Including children’s first languages in the classroom

Including children’s fi rst languages in the classroom

Strong skills in the fi rst language act as a bridge both for language development and for conceptual development in the new language. When ELLs enter Kindergarten, they may not know English, but they have much experience using language. Speaking and listening to English all day is exhausting, so when it’s possible for ELLs to use their fi rst language with each other, Kindergarten teachers should encourage them to do so. ELLs often naturally use their fi rst language in play and learning centre activities. It is important for the teacher to engage and interact with children when they use first language. The teacher can make signifi cant observations about children’s adjustment, interactions with other children, use of classroom materials, and development of concepts during these times. It is essential for the teacher to persevere in speaking with children who have very little English so that they are included as part of the classroom community.

Working together as the year progresses



Building a learning community is an ongoing process. As the year progresses,many of the activities done at the beginning of the year can be expanded and  extended. For example, when greeting each other in the morning, ELLs can be encouraged to add other greetings as they say a friend’s name, or to add “I have something to share.” As ELLs become more settled and as their language builds, their capacity to participate will increase. As ELLs develop English-language strategies, they can respond to text duringwhole-group read-alouds. In choosing books, teachers consider the length, content, vocabulary, and background knowledge needed. Shared reading and read-alouds are effective ways to expose ELLs to book knowledge and concepts of print, as well as to build vocabulary. It is also a great time to share stories from other cultures. Children should have opportunity to hear favourite stories several times. This helps them internalize the rhythm and fl uency of the English language.

This is a sound principle for working with ELLs, since building their confi dencevis so important if they are to take the risks involved in becoming functioning members of their new instructional setting. When assessing ELLs, it is important for the Kindergarten teacher to consider the challenges faced by these learners. Their ability to acquire and demonstrate new knowledge may be infl uenced by an inability to understand or use the language of the classroom. Great care should be given to aligning assessment tools and strategies with the cultural and linguistic characteristics of the children.



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