Middle school can be challenging, as students transition from elementary school and adjust to the many physical and emotional changes they’re undergoing. For English language learners (ELLs), the challenges are even greater. Not only do these students have to learn how to speak, read, and write a new language, they have to adjust to a new culture.
A common approach to teaching ELL students is to pair a student with stronger language skills with a struggling student. Project-based learning (PBL) facilitates this kind of collaborative learning, and gives students an opportunity to dive deep into a topic and really spend time with it. They also get to practice their language skills in a variety of ways, including listening to and watching videos, reading articles and writing their own content.
I incorporate PBL into STEM lessons to help my students gain confidence and practice their language skills. I use Defined STEM, a K–12 resource that provides educators with a library of cross-curricular PBL tasks. The platform allows students to access the lesson directions and rubrics in many different languages, and all of the articles, videos, and other supporting content are in English. Students read the directions in their own languages, but must use their English skills to actually complete the assignments.
Last year, my students worked on a performance task focused on culinary art and sustainability. They had to create their own farm-to-table restaurant. The project included deciding the restaurant’s location, what to farm, how to farm, and ultimately what the menu would be. Students researched healthy recipes, figured out what kind of gardens they needed and where in the country they needed their gardens to grow.
The students created commercials and TV interviews showcasing their unique farm-to-table concepts. The ELL students have influences from around the world, which shined in their menu and food choices. The project helped them build their English skills, gain knowledge about American culture and geography and incorporate a bit of their home countries.
Yvette Ramirez is the ESL teacher at Hunter’s Creek Middle School in Orlando, Fla.
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