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English Classes for Families: Week Six Recap

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This week our focus was to describe people and places with as much detail as possible. On the first day, students were instructed to think about their home cities or towns and to describe it by what they can see, hear, smell and taste. For many students this was a reflective time, as they thought about their home countries. I asked a few students to share with the class what they had written, some talked about the mountains they saw in the background of their city, or the music they heard playing, or the taste of arepas. However, one description particularly struck me so much that I felt it was important to highlight it in this blog. This description was from an 8-year-old girl, who is a Syrian refugee living in Orlando with her family. She said,

“In my city, I see broken buildings and planes. I hear bombs and I smell smoke.”

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to hear that, but that is, or rather was, her reality. When someone asks her about her city, those are the details she recalls. I thanked her for sharing, not being sure of how else to respond and thinking: “How brave is this little girl?”

There are so many stories to be told among the students; stories that need the words, the courage and the ears to hear them. Classes like this are so important and necessary for immigrant families, and I know students are thankful. One mom said, “Teacher, I don’t want the class to end.” What this provides is a place and space where they feel comfortable to talk about these difficult things—a place where they are given the words in their new home language to share their stories, to inspire, to evoke a call-to-action or to educate others on what a picture of home might look like.

After students shared, we read the book The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena. This book chronicles the story of a young boy and his grandmother, who after leaving church ride the bus down Market Street. As they take the journey, the young boy makes observations, and asks questions about what he sees, hears and smells in the neighborhood. His grandmother challenges him to look beyond what he sees at first glance but rather to think more about the details of the neighborhood, about what details make it unique, and about how he can describe this place that is their home. Students used a graphic organizer to identify one place in their neighborhood to describe in detail. They had to write the place in the center, then fill in the bubbles with a synonym, antonym or a unique detail.

To consolidate learning, students were grouped together to create a model community using small brown paper bags, glue, construction paper in various colors, pom poms and markers to decorate. It was great to watch as students filled in the details of their community.

On the second day of class, we focused on describing people. Students learned the adjectives used to describe people and the grammatical structure to make complete sentences (e.g. using the verb “to be” to talk about height, body build, age and emotions or feelings). Students were then given worksheets and speaking prompts to practice these points with each other. Week six ended with a sense of pride among the students.