, some of my lowest language producing children were English Only speakers.  Students need the opportunity multiple times a day to speak their thoughts, to extend their vocabulary, to share ideas, to add to what others are saying for clarity, to ask for help, and on and on.  Speaking, on topic, is vital!

Monday: KWL for new important terms that go through the concepts for the unit. Pre-teach new vocabulary- student share and practice repeating and drawing in the air with a finger the words. Show pictures or items with the term, have students repeat the term.

Tuesday: Define terms, and add movement to them, add to KWL, add new terms, video clips of the concept. Sentence frames to aid with pair sharing what they know and what they don’t about the terms/concepts/vocabulary. Play I Have, Who Has.

Wednesday: Create anchor charts, hand out labels, have students label while you teach, and when you come upon the term, they add the label. Create personal posters/labels in their interactive notebooks/ journal.

Thursday: Start teaching the unit: begin with the basics and have students tell you what they know (have learned this week) with verbal sentence frames. Begin Math Talks with a hands-on demonstration of or picture/ realia descriptions.

*Keep reinforcing skills after the concept has been taught and assessed through games year-round. This helps to continuously reinforce needed skills. Games are applications and fun!

**All learners are language learners, some of my lowest language producing children were English Only speakers.  Students need the opportunity multiple times a day to speak their thoughts, to extend their vocabulary, to share ideas, to add to what others are saying for clarity, to ask for help, and on and on.  Speaking, on topic, is vital!

Published by Curve Your Learning

Hi everyone, thank you for visiting! I'm Liz and the creator of Curve Your Learning and The Reading Curve. I created resources and drive teachers, coaches, and parents to increase student learning success. I have been in education for 17 years, have a multiple subject credential, M.S., a literacy certificate, and am working towards my Ed.D. At home, I am a boymom and wife of 16 years who loves to glamping, paddleboard, and have fun!

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