Ways to embrace the cultures, languages, traditions and backgrounds of your students and families!

Teaching an English language learner is so much more than just teaching English.  To truly educate an English language learner and embrace who they are, it is essential that you embrace their culture, language, traditions and backgrounds.  It is so important that this is integrated within their school experience.  Here are a few things I do/have done-- I would love to hear what you do too and keep sharing ideas! :) 

Set Up a Home Language Booth During Induction and Welcome Families from Day One!

As soon as you know which families are coming to your school, hold an induction day and set up a home language booth!  It is great to hang flags where families are from, greetings in different languages, bilingual books, etc to show how wonderful it is to be bilingual and that their languages and cultures will be welcomed and embraced at your school.  This is a great time to conduct the home language survey with families as well, to ensure it is filled out correctly and so that you can gather information on your incoming English Language Learners and plan for the upcoming year in advance.  Get your colleagues to help--it is so much fun and creates such an inclusive and collaborative programmatic model!

Find out, learn about and represent where your families and students are from!

At the beginning of the year, I find out where our families are from and hang a flag next to the entrance and main office to represent each country. The families love seeing their flag as they enter, feel welcome no matter where they are from, and love finding out where others are from/connecting with those from the same place!
Someone Special is....jpg

Learn and Integrate the Home Languages of Your Families and Students!

It is so important to encourage children and families to keep speaking their home language and to embrace and celebrate their home languages at school.  One way we do this is to learn how to say "good morning" in each language that our families speak!  I found an echo pen to be an amazing way to record the families sharing different words/phrases in their home languages and to then share this with the school!  Every two weeks, we introduce "good morning" in a new language during community circle, through a video made by the kids!  They LOVE being on this video and are become so proud to be the "experts" of that language! We  then greet students and families with this language for two weeks as they come up the stairs to school, so everyone learns how to say it!  The teachers also write "good morning" in this language on their morning message, and the students greet each other with new languages during their morning meeting.  The music teacher and I even wrote a song to sing each week, including all of the languages we speak at our school, so we can remember all the ways to say good morning! :)
Below is the "language board" used for the background of our "Language Show," as well as a globe to show where each language comes from and to keep learning about our global world! :) Such a meaningful way to learn about the world around us, which they are so naturally invested in! :) 


Below is a wall in my room with "good morning" in each language spoken by our families, students and staff...it makes a world of difference in getting to know and incorporate the families into our school!  Each class also keeps the good morning sign for the "language of the week" outside their classroom door, so it is present throughout the school, and many classes also hang the signs in their classrooms when the next language is introduced, to also have a language wall inclusive of all of their families in the classroom!

Good Morning Song in all the Languages we Speak at our School! :)

We sing it together in community circle each week with staff, students and families! :) 

Create opportunities for students to share what makes them unique; and include the incredible assets they bring from their homes, communities, languages and cultures into the school day and year! 

Below is a video our students initiated to share about what makes them unique. It is so important to engage students in ways that speak to them and to celebrate and include their home languages and cultures!  

Encourage and Support Families To Read in Their Home Language!

I have a bilingual library I bring out into the hallways each Thursday and during school events so that families are able to check out books in their native languages in order to read to their child at home.  Many families do not realize this is beneficial and instead try to read just in English.  It is so important for children to learn in their home language first, and teaching the families the importance of this is essential and makes them feel relieved that they can do this without worrying, and even knowing it will be much more beneficial to their child!  I have books in all of the languages our families speak (and a simple dictionary for the languages, such as Mandingo and Wolof, that are not written languages) and the families love to check them out and share about them!  The kids love this too!  Donor's Choose is an AMAZING way to support this initiative--my entire bilingual library has been funded this way! 

