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Dual-Language Classrooms: Bridging Content and Academic Language

By: Laura Bryant 12/05/2023
Learn how to make your classroom a safe place to bridge dual-language content with six steps.
Multilingual students participate in an activity to promote deeper understanding.

The benefits of dual-language classrooms are clear: Students learn more than how to speak a new language—they learn to make sense of it and transfer it to other areas of their lives. They don’t just become bilingual, but bicultural and biliterate as well, and they learn to appreciate our beautiful differences.

But how do you bridge content and academic language in a dual-language classroom? Here are six strategies you can try.

1. Create a Safe Culture

It’s important to set the right cultural tone for your classroom. This won’t be in your lesson plan, but it’s an essential strategy. To create an environment where students can practice language while making mistakes and being vulnerable, they need to feel safe asking for assistance and accepting help from their peers. Students will progress further and have a more enjoyable experience in a classroom that feels safe.

2. Own Your Mistakes

Part of creating a safe culture in which your students can be vulnerable is modeling it for them. If you make a mistake, own it. Your students will realize we teachers make errors all the time, and if we can feel comfortable doing so, so can they. 

When I make a mistake in the classroom, I initially make a big deal out of it as I’m modeling expectations. It might go something like this. “Oh my God! I made a mistake. I taught you guys how to do this wrong. Will you forgive me?” And they say, “Yes!” But by the end of the school year, their language has evolved to, “It’s okay to make mistakes. You learn from your mistakes!” Owning mistakes creates a safe and welcoming environment for us all. 

3. Make Real-World Connections

When students can connect content to the real world, it becomes more than just a vocabulary word, worksheet, or test. The connection makes the content real and relevant, and that’s what many students need to develop a deeper interest in what they’re learning and make the concept stick.

For example, you can teach math as a series of skills students must learn for the state standards, or you can teach it as something they’ll need in the real world. When a student can understand how to use fractions to bake a cake or that knowing inches and centimeters can help them as a fashion designer, it makes the concept real and more enjoyable.

4. Color Code Materials

When creating anchor charts or completing work in journals, incorporate color coding. Let’s say I’m teaching multiplication during our English week (we alternate between English and Spanish weekly). I’ll create an anchor chart and write “multiplication” in English in red. Then I’ll write related vocabulary, such as “factor,” in blue. Then, next week, when it’s time to practice the concept in Spanish, I’ll write the word “multiplication” in Spanish in red and “factor” in Spanish in blue. Ultimately you can use any colors you want, but keeping the colors consistent between both languages will be beneficial as students learn new vocabulary.

5. Incorporate All Language Domains

There are four different language domains—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—that are mastered in that order. You want to incorporate all these domains into your instruction to bridge content and academic language in a dual-language classroom.

You can select a couple of different domains when planning a lesson—for instance, one student can write a sentence in English, and the other reads it aloud, or a student says a word in Spanish, and the other student identifies the object. Either way, it’s crucial to ensure your students master all four domains to become academically proficient in the language.

6. Prioritize Discourse

Speaking and listening play such an essential role in learning for all students. That’s why I prioritize discourse in the classroom. If a student can talk about a concept, they will be able to read and write about it. It also helps engage them. All my lessons have discourse associated with it for that reason.

Bridging content and academic discourse in a dual-immersion classroom requires strategic instruction and a safe environment. Hopefully these tips help impact your teaching and support your students in becoming bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural citizens.

Want more from Laura? Listen to this episode of the Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast.