Growing Language Bridges

By Eve Pranis

"Is a great day of growing to my plant," writes Manuael Maya, a Peruvian student in Lee Gough's English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) language training program in Arlington, VA. Lee, science resource specialist for the ESOL program, looks for appealing, high-interest, concrete contexts for teaching English language skills and building confidence in non-native speakers. "Plants and gardens truly engage and involve kids," says Lee. "Many of our students have emigrated from rural farming communities and have a lot to offer to our explorations of plants and gardens."

"Because classroom gardening allows students to manipulate materials," explains Lee, "speakers of other languages can more readily demonstrate aspects of their intelligence we might not otherwise see." As an example, she recounts that one student had seen the teacher in the GrowLab video using a plant mister to moisten soil. The student then independently used a cup, masking tape, and plastic wrap with holes punched in it to create his own unique sprinkler.

Using GrowLab materials and classroom plants as a springboard, Lee has developed a range of experiences that build language skills. In addition to growing and tending indoor gardens, these activities include the following:

  • In small groups, students use seed catalogs to plan a garden, draw a garden design, then fill out order forms to purchase seeds.
  • Students use seed catalogs to find answers to different questions (e.g., Which plants will grow in this area? What flowers will bloom all summer?).
  • Students bring in family recipes from their country of origin that include edible seeds, then create an edible-seed cookbook.
  • After carefully observing, describing, sorting, and classifying seeds, students play an "I'm thinking of ..." game using plant descriptions.
  • Using their indoor gardens as a focus, classes create charts comparing people and plants.
  • Students view planting segments from the video, "Advice from GrowLab Classrooms" first without sound. They infer what's happening and list what they think are important planting steps, then hear the segment with sound and expand their ideas. (The video is available from Acorn Naturalists --

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