Tuesday Tricks: Utilizing Bilingualism


February 14, 2012 by k. liz

So, I am sure I have mentioned this before (oh, by the way – HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!) but, generally my ideas come out of desperation in the middle of the day when I really need to keep my kids busy for a few minutes. Those tend to be the best received activities. I find every time I plan and prepare an activity, they don’t appreciate it, and I end up being disappointed that what I thought was going to be great flopped. But, then . . . on the fly, I will come up with something that I would have thought was really stupid if I had planned it, and it goes great. Figures, right?

Well, here’s my newest trick. I don’t have any evidence or research to back it up, but I really think that this is a good cognitive activity for my 6 year old students.

Let me preface my activity by saying that I have recently attended a conference and heard speakers talking about “English Only” classrooms not really being a good idea. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading for my master’s classes, and I will say that I am trying to think through the topic more and more. However, that being said, I have been asked by my superiors not to use my student’s native language in the classroom. So, I don’t. But, that’s not to say that I don’t sometimes ask my students to use it. 🙂 I often have a student that understands my instructions explain to their friends if they do not understand and cannot complete an assignment. I tend to refrain from this if the activity is an English activity, but since I teach all of their subjects (kind of), I do use this on occasion. I also have them translate if they are not listening to me, for example “Excuse me, but what is ‘no talking’ in Turkish?” I then wait for the appropriate answer and ask them why they aren’t doing it.

So, all of that to say – here is my latest, really simple activity. We often count when we are waiting for people, so the other day we started counting. We are really great until 10 and a little shaky until 20, but we’re getting there. So, I tried to mix it up a little, and when my hands were in the air, we counted loudly, when they were down we counted quietly. That was fine, but then for some reason I decided that when my hands were in the air they should count in English, and when they were down they should count in Turkish. At first my students thought that it would be really hard, but they actually did a very good job. I was thinking about this, and why on earth I would do it. But, it occurred to me that an activity like this is going to have to tear them away from always counting up to the number that they are at, and instead they will have to recognize it and connect the actual number to the number word in their head. I still have students that can’t recognize the numbers off the bat, but have to count up on their fingers. By switching languages, they are sharpening those connections.

So, again, simple . . . but hopefully it will prove to be effective in the long run. It has also set up a system that I can use for other things in the future.

How do you utilize bilingualism in the classroom?


2 thoughts on “Tuesday Tricks: Utilizing Bilingualism

  1. Catherine says:

    hi Liz.

    Another great post. Unfortunately, I don’t have any tips to add on using the bilingual thing which wouldn’t get you into trouble with the school’s management. (Been there..) As a mother of two bilingiual kids of my own, I can only agree with all your observations.

    However, I would like to applaud what you are clearly doing in the arena of empowering your pupils and validating their knowledge. Your whole attitude is one which will encourage them to have a ‘can-do’ attitude for the rest of their learning careers. It is extremely unlikely that you will ever get any credit for it, but you may well be the teacher they look back on in years to come, when asked who had a meaningful impact on them.

  2. k. liz says:


    Thanks so much for the comment! It was such an encouragement this afternoon. I don’t often feel like I am doing the best by my kids with all of the lack of understanding and sometimes patience on my part . . . but your post made me smile and gave me the motivation to keep trying.

    Thanks so much!!

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