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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




School and Class


Four Seasons

The Holidays

Winter Clothes



Five Senses

Community Services

School Profile

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.

Lesson Design

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.

The Lesson

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.


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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