“I’m worried about my child. He doesn’t speak English.”
“How can I help my child? I don’t speak English and I can’t help him with his writing.”
“I came to this country when I was in high school, I don’t know how to help my child write.”
These are just a couple of several encounters I have had with my students’ parents. I like to share with them I was a multilingual learner growing up and that their child is not alone in their journey as a writer. I keep my experiences as a multilingual writer at the forefront of my mind when my students write, especially in content areas. My goal is that they are well-equipped with a sufficient amount of content area vocabulary so that they can begin the drafting process successfully.
One strategy I use that has been effective in building student’s content vocabulary is with the use of a pictorial input chart. A pictorial input chart “provides comprehensible direct teaching to build knowledge allowing universal access of the core curriculum” (Orange County Department of Education, 2015). The delivery of the pictorial input chart is through a drawing completed in front of students with the purpose of creating a brain imprint of the content being taught. For example, while teaching my students about the Westward Expansion, I have a drawing of the United States map already outlined in pencil. To do this, I place a picture underneath the document camera and project it onto white butcher paper.
As I begin teaching, using domain specific language, I simultaneously trace the map in marker. Since the United States belonged to 3 different countries at that time, I change marker colors each time I talk about a different country. Additionally, I show students pictures to go along with the traced content. I stop every 10 minutes to allow my students to turn and talk with their partner to discuss what they’ve learned so far. This helps transfer the information into their short-term memory.
To help move the information from short-term to long-term memory, the input chart is revisited the next day. Prior to reviewing the drawing again together, I pass out domain-specific vocabulary word cards to my multilingual students. The word cards are written on yellow paper to help them stand out to students. Students are asked to read the words to their partner, and later while reviewing the chart together, students simultaneously place the words cards on the chart when I share that specific term with the group. For example, when I say, “The Atlantic Ocean” the student with this card finds both the vocabulary term and picture of the Atlantic Ocean on the input chart and places the card there. This repeats until all the words have been posted on the input chart. This process helps give our multilingual learners access to important vocabulary that is integral in supporting them to become more engaged writers.
Writing to Learn
After the chart is reviewed together as a whole group, I ask students to write a response to their learning. While students are writing, I take this opportunity to pull my multilingual learners so that I can provide another layer of support for them. I ask them to come with me to the chart and this time I say the word cards and they point to the words and pictures that match. When I say, “California” they point to the yellow card and picture of “California.” I have found this provides my students with more awareness of the language. If they can say it, they can identify it, if they can identify it, they can write it. In my experience, these strategies equip my students with vocabulary words that they can begin to use in context within their own writing.