Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices
Arabic: How We Spend Our Free Time Class Context
My classroom is very intentionally filled with tables and not desks because I feel that tables promote conversation, and in the language class I want the students to be speaking to each other [in Arabic]. I do a lot of group work and a lot of partner work in all of my classes, and having tables is much more conducive to that kind of work. I think it really encourages students to be a community at their table and speak to each other, use the language to have conversations, and also help each other and support each other in their learning.
— Katie Quackenbush
YEAR AT A GLANCE
- Greeting each other in a culturally appropriate manner
- Giving basic information about ourselves (name, age, where we’re from, nationality, etc.)
- Basic Arab world geography (paired with discussing nationality)
- Numbers 0–20
- Introduction to Arabic writing system; first third of the alphabet; short vowels
Making Plans with Friends
- Days of the week, times of day
- Asking and answering questions about our schedule
- Making plans with others
- Second third of the alphabet; other writing symbols
Visiting and Hospitality
- Inviting others and accepting/rejecting invitations
- Hospitality and insisting on invitations
- Likes and dislikes
- Final third of the alphabet
- Project: write and illustrate a comic strip
- Hobbies and sports
- Family members
- Talking about others’ likes and dislikes
- Remaining symbols for reading and writing; practice whole alphabet
- Project: create a children’s book about me
Katie Quackenbush teaches Arabic levels 1–4 to students from grades 8 to 11 at Boston Latin Academy (BLA) in Boston, Massachusetts. The 1,700 students enrolled in the school come from all over the city of Boston and make up a culturally, racially, ethnically, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse student body. BLA is an exam school; while it is part of the Boston Public Schools district, students are admitted based on past grade point average and the results of an academic entrance exam. About 43 percent of students are English Language Learners. First languages include Spanish, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Somali, Mandarin, Urdu, Cambodian, Bengali, and Pashtu. BLA offers students an education that combines classical and contemporary curricula. All students study Latin starting in seventh grade and add a modern foreign language, including Chinese, French, Japanese, Spanish, and Arabic, beginning in eighth grade. BLA had been offering Arabic for five years prior to this lesson.
Ms. Quackenbush uses backward design when planning lessons. She starts with a thematic unit related to the cultures of the Arab world and develops objectives for the unit based on state frameworks as well as the World-Readiness Standards and the Five C goal areas. From there, she creates subunits and then individual lessons. Ms. Quackenbush designs each lesson to maximize student language production and help build student confidence during the first year of study. She plans a lot of student-led hands-on activities, and infuses cultural and linguistic authenticity into her curriculum. She also seeks to balance language skills across the three modes of communication (Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational) connected with cultural knowledge so that students are able to function with the language in varied contexts.
Ms. Quackenbush feels that setting learning in real-life contexts naturally enables her to bring in all of the Five Cs. In addition to communication, she emphasizes cultural understanding in her teaching. She views language as a means to learn about other peoples—in this case, about different Arab cultures. She believes relating the language to something that can help them understand the world better improves students’ motivation to learn. To discourage students from resorting to English, she intentionally avoids translating directly between Arabic and English.
Ms. Quackenbush uses conversational activities as opportunities to informally assess student learning. She listens for the target vocabulary and structures that are the focus of a unit or subunit. When she notices repeated mistakes being made, she tries to be reflective and conscious about how much she corrects students. One strategy she uses when giving corrective feedback is to repeat what the student said in a questioning way to encourage students to notice their own errors and build self-correction skills.
Ms. Quackenbush uses classroom setup and materials to support her teaching. She fills her classroom with tables (not desks) because she feels that tables promote conversation. This year, she is piloting an Arabic I high school textbook that includes authentic readings, audio recordings by native speakers, and videos in which native speakers act out culturally relevant scenes representing authentic scenarios. She supplements textbook materials with YouTube clips, children’s books, and authentic materials that she has collected during her travels in the Arab world.
All students in Ms. Quackenbush’s Arabic I class were in their first year of study. None were native speakers. Several of the students were Muslim and had been exposed to the letters and sounds of the language through their religious upbringings, but they did not enter the class with any communicative proficiency. In this lesson, which comes partway through a unit on hobbies, students activated vocabulary they had been learning and asked and answered questions using “you” and “I.” With respect to grammatical structure, Ms. Quackenbush focused on helping students recognize patterns among different kinds of words and then had students use them in a meaning-driven, communicative fashion.
