Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices
Arabic: People Who Help Us Class Context
By listening to them—when they are participating, when they are talking to each other—it shows me, did they understand or not? If they understand, I build more and more. If they need more help, I will change something that needs to be changed to make it easier or better understood.
— Khamael Alaloom
YEAR AT A GLANCE
School and Class
Khamael Alaloom teaches Arabic to students in kindergarten through grade 5 at William Ford Elementary School, a public school in Dearborn, Michigan, with about 650 students. Dearborn’s overall population is nearly 100,000. Included among the 89.1 percent white residents are 40,000 Arab Americans. Blacks and African Americans make up 4.0 percent of the population; Hispanics and Latinos, 3.4 percent; Asians, 1.7 percent; and Native Americans, 0.2 percent. Dearborn’s Arab community includes the largest Lebanese American population in the United States, as well as people from Yemen, Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. Most parents of students at the school speak Arabic as their first language. Within the student population, 93 percent are economically disadvantaged, and 95 percent are English Language Learners (ELLs). Large class size is a challenge. The school has taught Arabic in addition to English to all K–5 students since 2008.
Mrs. Alaloom sees her students just once a week and carefully manages her classroom to ensure she achieves content and language objectives. When designing her curriculum, she references Michigan’s state standards and the Five C goal areas to create unit goals and, from those, lessons. Most of her lessons incorporate the Five Cs. For example, Mrs. Alaloom facilitates interpersonal communication in speaking activities and interpretive communication in listening activities. To help expose students to Middle East culture, she shows authentic videos and plays songs. When students travel with their families, especially to the Middle East, she asks them to present to classmates when they come back, and explain what they saw and the people they met.
Content-based instruction is a way to teach both the content and the language. Mrs. Alaloom collaborates with core classroom teachers, aligning Arabic language units and lessons with nonlanguage curriculum. In this way, the content students learn in social studies or science class, for example, is also covered in Arabic class. This reinforcement is especially important for heritage and native speakers who are ELLs.
Mrs. Alaloom has a mix of levels among her students and differentiates lessons to meet student needs. For example, in terms of vocabulary, students with minimal Arabic language skills may only be able to produce the word in a simple sentence, whereas she expects students with more advanced language skills to produce the words in longer, more complex sentences. As the majority of her students are heritage speakers with strong communicative competencies, she focuses on developing their skills in Modern Standard Arabic. However, she also speaks to students in dialect to foster an Arabic-only environment when comprehension breaks down.
Mrs. Alaloom’s first-grade Arabic class meets once a week. It is made up of mostly heritage speakers who were born and raised in the United States and who speak Arabic at home. Four students are native speakers whose families recently moved to Michigan from the Middle East. During the previous week’s class, Mrs. Alaloom’s students learned about buildings and other public places as part of a unit on community services. In this class, the content objective was for students to learn about the people who work in these places and how they help the community. The language objective was to learn how to write the letter miim.
Overall, the lesson reflects a teaching strategy of guided to independent practice. After reviewing the class objectives for the day, Mrs. Alaloom showed students pictures of people and their professions and drew on students’ prior knowledge by asking them who the people were and what they did. She then paired students for discussion about what they’d learned. The table activity that followed engaged students in a larger group setting but also provided her a chance to assess learning. Were the students making the connection between the picture they saw and what the person did? Were they pronouncing the vocabulary words correctly? Were they answering each other’s questions in complete sentences, or just saying one word?
After the activity, she called students back together to present the information they spoke about in their groups to the rest of the class. Mrs. Alaloom says that presenting to the class and using the vocabulary words in complete sentences builds language proficiency and confidence. The reading activity that followed was designed to connect the language objective with the content objective. Mrs. Alaloom called a student up to the front of the class to read a sentence on the board to assess reading level. She had the student point out different components of the sentence.
Finally, Mrs. Alaloom had students practice writing in Arabic. Given that they are still learning the script, she focused on letter connection and letter recognition exercises. Furthermore, because of the differences in text directionality between Arabic and English, she highlights important Arabic writing conventions, like where to place the name and date on the page.
Key Teaching Strategies
- Content-Based Instruction: The teacher promotes language acquisition and/or cultural knowledge through subject matter from a range of disciplines.
- Providing Comprehensible Input: The teacher introduces language that is slightly beyond students’ current ability to understand and uses visuals, gestures, rephrasing, and/or props to establish meaning. The goal is for students to comprehend language through context.
- Recalling Vocabulary by Categories: The teacher designs vocabulary-focused activities that enable students to connect new words to familiar ones and build associations.
- Visualizing Vocabulary: The teacher uses visuals to establish concrete images of vocabulary and to help students remember the terms.
PDF: "The People Who Help Us" — Reading Activity
The sentences that Mrs. Alaloom used during the class as part of a student reading activity
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.