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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices

Arabic: Making Sales Calls Class Context


That’s the ideal, that kids are teaching each other. When that happens, it’s awesome.… I’ll put this student who’s good at this subject with this student who’s not so good at this subject. The good student will help teach the lower, lesser-skilled student. They’ll both benefit because the skilled student is teaching and learning through teaching, and the other student is learning from a peer.

– Eric Bartolotti




The Alphabet; Pronunciation; Introducing Myself

Asking Questions; Singing the Alphabet

Classroom Objects; Who Am I?; Numbers 1–10

Colors; Expressing Wants and Needs


How Many/How Much?; Numbers 20–100

Making Phone Calls; Using Numbers to Describe Distances; Responding to Requests

Describing Objects; What I Like

Schedule of Activities

School Profile

Eric Bartolotti teaches three Arabic courses at Watertown High School in Watertown, Massachusetts: Arabic I for students with no formal instruction in the language, Arabic II for students who came from a middle school class the previous year, and Arabic III for students with two years of high school Arabic experience. The school is located in a suburb to the west of Boston with about 32,000 residents. Ninety-one percent of Watertown residents are white, 3.9 percent Asian, 2.7 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 1.7 percent African American. The school is more diverse, with about one-quarter of its 700 students identifying as nonwhite. Students speak a number of languages, including English, Arabic, Pashtu, and Urdu. In addition to Arabic, which has been taught at the school for three years, Watertown High offers Italian, Spanish, and Armenian.

Lesson Design

Mr. Bartolotti is in his first year of teaching Arabic. His primary focus is to get new learners to speak as much as possible. “In the early stages of learning [a] language, the most important thing is being able to talk…with people,” he says. For authenticity, Mr. Bartolotti emphasizes the use of dialects in his classes. “My decision to focus on colloquial Arabic in the classroom has to do with the fact that I believe that it’s more natural for this environment.” In other words, different registers are appropriate for different tasks. Because many of his students are stronger in reading and writing than speaking and listening, Mr. Bartolotti integrates reading- and writing-based games into class time to build confidence. For his Arabic I class, Mr. Bartolotti organizes the year into topics that help define “major monthly goals” and drafts Can-Do Statements that align with these goals.

He thinks most of his role as a teacher is to provide a structure for the students and keep the atmosphere productive. By his doing this, students know what to expect in class. By structuring activities, Mr. Bartolotti enables students with different backgrounds and strengths to work together. In these situations, students with stronger Arabic language skills, especially those who may have experience speaking Arabic in their families or with friends, can help teach those students with minimal Arabic language skills based only on their experiences in this class. Still, he is cautious about using heritage speakers in this role; he doesn’t want them to feel that helping classmates is a chore, or for the others to feel as though the heritage speakers have an unfair advantage.

To support his teaching, Mr. Bartolotti likes to use authentic music, poetry, or short stories as the basis for his thematic units. “For me, the most important thing in having unit- or theme-based learning is that you bring back the old stuff constantly, but in a way that doesn’t bore the students,” he says. “It’s finding ways of taking what we did and using it differently and finding new situations that they can use it in.”

The Lesson

Students in Mr. Bartolotti’s Arabic I class are primarily of Pakistani and Lebanese heritage. As a whole, his Pakistani students have been exposed to written, but not spoken Arabic, whereas the opposite is true for his Lebanese heritage speakers. In the videotaped lesson, grade 9 and 11 students from Arabic I and II classes came together. There were six religious heritage speakers, two heritage speakers, and two nonheritage speakers. Prior to this class, students had taken a written test on basic greetings and likes and dislikes. This lesson was conceived as a way for the teacher to informally assess students’ ability to express the unit’s targeted functions and structures in spoken language.

Students prepared for this activity the night before, making up a company, logo, and product to sell. Mr. Bartolotti had explained to them what was going to happen in class, and the students knew they would be conducting the speaking activity in the target language. At the beginning of class, Mr. Bartolotti used a projector to review the worksheet that the students would be using and to explain the activity setup. He then demonstrated with a student who is a strong heritage speaker what the class would be doing. Half of the students would be telemarketers and the other half customers. The telemarketer’s job was to politely greet a customer and then inquire as to whether the customer liked the product the telemarketer was selling. The customer responded to the telemarketer’s questions. To introduce a competitive aspect to the activity, Mr. Bartolotti had students grade one another on their performance as telemarketers. The customers used a worksheet to keep track of both their own answers and the telemarketers’ performance.

Telemarketers would work their way down the row of customers, and in this fashion all classmates would get to speak with one another. Mr. Bartolotti listened to make sure that they were on task, completing the curriculum objectives and staying in Arabic as much as possible. Using the collected data, the class decided on a winner for the best telemarketer in the class.

Mr. Bartolotti employs a brief ritual that typically involves music to start and end class. At the end of this lesson, students voted on a song they wanted to sing, and everyone sang it together. Opening and closing each lesson with a song provides structure for the students and a regular opportunity to practice and reinforce high-frequency vocabulary.

Key Teaching Strategies

  • Challenging Native Speakers: The teacher adapts instruction for native speakers so that they pursue tasks that recognize and build upon their competencies in the target language while their peers do more basic work.
  • Establishing Routines: The teacher establishes clear, expected routines to maximize productive class time, increase student responsibility, and minimize distractions or opportunities for misbehavior. Examples range from consistent procedures to begin the class (from discussing the day, date, and weather for today, yesterday, and tomorrow to having students pair up to craft one comment about a prompt or a visual) to cooperative learning activities for language practice to routines for providing peer feedback.
  • Role-Playing: Role-playing is an activity in which students dramatize characters or pretend that they are in new locations or situations. It may or may not have a cultural element. This activity challenges students by having them use language in new contexts.
  • Theme-Based Curriculum: The teacher chooses themes as the organizing principle for a series of instructional activities in a unit, providing a meaningful context to explore through all three modes of communication.

Series Directory

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices


Teaching Foreign Languages K–12: Teaching Arabic © 2016 Annenberg Learner and Qatar Foundation International. All rights reserved.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-731-2