The lesson activities were designed to follow an authentic reading that students had done in the previous class session about how Saudi Arabian students spend their free time. Students worked in groups to answer some questions in their textbook about the reading. They followed that up with a full-class conversation about how they can use the Saudi Arabian students’ responses to formulate questions to see if the Boston Latin Academy students liked to do those activities as well.
Ms. Quackenbush designed the lesson to be student-led to maximize student production yet allow students of different abilities to work at their own pace. The lesson was carefully scaffolded: the warm-up game required students to practice the question formation that would be necessary for the main activity. Instructions were communicated to students twice in the target language—first on the whiteboard in visual format using both words and images, and then orally by the teacher. These were restated in English on the students’ handout. This variety of formats for instructions differentiates learning for all students.
After students completed the main activity, Ms. Quackenbush explained the extension: in the next day’s class, they would compare what they liked to do in their free time with what Saudi Arabian students like to do in theirs. This provided students a mental roadmap of what was coming next.
Key Teaching Strategies
- Appealing to Multiple Intelligences: The teacher incorporates different nonverbal approaches, such as bodily/kinesthetic and musical/rhythmic ones, into lessons.
- Contextualizing Grammar: The teacher embeds grammatical practice in meaningful contexts; meaning precedes a focus on form.
- Providing Corrective Feedback: In a process of negotiation, the teacher mediates student learning by verbally or nonverbally helping the student focus on a point of confusion around a language form.
- Visualizing Vocabulary: The teacher uses visuals to establish concrete images of vocabulary and to help students remember the terms.
PDF: Lesson Agenda
Slides that Ms. Quackenbush presented and reviewed with students at the beginning of the class
PDF: Do Now Graph: What Saudi Arabians Do in Their Free Time
A bar graph with questions for student data interpretation
PDF: Free-Time Poll: Instructions and Interview Chart
Instructions for interviewing classmates about their free-time activity preferences, and a chart for recording data
Supplementary: Free-Time Poll: Bar Graph Handout and Samples
A blank graph with instructions for plotting interview data, and samples of student work
Session 0 Introduction to the Library
This program provides an overview of the entire library, with suggestions for use in professional development settings
Session 1 Arabic: Teaching Arabic Overview
Provides background on the standards with commentary by teaching experts and clips from the classroom programs.
Session 2 Arabic: People Who Help Us
Arabic Grade 1: Khamael Alaloom introduces her class to people who help in the community and teaches students a new letter of the alphabet. She projects images of community helpers and reviews their names and what they do.
Session 3 Arabic: Vegetables We Like
Arabic Grade 2: Rita Lahoud’s Art and Arabic students draw pictures of vegetables they like and don’t like. Students discuss in pairs what they drew and then present their drawings to the full class.
Session 4 Arabic: Comparing the Weather
Arabic Grade 6: Wael Fawzy’s class learns about the weather in the Arab world and practices speaking and writing using dialects. Mr. Fawzy shows slides of the weather in Chicago and Egypt and asks students about the weather in each place and then has them develop questions of their own.
Session 5 Arabic: How We Spend Our Free Time
Grade 8, Arabic I: In a unit on hobbies, Katie Quackenbush’s novice-level students practice asking and answering questions about what they like to do in their free time. In a small-group activity, students picks a card and asks classmates whether they like doing the activity pictured. Students then poll one another about their free-time activities.
Session 6 Arabic: A Place I Call Home
Grades 9 and 10, Arabic II/III: In a lesson rich with music and visuals, students learn vocabulary to describe the rooms and exterior features of modern and traditional houses in Arab countries. Manar Mayalah introduces the lesson with a song about a “dear little house,” then shows videos of a traditional house in Syria and a modern house in Lebanon.
Session 7 Arabic: Making Sales Calls
Grades 9 and 11, Arabic I: Eric Bartolotti’s high school class of novice and heritage speakers use basic greetings and express likes and dislikes through a role-playing activity. Students pair off, assuming the roles of telemarketers and prospective customers.
Session 8 Arabic: Making Plans
Grades 9–12, Arabic V/VI: Students converse about what they will be doing in the future, in pairs and expanding to a group of four. Belal Joundeya presents a scenario in which two celebrities negotiate their busy schedules to agree on a dinner date, and then he role plays a similar situation with a student volunteer.
