Break It Up

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.3; RF.1.3

What You Need: A set of magnetic letters, paper, pencils

What to Do: “Magnetic letters allow teachers and kids to isolate individual letters or word chunks, making it easier for students to decode a word. I have been using magnetic letters with the intervention students I see,” says Alison Ryan, a K–2 literacy specialist and consultant from Palatine, Illinois. 

Ryan begins by spelling a two-syllable word such as mesa (“table”) with magnetic letters. She then tells her students to “break the word” by physically separating the magnetic word into syllables. “I don’t know why, but the idea of ‘breaking a word’ really gets them excited!” says Ryan, who blogs at Learning at the Primary Pond. She then prompts students to read the first syllable of the word and repeat it. Next, Ryan asks her students to read the last syllable of the word and repeat, before saying the first syllable and the last syllable together. As they read the whole world aloud, they put the magnets back together, too.

When students are done working with the magnetic letters, encourage them to write the syllables separately and then write the entire word, sounding out each syllable as they do.

To extend the activity, repeat with three-syllable words, or words with more complicated structures, like closed or blended syllables.

A Picture = 1,000 Words

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2

What You Need: Chart paper, markers, pencils, paper, hat

What to Do: When taken literally, idioms can paint quite the silly picture. They can also be a wonderful way to reinforce bilingual literacy skills, as well as discuss shades of meaning.

Begin the lesson by reading the book More Parts, by Tedd Arnold. This book follows a young boy who struggles to understand the difference between commands and “odd expressions.” After reading the book, ask students why the main character seems anxious when he hears phrases like, “I’ll bet that broke your heart.” Share that idioms, or odd expressions, are what are giving our main character so much anxiety, explaining that idioms are sayings that aren’t to be taken literally.

On chart paper, list a few idioms from the book as well as a few personal favorites, in both English and a second language. For example: Its raining cats and dogs and the ball is in your court in English, and hay gato escondido (literally, “there’s a hidden cat,” meaning, there’s something fishy going on) and comer como un pajarito (“to eat like a bird”) in Spanish. Ask your students to decipher the idioms word for word before explaining what each phrase means.

To extend the activity: As a class, research four additional idioms in English and a second language. Then, prepare to play Pictionary! Before the next class, record all of the idioms you discussed in both languages on small pieces of paper, fold each one in half, and place them all in a hat. Set up chart paper and markers at the front of the classroom, and ask a volunteer to come up and choose an idiom out of the hat. While your volunteer is drawing his or her idiom, encourage students to raise their hands and make guesses. The student who guesses correctly gets a chance to pick the next one.

Fairy-Tale Word Match

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.3; RF.1.3

What You Need: Index cards; markers; fairy tales or folklore books, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Cinderella, in various languages

What to Do: “Using flash cards and rote learning to teach an additional language is like looking at pictures of
a turkey dinner instead of sitting down to eat the wonderful meal,” says Leah Mullen, a former early elementary teacher in London.

Instead, Mullen suggests reading familiar stories or fairy tales, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Cinderella, in both of the languages your students are learning. She then follows up the read-alouds with games to reinforce vocabulary and grammar.

One game involves matching words on cards with words in the book. She begins by creating a list of key words from the storybook, in both English and the other language children are learning. “For example, the English version of Cinderella might produce key words like prince, pumpkin, glass slipper, or sweep,” says Mullen, who blogs at Language Lizard.

She then shuffles the key word cards, mixing up the two languages. Students choose a card at random and then find the page in the book that contains that word. Adding images to the cards can be helpful for emergent readers—and make it fun for everyone! You can even extend the game by having students volunteer to write the words and draw pictures for other books you are reading.

Play With Your Food

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1

What You Need: Small paper plates (one for each student), markers, plastic food, tray

What to Do: To help students think in two languages at once, Serena Scott, a Spanish language instructor who teaches students from grades PreK–5 at various early childhood centers in Chicago, plays a game she calls Tengo hambre/dame (“I’m hungry/give me”). “This bilingual game is intended not only to teach students the names of different foods but also to encourage active participation and language development. Students learn to use the new words in the context of what they like and want,” explains Scott, who blogs at Music and Spanish Fun.

Prior to the lesson, Scott rounds up the plastic food she has available in her classroom and labels each piece with a dry-erase marker, writing the name of the item in both English and Spanish. Next, she introduces the basic Spanish and English vocabulary needed to play the game. She teaches her students the word tengo, which means “I have”; hambre, which means “hunger”; and dame, which means “give me,” as well as the names of each food she has prepared: pan (“bread”), manzana (“apple”), etc.

After practicing the new vocabulary, Scott hands each of her students a small paper plate and asks the class to sit in a circle facing outward. She then places the plastic food on a tray and begins to walk around the circle. Students chant, “Tengo hambre.” As Scott stops in front of each of them in turn, the student lifts his or her plate and asks in Spanish for what he or she would like to eat. For example, a student may say, “Dame pan.” Scott then places the pan (“bread”) on the student’s plate. Once all the children have food on their plates, play again—this time in English. You can adjust the activity to incorporate any two languages. 


Click Here to Subscribe to Scholastic Teacher Magazine

Image: Life On White/Getty Images (rabbit); Alison Ryan (letters)