One simple way that teachers can use mixed media productively is to add aural and visual elements to their instruction. Textbooks, the common source of content in classrooms, often present too much information too quickly and in technical language. Even in all-English classrooms, teachers find that they have to reexplain some textbook material in more simple language for students to understand. By using charts and diagrams to augment textbook presentations teachers can simplify and clarify the information students need.

Below is a visual aid one primary-level teacher uses to remind her students to include sensory and emotional information in their stories. The numbers she has written on the face represent seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, thinking, and feelings, respectively.

Reminder to include sensory information
Reminder to Include sensory information

After initial instruction, students can benefit from further presentations using mixed media. When they see pictures, charts, or diagrams, and when they play videos or audio recordings after their first exposure to new material they are better able to understand and remember what they have been taught.

For memorizing miscellaneous information such as definitions, names, and dates, aural forms of mixed media work better than anything else. Facts and words embedded in jingles, poems, and games stay with children much longer than words in isolation. For instance, many millions of children have learned the alphabet first—and permanently—by singing the alphabet song. Not only do young children thrive on aural patterns, older students and adults excel with them, too. A high school history teacher I know brings his guitar to class regularly to play little songs he has made up to define important concepts like freedom, democracy, and capitalism. His students sing along with him to memorize the definitions, and they seem able to call them up as needed. In my own experience, I still remember the songs, poems, and dramatizations I learned in my ninth-grade French class, even though I have long ago forgotten how to conjugate French verbs.

Role-Playing and Dramatization

Role-playing and dramatization are both powerful media. At the simplest level, a game of charades can help ELLs expand their vocabularies and gain a better understanding of the meanings of words they have already heard. At a higher level, students can combine their knowledge of spoken and written language with physical action to dramatize a story or re-create historic events. When I taught first grade many years ago, my class prepared a dramatization of “Hansel and Gretel” to be presented before an audience. After listening to me read the story several times and discussing the events and characters’ feelings, they improvised their own version of the action and dialogue. I’m certain today’s ELLs could do the same. Still another possibility for informal dramatization is having students create scenes to present information they have gleaned from reading and research. A book I read long ago, From Communication to Curriculum by Douglas Barnes, persuaded me that having children act out the ways people lived in other times and places is the most effective way for them to understand and remember history and geography.