Session 9 Chinese: Communicating About Sports
Chinese I, grade 6: In pairs and in small groups, Jie Gao's students develop interpersonal communication skills as they state their sports likes and dislikes. They practice writing Chinese characters for an ongoing activity — a letter they are composing and sending to Chinese students. At the end of the lesson, the students create skits to perform for their classmates.
Session 10 Chinese: Exploring New Directions
Chinese II - IV, grades 9 - 12: In this lesson, Haiyan Fu's multilevel class explores direction - both literally and metaphorically. While Chinese IV students practice reciting Chinese cultural poems, students in Chinese II and III work on mapping the locations of nearby restaurants and providing directions to them.
Session 11 French: A Cajun Folktale and Zydeco
French I, grade 8: After preparing her students for new vocabulary, Paris Granville retells a Cajun folktale while students act out the story. Students then create a story map to delve into the different story elements. Ms. Granville introduces zydeco music and the instruments typically used to create it, such as the washboard, accordion, and spoons.
Session 12 French: Chicken Pox
French I, kindergarten: Jai Scott's French immersion class uses the topic of chicken pox, from an Arthur book and a French song, and total physical response (TPR) movements to learn new vocabulary for the parts of the body. The class practices emerging literacy skills by matching vocabulary labels to a drawing of a person.
Session 13 French: Comparing Communities
French III, grades 9 - 12: Ghislaine Tulou's students work in pairs to discuss aspects of their own community. They also discuss a Canadian community that they had read about and plan what they would do if they were to visit. Through individual and group-centered activities, students learn to express conditional statements about personal preferences.
session 14 French: Family and Home
French I, grade 5: In this two-part lesson, Debra Terry's students integrate vocabulary about the family by creating an imaginary family tree. Then they develop more complex ideas by describing the location of family members in different rooms of the home. For homework, students write about activities that take place in each room.
session 15 French: Interpreting La Belle et la Bete
French IV, grade 11: Michel Pasquier focuses his class on interpreting and adapting film, literature, and music, using the classic tale Beauty and the Beast. The students work in groups to find moral meaning in the 1945 Jean Cocteau classic film and compare the film to the original story and a French rap song.
session 16 French: Mapping Planet Earth
French I, grade 2: Stephanie Appel connects her French lessons to content and teaching materials in the general classroom curriculum. She employs TPR and map activities to practice vocabulary for the planets, continents, and oceans.
session 17 French: Performing With Confidence
French IV - V, grades 10 - 12: This lesson focuses on advanced conversation proficiency with connections to social, political, and pop culture. Yvette Heno's students play word games, discuss French politics, and stage a mock press conference with students portraying celebrities and journalists.
session 18 French: Touring a French City
French I, grade 8: Prior to this lesson, Robin Neuman's students researched French architecture and constructed a model of a French city on the classroom floor. During the lesson, students take turns role-playing tourists asking for directions and tourist bureau agents giving directions and describing the buildings and the city.
session 19 German: Holidays and Seasons
German I, grade 3: Margita Haberlen's lesson combines the topics of seasons and German holidays to reinforce basic reading skills, build cultural knowledge, and introduce more abstract thinking. Using a Venn diagram, students compare aspects of Fasching and Halloween.
session 20 German: Sports in Action
German I, grades 9 - 11: Denise Tanner guides her students through graduated activities including a TPR vocabulary review of the body, a grammar segment teaching the German structure gefallen, and a discussion of the German medals won at the 2002 Winter Olympics. As a culminating activity, students act out a TPR story in front of the class.
session 21 German: Sports Stats
German I, grade 5: In Amy Garcia's German class, students write in journals, listen as classmates share their sports preferences, take a poll on sports likes and dislikes, and record the class results on a graph. Using a chart showing the favorite sports of young Germans, Ms. Garcia makes connections to math by having students analyze the data.
session 22 Italian: U.S. and Italian Homes
Italian II, grade 9: In this lesson, Marylee DiGennaro's students compare American homes with typical dwellings in Italy. The class learns new vocabulary words, then practices them during a line dance and a card game. For homework, the students compose letters describing their homes, which they will email to students in Italy.
session 23 Japanese: Daily Routines
Japanese I, grade 5: This lesson focuses on the daily routines of individuals in Japan and the U.S. Margaret Dyer uses a variety of activities including TPR, modeling, paired practice, and student-led charades to introduce and review new vocabulary and concepts.
session 24 Japanese: Happy New Year!
