As we mentioned in our previous post, Bilingual Students: Using Holiday Celebrations to Promote Language Development in Multicultural Classrooms, bilingual students often have a lot to say right after they return from their winter holidays. They are eager to share activities that they engaged in with family and friends and to talk about the gifts that they may have received. However, once the excitement of returning back to school has worn off, it can be more challenging to get bilingual students talking.
A wonderful way to encourage bilingual students to share information and thoughts is to have them narrate about familiar topics. The more a student knows about a topic, the more inclined he or she is to want to share information about it.
The key is finding topics that are of interest to each student, which is not an easy task for a busy teacher with many students in class. One way to go about this is to give your students opportunities to talk about things with which they are intimately familiar: Favorite stories, preferred activities and beloved toys can get even the quietest bilingual student narrating in detail.
Another approach is to ask bilingual students to tell you and the other students about favorite stories, books or chapters that they read (or had read to them). The idea is not to require the student to remember key elements from the story; rather, the goal is to simply get the student talking!
Another benefit of narration is that students will remember things so much better than when they are passively listening. As soon as a student starts to narrate about something, images are created in their minds that will stick around for a much longer time and have more impact.
Here are some tips on having bilingual students narrate:
- Books: Bilingual students are often eager to share a story that they read, or one that was read out loud to them. It doesn’t matter if the whole class has already heard the story. In fact, this may make the narration even more enjoyable. It also doesn’t matter if the student only mentions a few of the key elements of the story. Let him or her share his or her personal rendition of the story, even if parts are embellished, slightly altered or missing all together. Once the student is done narrating, give other students an opportunity to share additional bits of the story.
- Activities: Give bilingual students the chance to share with the class a specific activity that he or she engaged in recently or in the past. Help the student stay focused on an element of the activity that can easily be described in a relatively short narration. For example: a specific day of skiing, one bicycle ride with family, what he or she did on a recent snow day, etc. Make sure that the student is familiar and excited about the activity. It is hard to do a narration about something in which we have little interest.
- Event: Help students remember an important event in their lives and have them narrate about it. A new baby brother or sister coming home for the first time, a visit from grandma and grandpa or a trip to visit family in a nearby town are examples of events that might be easily narrated.
- Hobby/Sport: Bilingual students who have particular hobbies or sports might really enjoy narrating something that revolves around those. The key is to help your students identify what aspect of the hobby or sport they are going to narrate about. Help your student to focus on a small element so that the narration can be and directed. Maybe the student will talk about the equipment needed to play a specific sport or the tools needed to engage in his or her hobby of choice.
- Favorites: Sometimes a student will be eager to narrate about something that is special to him or her: a favorite toy or book or even a stuffed animal. Help the student decide on what, exactly, will be the most interesting elements to narrate about. Will the student talk about why the toy is a favorite? Or maybe the focus will be on the personality of the stuffed animal? There are so many different ways to approach this. The key is helping the student decide on the narration’s focus ahead of time so that the narration will come more easily and comfortably.
- Write it down: Feel free to write down what your students narrate! Make sure not to interrupt them while they are narrating since it can upset the natural flow. You could record their voice and then type up what they wrote from the recording. Or you can type it directly into a word processor while the student is talking (if you can type fast enough). You can print out the narration and give it to each student’s parents, or first offer the printout to the student to draw a picture to go with the narration. There is nothing more enjoyable for a young student than to have their own words written down for posterity!
It is important that the student narrating is not interrupted during the narration for any reason. Other students should not be allowed to ask questions or correct details while another student is narrating. Only after the narration is done can other students make comments and start up discussions. A student who is narrating will feel much more relaxed knowing that he or she can follow through to the end without having to engage in any kind of dialog along the way.
It is also important that students understand that nothing that they narrate is being evaluated for quality or accuracy. The point of narrations is to give students the opportunity to open up and use their language in a comfortable, safe environment while talking about something that they are interested in. The more that your bilingual students understand this, the more inclined they will be to want to share their thoughts and information with the class as often as possible. It’s a win-win situation all around.
Photo credit: Casina Royale