5 Back-to-School Activities Supporting Student Diversity

In a previous blog, Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment for Pre-K-5 ELs, I wrote about how teachers can alleviate many fears experienced by English learners (ELs) who are new to the United States by creating a welcoming environment in their classrooms. A nurturing teacher and friendly classmates can greatly help  ELs cope with the hurdles they face.

In this blog, I’d like to discuss how to link instruction during the first week of school to ELs’ home language and culture. When ELs see their home cultures and languages being studied in the classroom, their culture is validated, and that helps to develop positive self- esteem. Here are five activities for ELLs during the 1st week of school.

1.  Have students share their language and country of origin.

Help students differentiate between the name of their country and the language they speak. Many students don’t know how to say the name of their country or language in English. They need to learn “I’m from India and I speak Hindu.”  It is not correct for them to say “I speak Indian.”  If students were born in the United States,  you can emphasize their family background and the language they speak at home. Have students fill out a Country and Language Sheet. Ask more advanced student questions such as, “Vadim, where is Dong Lim from?” Hang a world map on a bulletin board and have students find their country. Place the students’ Country and Language Sheets around the map. Run pieces of yarn from their writing to their country.

2) How many flags do you recognize?

For this activity, have students find their flags on the Colouring Book Flags Index  and print them out. Give students a sentence frame to talk about their flags. “ This is the flag from my country, _____________. The colors of my flag are ________________________.”  Use students’ flags to develop a flag quiz on a bulletin board outside your door. Ask the question “How many flags do you recognize?” Use a folded piece of paper to have ELs write the country the flags are from and what languages are spoken there. It’s amazing to see how many students will stop in the hallway to find their flag on your bulletin board and peek at the labels to see where flags are from.

3) Develop  Information about the geography of your students’ home countries.

Go back to the world map and help ELs locate their countries. Use Quick Maps of the World to find outline maps of the countries where students are from. (Or in the case of native-born students, find the country their family is from.) Have students look at the geography of their country on the Quick Map website and find the students’ map, the capital, and what countries are around it. Write sentence frames that reflect the grade level and English language ability of your students.

4) Have students develop surveys.

Use Content-Based Surveys and Interviews  to provide your ELs with a real reason to communicate with everyone in their general education class. Surveys help ELs to learn how to ask questions and acquire new content-area vocabulary.

Taking surveys gives your students practice in the following areas:

  • acquisition and use of content-area vocabulary
  • interaction and negotiation of meaning with English-speaking peers
  • construction of oral questions
  • construction of a chart synthesizing information
  • recording information accurately

What’s Your Favorite Food?  is a good survey to start with.

5) Take your ELs on a tour of the school.

Have them take pictures of their classmates in your school cafeteria, gym, library, and other important locations. Ask students to write down the name of the place so that they can match it with the picture. Have them write sentences to match the pictures. For example, “This is Yeon Jae in the cafeteria.” Have students practice answering questions such as Where is Yeon Jae? Who is in the counselor’s office? This helps students get to know the names of the students in their class and how to properly pronounce their names. This same activity can be done my using your community and helping students identify the post office, police station, and other important locations.

I hope that your all have a wonderful start to the new school year. If you’d like to share some of your favorite activities, please do so in the comment section 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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One Response to 5 Back-to-School Activities Supporting Student Diversity

  1. Jordan says:

    Some great points here. It’s important to encourage diversity and teach students about diversity. Thanks for sharing these ideas!

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