Japanese II, grades 10 - 12: Students learn about some common products and practices of the Japanese New Year's celebration. Leslie Birkland's class splits into two groups: One sings New Year's songs, writes cards, and plays cultural games, while the other discusses New Year's food and decorations. After switching activities, the class reconvenes to compare the Japanese New Year's celebration with those of other cultures.
session 25 Japanese: Promoting Attractions of Japan
Japanese III - IV, grades 10 - 12: As part of a larger unit on the geography and culture of Japan, students learn the major regions and cities and discuss popular tourist destinations. Using timed activities, including a fast-paced Jeopardy-style quiz game, Yo Azama, 2012 ACTFL Teacher of the Year, assesses students on recall and recognition. As a culminating project, students create a travel brochure and begin planning a promotional video to attract visitors to Japan.
session 26 Latin: Music and Manuscripts
Latin II - III, IV AP, grades 10 - 12: Lauri Dabbieri's class explores how Latin manuscripts are interpreted, translated, and created. Latin IV students work independently to translate a passage from Vergil's Aeneid, while students in Latin II and III are guided through activities in translation and interpretation. Then the whole class works in pairs to create their own versions of illuminated Latin manuscripts.
session 27 Russian: Russian Cities, Russian Stories
Russian I and IV, grades 9 - 12: In this unique mixed-level class, Jane Shuffelton's students work on geography skills, story writing, and presentations. Russian IV students are paired with small groups of Russian I students to read a story, gather information, and write their own folktales. Each group shares their tale while the remaining students use their interpretive skills to write down specific information. In a separate activity, Russian IV students debate the role of the leader in Russian history after reading an article about Vladimir Putin.
session 28 Spanish: Creating Travel Advice
Spanish III, grade 11: In this lesson, Fran Pettigrew gives her students a letter from a teacher in Chile who plans to bring students to visit the United States. Working with authentic tourist brochures in Spanish and their previous research, student groups plan itineraries for their Chilean counterparts. They prepare to send a follow-up letter to the Chilean teacher sharing their suggestions.
session 29 Spanish: Food Facts and Stories
Spanish I, grade 8: Students use math and science skills as they interpret nutritional information in a Spanish-language McDonald's menu. John Pedini's lesson integrates authentic materials, makes connections to other academic areas, and develops interpretive and interpersonal communication skills.
session 30 Spanish: Fruits of the Americas
Spanish I, grade 4: Teacher Carina Rodriguez combines visual media and multisensory activities in a vocabulary-building lesson about familiar and new fruit. Students learn what country the fruit comes from, try to identify the fruit solely through touch, and taste the fruit to categorize it as sweet or sour.
session 31 Spanish: Hearing Authentic Voices
Spanish I, grade 8: Davita Alston's class engages in mock phone conversations, brainstorms about how American teenagers occupy their time, and reviews a video of Spanish-speaking youths discussing their leisure activities. Later, two native Mexican students visit the class and answer questions about how they spend their free time in Mexico.
session 32 Spanish: Interpreting Literature
Spanish III, grade 11: This lesson centers on the story Dos Caras by the New Mexican author Sabine Ulibarri. Barbara Pope Bennett guides students as they recount the details and discuss their interpretations of the story and its moral message. Students act out segments of the story and then collaborate in groups to come up with alternate endings.
session 33 Spanish: Interpreting Picasso’s Guernica
Spanish II, grade 10: In this lesson, students use their interpretive abilities to learn about culture and history through art. The students in Meghan Zingle's class make initial observations about Picasso's painting, and then work in pairs to write and present a mock radio announcement about it. After reading about the painting's background, they discuss the history it represents.
session 34 Spanish: Politics of Art
Spanish V, grade 12: Lori Langer de Ramirez's class stages a political debate based on Spain's visa requirement for Central and South Americans who wish to enter that country. During the debate, students assume the role of Latin American artists whose work they had researched and weigh the pros and cons of boycotting an invitation to exhibit their work in Spain. After the debate, the class votes on whether or not to accept the Spanish invitation.
session 35 Spanish: Routes to Culture
Spanish II, grades 9 - 10: This culturally rich lesson falls in the middle of a thematic unit about the African presence in Latin America. Pablo Muirhead's students identify cultural aspects of stories about a fictitious African girl who is taken to Panama and enslaved. Then they work in small groups to incorporate these cultural aspects into skits to be performed by their classmates. The class also practices playing African/Latin American box drums called los cajones.