4 Ways to Celebrate Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month: Start With Names

In 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives recognized April as the National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month. Bilingual and multilingual learners are one of the fastest growing student populations in U.S. schools. The number of English learners (ELs) grew 28.1% between the 2000–2001 and the 2016–2017 school years. Currently, ELs represent 9.1% of all K–12 students in the United States.

How can school districts and/or individual teachers celebrate Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month? Names are a great place to start, because they are a huge part of a person’s personal and cultural identity, in particular for students who have immigrated to the United States. Here are four activity ideas for teachers to engage their students in the celebration, beginning with names.

1. Celebrate “Getting to Know Our Names Week”

The National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE) encourages schools to designate a week in April as “Getting to Know Our Names Week.” The purpose of this celebration is to give students pride in their names and to introduce classmates to the origins of their names. This is part of the My Name, My Identity Initiative that I wrote about in a blog in June, 2016. This program recognizes the importance of pronouncing students’ names correctly. It is an asset-based initiative that promotes the well-being of students and makes them feel respected, valued, and included at school.

2. Watch “Student Voice: Respecting the Name, Respecting the Identity”

Provide professional development for teachers and information to students by having them view the video “Student Voice: Respecting the Name, Respecting the Identity,” or read accounts of students’ stories on how the mispronunciation of names affects them. Bilingual and multilingual students report the hurt and shame that they feel when teachers and schoolmates do not show them the respect of making an effort to pronounce their names correctly. In fact, this makes students feel invisible in class.

Name Coach provides a resource to help students and teachers pronounce unfamiliar names. With Name Coach, students record their name as they would like it pronounced. They can tell stories about their name, such as where it came from. Classmates and teachers can then access the recording to learn to say the names of students in their class.

3. Help Bilingual/Multicultural Students Research Their Names

Lessons to help bilingual and multilingual students research their names can include how to spell and pronounce their names, the origins of their names, how their names are unique, and the importance of their names. It’s important to remember that some students will not know the origins of their name or where it comes from if they are not in the United States with their parents. Teachers need to be sensitive to individual circumstances when they have discussions about names in class.

4. Find Books and Videos About Names

Many resources can be found about names, including books, articles, and videos. There is an extensive list of resources here. Scroll down on the page to find the list. Included on this list are titles such as the following:

  • My Name, My Identity Flipgrid Activity: This is an activity to introduce students to the importance of names.
  • From Name Stories to Word Stories: This beginning of the year “ice breaker” activity asks students to research and share the stories behind their names.
  • My Name is Maria Isabel, by Alma Flor ADA: This is the story about a third-grade student who wants to fit in at school.
  • My Name is Sangoel, by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed: Sangoel is a young boy who leaves the Sudan with nothing but his name, which was handed down to him by his father and grandfather. 

If you have other resources about the importance of names that you would like to share, or other ways to celebrate Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month, please use the comment box below.

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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