Exploring Language Needed to Go On a Field Trip to Find Clues from the Past

A few weeks ago, our grade 2 students took a field trip to the National Museum, the Bophana Center, and the Olympic Stadium.

I had already given students the opportunity to explore some of the language of their unit, a Where We Are in Time and Place unit entitled, "Clues from the past". Students found mother tongue translations of their words or drew pictures detailing an understanding. I noticed that students were much more proficient and engaged in filling out these word banks than earlier in the year and I was happy with their progress.

Before this field trip, however, I had concerns that if my English language learning students were not exposed to some of the language and terms they would encounter on the day beforehand, they might miss out on some important learning.

I therefore decided to use the EAL class during foreign language as "prep time" for my students. Students began by using the language learning strategy of "click and clunk". I read the students some vocabulary they would need to use on the trip, having them repeat the words after me. They then made a decision immediately as to whether they knew the word or were unsure of the word. I explained that I wanted them to consult with this list after we went on the field trip to see how their knowledge of vocabulary compared before and after our instruction.

Students varied in their confidence of their lexical knowledge.

I then explained to students that we were going to try and learn some of these words in order help our understanding and discussions about our field trip. I explained, however, that first students were going to practice making visual, textual, and audio connections between words. I then showed students how to use the Bitsboard app, into which I had loaded all of the words from this list. 

An example of how Bitsboard worked in this unit.

Students then discussed these words with each other by deciding how to sort them after cutting them out from the grid you see below. Students were asked to think about their prior knowledge and what they had discovered from playing Bitsboard to help them discuss how to sort the many vocabulary words Students in pairs discussed whether they thought each word was a place we would see on the field trip, a word to describe things we would see on the field trip, or a thing we would actually see on the field trip. (Below the first grid is a second grid that served as a word bank to be used with the reflection sentence starters at the top.)

Finally, students worked on a cloze activity with partners. This structured writing activity built on the talking that went on between students beforehand. 

Coco and Yian combined their learning to begin completing this cloze.
I know it seems like a lot of effort and planning was required by teachers and students alike, but I knew that the trip would be so valuable to students. In the end, I believe that due to this preexposure, my EAL students were much more engaged with aspects of the trip than they would have been. I could tell this by their responses to my oral mini quizzes and questions on the bus between places on the field trip. 


Exploring "Systems" Visually in Grade 1

Grade 1 students have been inquiring into a unit with the central idea: "Effective communication systems allow people to communicate locally and globally".

As such, to increase understanding of vocabulary terms such as communicate, sign language, Skype, video conferencing, telephones, effective, and ineffective, students have practiced communicating in different ways using different equipment and applications.

They were thus primed to learn the meaning of the word system which describes a way of doing something, a process, and various components.

Homeroom teachers and EAL teachers felt that the concept of systems could be best understood as visual diagrams. We thought, however, that students were not ready to simply draw these diagrams themselves. After discussion, teachers thought that the best way to help students think about and show their understanding communication systems might be to scaffold the concept using images that students could rearrange and physically connect. Students could then use these physical models to help them draw and label diagrams.

We then hunted for descriptive visual images using icons from the Noun Project, a unique new initiative of the sharing culture. We looked for images that students might seize upon as being a component of a communication system, such as computers, mobile phones, and envelopes. We also looked for images that might help students express more subtle understandings, like cell towers, satellites, wires, wifi, eyes, ears, and speech bubbles.

We then ran an introductory lesson where we discussed with students how when we write we use a system that students are very familiar with. As students discussed this process with their homeroom teacher, the EAL teacher (me) modelled how to draw and connect images and arrows to show the system and how different components connected together in that system.

Next we gave students the option of working with a partner, group, or individually with the various icons and pieces of wire to be used as connecting elements.

Students came up with unique combinations of icons and connectors which we then used as discussion points with them to gauge their understandings of both what a system was and how a particular communication system worked. We questioned students as to what each component was, why they thought it was important, why they put icons in certain orders, and suggested ways perhaps that students might think deeper about systems.

Later, when students completed their summative assessments, as part of which they had to draw images showing how a communication system of their choice worked, they were allowed to use these icons and wires to "construct" their understandings first!

The grade 1 teachers and EAL teachers felt that this lesson was helpful because it provided students with a hands-on-minds-on physical manipulative and visual cues to enhance comprehension. Students also seemed to love the task.