English? Spanish? German? What Languages Should We Teach?

Print Lesson


SWBAT...listen and comment on a oral presentation on emigration and then use that information and the text "Where the River Runs" to debate and support what language we should teach in American schools.

Big Idea

Families come from all parts of the world to America either by choice or by force. How do we decide which languages to teach in our schools?

Creating the Purpose

30 minutes

 Best sharing ever! I made the request at the beginning of this unit to my parents asking if any would be willing to share their stories of immigration or emigration to America. I had one parent who was unable to share but who offered to make food from her country to teach traditions - Yes! A second parent, excitedly took up my offer and came today to share his experiences. Little did I or we know that he had traveled for months as a child to get to our country and a place of safety. As he shared his narrow escape, difficult travels, losses and even near starvation I found myself literally enthralled in his story and realizing there was still so little I knew about the struggles of others. I highly suggest adding this to your lesson unit because it made the words in the text come alive and personal for my students. 

After we had thanked him for his visit, I shared that today we are going to read the next chapters in "Where the River Runs" to determine why this family chose to leave their country and whether or not they will return some day?

Guiding the Learning

15 minutes

I read the second chapter and ask students to explain how is "hope" a central theme of emigration and immigration to another country? Students struggled for a few moments with this until I asked them to relate it to the things that our parent guest and his family were hoping for when they left their country. This triggered their connections between the two families and they gave responses such as "a better life", "safety" and "going back home some day". I then wanted to determine their levels of understanding with the reading by asking a comprehension question: Why did this family have to leave Cambodia and what was it like when they first came here?

I want them to comprehend that they had to leave rather than they chose to leave and that they were not familiar with our language and customs which made it difficult for them to adapt to our way of life. Today we read about the difficulties in adjusting to school and I want my students to question what language/s we should teach in schools and why?

Here's a video of my questioning a smaller group on this and what direction I took their thinking to. You will hear the focus question asked (Should we teach just English? If not what language should we teach?) and students giving their reasons for their choices – (this is a mixed group with two second language students so it is interesting how their opinions and strategies vary) I question them further by asking What would be the best way to teach language to students who do not speak English?

I continue the questioning to push my students to think and evaluate the pros and cons of each of their choices so that their responses evaluate all possibilities:


Closing the Loop

20 minutes

I love the sharing orally but it is also important to have students write to demonstrate the level and depth of their understanding.

I have them work in their centers on responding to the prompt: You and your family are moving to a new country where you do not speak the language and the customs are different. Would you assimilate or would you continue to speak, acy and dress the way you do now? Think of how difficult it is to be different and to not fit in. Think of how different it is to learn a new language and to have to change the way you act. Write an essay explaining what you would do in this situation and why. What would you change and why? What things would you keep the same and why? How would you deal with feeling different?

This would be a difficult question for students to respond to without the prior group discussion about coming to a new country as it relates to the story characters. With an understanding of this information students are able to write with little additional questioning for me.

Students can partner up in their groups or chose to work independently. I do keep track of both to determine who can complete the work alone and who is reliant on others to complete it. I use this information to determine abilities and understanding...and often confidence levels. Those that can are encouraged to work independently. 

Here are some example responses from my students that show a variety of opinions regarding whether or not they would assimilate and what values they would not change:

Assimilation response, Assimilation response 2, Assimilation - no change religion, Assimilation - change clothing and language, Assimilation - keeping customs