Next semester I will be teaching third-graders a unit on plants and trees. We are expecting a new student from Japan at the beginning of the semester; I have heard he speaks no English. Fortunately we have another Japanese student in our class who has made very good progress so far this year; she is in the beginning fluency stage of English. I will partner them up when he first arrives, and hopefully she will be able to help our new classmate when he really needs it. I intend to incorporate a lot of pictures and images in the plant unit, and there are a lot of trees around our campus that will be great for hands-on, multi-sensory learning. Trees and plants lend themselves very well to cross-sectional images with labels, and at the same time are familiar to all children, so hopefully this will be engaging to our new student as well as the other students. The Japanese girl will likely still struggle with some of the more technical language, like photosynthesis and chlorophyll, including in their pronunciation, but with repeated focus on those challenging sounds, I’m confident she’ll get the hang of it. While she is being a helper to our new student, I will still partner her with one of the English speakers so she continues to have support on the content and language.
One of my Salvadoran students has been at our American school since pre-K and has intermediate fluency. She is very talkative in social settings, but tends to clam up when we’re having discussions in class. I don’t think it’s shyness; rather, I’m afraid she’s not very confident in the scientific language. I think it is time to have a private talk with her about creating some specific language goals. I will continue to correctly model this academic language through our plant unit, and she will hopefully be engaged in achieving her goals. I believe she would advance quickly if she were partnered with one of my other high-achieving girls, one of the native English speakers.
I also need to keep an eye on the Hungarian boy in my class. This is his second year at our American school, and he is still in the speech emergent phase. Luckily, he spends many recesses collecting leaves and nuts, so hopefully that will translate into an interest in our plant unit. I’m confident he could do fill-in-the-blank activities, especially if I have them work in their groups. He is another one who would really benefit from very detailed images that illustrate plants and their life cycles.
Final projects for the unit could be one of a choice of reports: students could produce their own detailed drawings, turn in summaries of the different classroom books about plants, or write a report on the life cycle of a plant or tree of their choosing–maybe one that grows in their home country.