3 activities for multilingual classes that use the students’ L1 – by Joris Van Den Bosch

 Multilingual displays

Most classrooms are decorated with students’ work, info graphs and posters. Unfortunately they are static and are rarely used for learning. A way to make your displays more interactive is by making sure to leave space for translations for students’ own languages

The photo below is a great example of a multilingual display from my classroom.


Every year I ask my students to come up with their own set of rules for the classroom. They then take a photo that represents that rule and  write down the rules in their home language. This activity is great because:

  • as a teacher I then know that they clearly understood the rules.
  • the students love to see their language represented in the classroom.
  • a display like this can be interactive for years as each year new students with different home languages join the school.
  • it requires minimal effort, it doesn’t have to happen within a lesson and students can come up with their own ideas for displays that would support their learning

IDEAS: For example, on a display like this you could write down History quotes, Science measurement units, laws of physics , CEO quotes, geographical features, musical terms, grammar rules (if you really have to)

The Class’s Translator

As a lesson starter or activity consider using a video clip in one of the many home languages of your learners. That student should then come to the front of the class, play the video and ask the other students what they thought was said. Many students will recognise words and with help of the images the students work together to work out what was said. This is a great moment in which the teacher can assess students’ pre-existing knowledge. Then the student at the front plays the video for a second time and translates the script to the class who then check with what they thought was said.

When students are given the opportunity to “show off” their bilingual or multilingual abilities they will not only feel valued but will see themselves as linguistically talented!

I have added a link to an example video I used as a warmer activity for a text on the history of pizza. Have a go and guess what was said!


Multilingual Story of Events

When you have an exercise in which students have to order certain events or tasks, consider writing a few sentences in some of the home languages of that class. As a result the multilingual students will be needed to complete the exercise as they will have to translate it to their peers. A strong international minded activity in which the EAL learners can link key vocabulary with their home language and they will feel valued for their linguistic abilities.

If you are not sure about Google’s translations, students will gladly help you correct it.

The example below is taken from a recent Shakespeare activity for Year 8 but you could do this activity with recipes in cooking, the rock cycle in Geography, the water cycle in Science, a history timeline, etc.


The three activities described here first appeared on Joris Van Den Bosch’s blog SEALL – Supporting EAL Learners. We thank Joris for allowing us to reproduce them here.

jorisJoris has spent the last five years working as a secondary school EAL teacher at the British School of Brussels where he teaches English as an additional language to a wide range of international 11-to-14-year-olds and supports them in accessing the mainstream English curriculum. He started his teaching career in 2005 and taught ESL in language academies in Thailand, Vietnam and Spain before returning to Belgium, his home country. He has a great passion for international minded teaching, educational equity and teaching methodologies for the intercultural multilingual classroom.

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