REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
Recently, my first graders went on a school scavenger hunt. I have frequently used this activity as a newcomer orientation to the school and it’s always met with great enthusiasm. Students feel very official wandering the halls with their clipboards in hand and pencils ready to check off the boxes of the places they see. This year, we first read Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes to introduce school places. All the first graders love Pete the Cat and we also use I Love My White Shoes to learn color words. In the book, there are clues that hint at which location Pete will visit and students have to guess where he is going next. This was a perfect connection to the scavenger hunt. In my mixed proficiency level newcomer group, this was an activity that was easy to differentiate. I had some students who were able to focus on the phrase and sentence level clues, while others relied on the pictures and the key vocabulary of school places to begin learning the names of places they visit everyday. I created a checklist with pictures of different rooms around school, and students had to use books and labeled flashcards to match words and pictures, then label their own check-lists. We also printed and read the book The School from Reading A-Z. After students had finished their writing, we set off about the school. I gave them clues about where we would head next: “Where do we see books on every wall?” or “Oh, I have a stomach ache and a headache, where should I go?” We roamed the school until all of our places were checked off.
Another newcomer activity, an interactive song that I made to the tune "The Wheels on the Bus", also helps children become acquainted with school places and expectations. I find that learners latch on to this song early, and we end up singing it all through the year. New verses can be added to introduce new language or to personalise. For example, kindergarten classes are doing a project-based learning unit on community and friendship, with a focus on students writing books for incoming students on how to navigate kindergarten. To supplement this discussion, we’ve also been talking about friendship activities and vocabulary in ELL. We added a new verse to our song this week about playing and sharing with friends.