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

Arabic: Vegetables We Like Class Context

I expect them to learn the culture. I expect them to appreciate the language and the culture foremost. That’s the most important part to me. Then I want them to be able to communicate even in a simple way their wants and their needs, just to understand the basic Arabic language.

— Rita Lahoud




Olive Harvest

Islamic Art (an observation of important works of art)

Weaving and Carpet Making in the Arab World

Fruit and Vegetable Harvest

Ramadan and Lanterns

School Profile

Miss Lahoud teaches Arabic to students in grades 1–4 at Public School 261 in Brooklyn, New York. As P.S. 261 is a magnet school for integrating the arts, art is infused throughout the curriculum. Most of the school’s 893 students live in Boerum Hill, a small, affluent neighborhood in northwest Brooklyn. The student body is highly diverse: 40 percent white, 27 percent black, 23 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian, and 4 percent other. Arabic is the only foreign language offered at the school. The course was begun four years ago as a foreign language class that met once a week and has evolved into its current format, in which students learn art and science content using Arabic as the instructional language. P.S. 261 is a Global Language Project (GLP) partner school that uses best practices for Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) teaching and learning.

Lesson Design

Miss Lahoud teaches Art and Arabic once a week to classes of Novice speakers. “All my cultural art lessons begin with me teaching a specific art or craft technique, and I explain its importance to Arab culture,” she says. She draws vocabulary words from the materials used in the artwork. She then teaches the steps required to create it. “These are repeated by students and learned throughout the lessons until they’ve created the art,” she says. “This typically takes three to four lessons.” Because class meets infrequently, she tries to maximize use of the target language in the classroom. For example, she has set up a classroom “store” at which two students play the role of shopkeepers and ask the other students what supplies they need for class activities.

Because her course is so unique, she has had to develop her own curriculum over the years. “I refer to ACTFL performance [descriptors] for the language goals and New York State Learning Standards for the Arts for some of my art goal planning,” she says. “I also bring a lot of my own ideas as to what I think would be beneficial for students to learn at any given time.” This year, the school partnered with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has borrowed from the museum’s curriculum for its Art of the Arab Lands galleries.

Teaching students about Arabic art provides an obvious exposure to Arab culture. Class projects that allow students to create traditional handcrafts include carpet weaving, calligraphy, and hand-painting tiles. Through these projects, students learn the names of colors, shapes, and more. Art and Arabic course content also naturally connects with several subject areas beyond art, including math, science, and history. For example, students have a chance to see artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection and learn where they came from, when they were created, and the stories behind them.

Miss Lahoud reminds students to stay in the target language as they work. She also relies on classmates to remind one another. While she uses body language, visuals, and intonation to convey ideas and instructions as she teaches, she also employs native speakers she might have in a class as peer tutors to support classmates who may need further guidance. To help students process and retain information, Miss Lahoud uses board games, movement exercises, and music. “Music is a huge part of my program,” she says. “I create a song for each unit and a song for everything that I want them to learn, and it really helps.”

The Lesson

This class of second-grade Novice students has been studying Arabic since kindergarten, and includes one native speaker. Class begins in a typical fashion on the carpet at the front of the room with meeting time—during which students sing a “hello” song and then talk about the weather and days of the week—and a review of the lesson goals. Miss Lahoud then explains that they will be learning about vegetables and drawing pictures of which ones they like and don’t like.

In the previous week’s class, students compared how vegetables are purchased and sold in the United States (in modern supermarkets) with how they are purchased in different Arab countries (in souks, or open-air markets). “Today my lesson was really to get them to say, ‘I like tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce, and I don’t like garlic and onions,'” she says. “In order to do that, I had them draw two different bowls. One would contain all the vegetables that they like, and the other one would contain all the vegetables that they don’t like.”

Before students started their drawings, Miss Lahoud had them obtain art supplies from the classroom “store.” The classmates made their requests and then took their supplies to begin their project. When students finished their drawings, Miss Lahoud invited them back to the carpet and asked them to “turn and talk” with a classmate about their likes and dislikes. “Turn and talk” activities provide students with an opportunity for interpersonal communication before they present to their classmates. To prepare students for the activity, she first modeled the conversation with a student. This allowed her to stay in the target language while clarifying her expectations to the students. After students finished talking with their partners, Miss Lahoud asked them to present their artwork and say sentences to the class.

Key Teaching Strategies

  • Appealing to Multiple Intelligences: The teacher incorporates different nonverbal approaches, such as bodily/kinesthetic and musical/rhythmic ones, into lessons.
  • Content-Based Instruction: The teacher promotes language acquisition and/or cultural knowledge through subject matter from a range of disciplines.
  • 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.
  • Visualizing Vocabulary: The teacher uses visuals to establish concrete images of vocabulary and to help students remember the terms.

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