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Many Languages, One Classroom

Teachers who work with families and children who are learning English while maintaining their native language are uniquely positioned to build a positive, inclusive, warm, and nurturing environment not only with the children but also with families. Key strategies for teachers to provide ongoing support to children who are learning English while maintaining their native language include:

  • Respect and value children’s home language and culturally identity;
  • Create a safe place where children feel less anxious by providing a comfortable place for them to express themselves even in their home language;
  • Build an educational environment that helps children remain cognitively, linguistically, and emotionally connected to their home language and culture; and
  • Encourage home language and literacy development to help children acquire English-language proficiency.

Building Blocks for a Healthy Future (Building Blocks) materials can be an important part of the classroom curriculum for children of any linguistic or cultural background by helping the teacher create a respectful environment in which to share the unique customs and cultures among students. Through activities such as these, the Building Blocks program and website can be part of a successful, culturally diverse classroom.

There are three main Building Blocks products available in Spanish, which can be downloaded for home and classroom use:

Guía Para Familias
Libro de Actividades
Libro para Colorear

If you have Spanish-speaking children in your classroom, send home with them selected activities from “Guía Para Familias” to encourage promotion of and parental involvement in early childhood learning; to help foster warm, close personal relationships between parents and child; and to facilitate development of children’s problem-solving and decision making skills. All of these topic areas will help families increase resilience against risk factors that may, later in life, contribute toward substance use and abuse.

The purpose of this activity is to celebrate and enhance cultural and linguistic diversity in your classroom.

“The Culture of Food”: Nothing says more about a culture than its foods. Sharing snacks and meals from families’ home countries broadens everyone’s experience and helps the class feel more like a community.


  • Copies of “Healthy Snacks," page 18, ages 5–6, from the English-language Activity Book (one per student)
  • Copies of "Bocadillos sanos,” page 22, ages 5–6, from the Spanish-language Libro de Actividades (one per student)
  • Celery pieces, peanut butter (substitute cream cheese spread or almond butter for allergies), and raisins (enough for a snack for each student)
  • Plastic knives and paper towels
  • The “Healthy Snacks” song on either the computer or the CD player

On chart paper or whiteboard, write these English and Spanish phrases:
“Healthy snacks” or “Bocadillos sanos
“Good food” or “Comida buena

This is a good time to invite parents or caregivers to come and help prepare the snacks, especially with the youngest children.


  1. Introduce the “Healthy Snacks” song, pointing out the title in English and in Spanish. Then begin playing the song on either the computer or the CD player. Have children start moving up and down as if they are riding a horse in time to the music. When the chorus plays, have the children begin to sing along. Pause the music, and point to the phrases “good food” and “comida buena.” Begin the music again, and this time as the chorus plays, have the children substitute “comida buena” for “good food.” Talk about languages, and point out that they are singing in English and Spanish.

    If other home languages are represented in your classroom, ask these students if they know another way to say “good food.” Write the words on the chart paper, and have the students sing again, substituting the new phrase.

  2. Now, tell the students they are going to make a healthy snack or bocadillo sano. Divide the class into small groups. For younger students, have a helper at each table. Distribute the ingredients for “Ants on a Log”: celery pieces, peanut butter or a substitute, and raisins.

  3. As children make and eat their snacks, have them talk about the kinds of snacks they have at home.

  4. Call the students together again. Talk about why their snack was really “comida buena,” good food. Play the music again, and have the students call out the good foods talked about in the song:
    apple (manzana), crackers (galletas), cheese (queso), banana (banana), celery (apio), popcorn (palomitas de maiz or maiz tostado), soup (sopa), orange (naranja), granola (granola or compuesta de cereales), peanut butter sandwich (sandwich de mantequilla de mani), tuna fish (los atunes), oatmeal (avena), milk (leche), and juice (jugo). Write these on chart paper.

    If you have children who speak languages other than Spanish, ask them if they can tell you how to say some of these words in their language. Write these words in other languages down, as well.

  5. Distribute the English- and Spanish-language activity pages from “Healthy Snacksand “Bocadillos sanos.” Ask the students to take these home and have their parents help them write and/or draw pictures of the healthy snacks they like to eat. Have children bring these pages back and share their favorite snacks with the class. Note: Encourage those who have different home languages to write or draw special foods they like to eat and describe them in their home languages.

Going Further: Host an International Snack Day. After the “Healthy Snack” pages are brought back to the classroom, invite parents to bring ingredients and help the children make some of the snacks they drew and wrote about. As parents and children share, have them talk about the different cultures represented and the special foods from their home country. Post the students’ healthy snack pictures, highlighting the words in the different home languages.

For Older Students: As students start learning words by labels you have around the room, add labels in other languages, as well. Invite students and parents to help you make the labels. As you direct students to different places in your room, such as tables, chairs, and windows, use the words in the different languages represented.

Note: If the languages use different characters, have the parents and students write the characters and pronounce them for you so that you can make a helpful transliteration.

This activity supports teachers and families celebrating children’s cultural and linguistic diversity, thereby building a stronger connection and acceptance among all children in the classroom.

This activity also supports classroom activities that focus on celebrating children’s linguistic and cultural diversity, which, in turn, allows them to feel safe and welcome. Consequently, the activity reduces teasing, bullying, or isolation that children may feel while they are learning English.


U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start
Honoring individual differences creates an inclusive community in this multicultural classroom” provides teaching strategies for teachers to support children and families from diverse populations, including recent immigrants and refugees from around the world.
Dual Language Learning: What Does It Take? Head Start Dual Language Report” is a study that assesses program needs, opportunities, and barriers as well as provides recommendations that effectively work with young dual language learners. 

Language Development” identifies developmental milestones for children ages-three-to-five-years old in both expressive and receptive language.

"Two Languages Better Than One for Kids’ Brains: Study” is a new study showing that children who speak more than one language seem to have a learning advantage in problem-solving skills and creative thinking.

National Association for the Education of Young Children
Meeting the Home Language Mandate: Practical Strategies for All Classrooms” provides tips and techniques for teaching English-language learners in preschool.

Where we stand on responding to linguistic and cultural diversity” provides a list of recommendations for preschool teachers for creating a welcoming environment that respects diversity and promotes both second-language acquisition and preservation of children’s home language and cultural identities. 

The Challenge of Working with Dual Language Learners: Three Perspectives: Supervisor, Mentor, and Teacher” provides strategic ideas for teachers who work with a diverse group of children and families.

Foundation for Child Development
Effectively Educating PreK–3rd English Language Learners (ELLs) in Montgomery County Public Schools is a case study that demonstrates how Montgomery County Public Schools have been effectively addressing English-language learners from prekindergarten to third grade. 

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition
Dual Language Learners in the Early Years: Getting Ready to Succeed in School provides information on how teachers can create conditions that optimally prepare children to be ready for school.

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Updated on 3/22/2014