Have a Language Exchange to Share Languages and Cultures Organically! :)

My all time favorite initiative is "Intercambio" -- a language exchange where we speak half in one language and half in another.  Families, teachers and staff all unite for an hour on Friday mornings, and pair up with someone who speaks the native language different from them, in order to learn from each other! As culture is engrained in language, it is a wonderful time to learn about the values, traditions, cultures and backgrounds of our families, as much as learning how to communicate with one another. So many organic ways to integrate the families' language, culture and information into our school days and teachings come up all of the time.  Bilingual read alouds, a celebration of "El Día de Los Tres Reyes," sharing of food and traditions--it is wonderful to have a space for cultures to be shared and ideas for integration.  It also puts teachers in the seat of learners, and to feel what it is like to be a language learner--giving insight into some of the experiences our English Language Learners have.  And it gives families the opportunity to teach and share.  We all have so much to learn from one another!

An Intercambio Share below...!

An Intercambio is a culture and language exchange. In this video, families and staff gather together to share languages and cultures, and to learn about one another! Un Intercambio es un intercambio de idiomas y cultura. ¡En ése vidéo, las familias y los empleados reúnen para compartir idiomas y culturas, y aprender a unos a otros!

Invite Families to Share Songs and Traditions in their Home Languages and Cultures!

Our families wanted to surprise the kids by going to all of the classes and singing "Los Pollitos," a nursery rhyme in Spanish! What an incredible way to learn about your families' cultures and languages, and include them in the school day! The kids who knew this song from home were so excited to be able to sing along and share with the rest of their class!


Below: Three Kings Day Celebration/Celebración de Los Tres Reyes--with Rosca de Reyes and traditional Mexican hot chocolate (yum)!:) (Rosca de Reyes=the traditional bread with dolls hidden inside! Whoever gets one with their piece has to make tamales in February! :)

Have Inclusive Books of the Month!

It is wonderful to have a book of the month that the whole school reads and discusses, that is representative of our students and families with all of their languages, cultures, abilities, disabilities, races, strengths and more.  Sometimes the classroom teachers read the books, and sometimes we organize the specialists and specials teachers to read as a guest reader in the classroom.  We then have a bulletin board near the main office to represent something learned from or celebrated in the book--usually something that goes along with the theme of the book.  Some examples so far are "What makes you special," "What makes you "float,"' "What makes you unique," and "How do you celebrate holidays?"  These broad themes encourage children to all think about and share what make them happy, unique and special, through books that show characters like themselves. It is important that children see characters that represent themselves in stories in positive ways as much as they can from a young age, and books of the month focused on this help remind everyone to keep doing this throughout the school year and build inclusive libraries!  It is also great to display books in other languages, to show families how valuable they are and to truly value them ourselves as a school community!

Visit Families at Home!

One of the best ways to get to know your families is to visit them at home, learn about their cultures, take part in their traditions and to get to know them outside of school.  So many families love to invite you into your homes and share with you their lives and worlds!  Below is a picture of an amazing asado one of our Uruguayan families made for us to join--what a special time it was and special bond it created as we learned about each other!  This connection keeps building and how beautiful it is...!

Share Your Culture and Things you Love With Your Students and Families Too! :)

I once heard a co-worker say "Always make meaning with the people you love," and immediately made it my life's motto. :) My favorite way to teach and learn is by connecting and including the people I love.  Felix and Miles, my nephews, are the "word wizards" that help us with our new words each week, and the students LOVE to learn and ask about them!  We wrote to them as penpals, we have skyped with them and I talk about them on a daily basis, as I do about my family and the people and things I love.  They love learning in this connected way and it makes it so meaningful and special for us all! :) More pictures to come soon of family and friend visits to my school--my favorite moments of all! :)  

Share and Celebrate Family Holidays and Traditions!

Below is a video to start a holiday series, initiated by some classroom teachers and me, to share and show some of the different holidays our families celebrate and the ways in which they celebrate them. Holidays can be an important way to share and celebrate different cultures and traditions, and to unite throughout them, whether in celebration or acknowledgement and understanding.  The one below is on Christmas, which many of the families at our school celebrate! It is great to learn all the different traditions we have to celebrate even the same holiday! :)