Kids create bilingual dictionaries

Project boosts their English, Spanish skills

Juan Neavez likes not only that the bilingual dictionary he’s putting together helps him to learn more English. It also feels good to figure out words.

“Otherwise I have to tell my (older) sister to help me,” the Timberwilde Elementary School fourth-grader, 9, said.

In the Bilingual Dictionary Technology Integration project, students in the school’s second and fourth grade use computers and their own imaginations to create English-Spanish dictionaries.

Much of the teaching done by Juan’s teacher, Grace Codd, and second-grade instructor Nelda Rodriguez is like that in the 27 Northside School District campuses with bilingual classrooms. A teacher at each grade level gets all the students identified as limited English proficient – three in Codd’s classroom, six in Rodriguez’s room.

The other students in those classes volunteered for what Northside calls the Ole program. They are English speakers who get some Spanish lessons.

But it’s not as simple as describing the students as English and Spanish speakers.

Some of the students taught in English know almost no Spanish; others could hold their own in a conversation. Some of the Spanish-dominant children speak well enough to translate for classmates; others don’t use the formal structure to read and write in that language.

Codd, Rodriguez and instructional technologist Rosena Garcia, came up with the dictionary idea to help students learn to use both languages properly.

The children look up definitions, but in their own dictionaries they write in both languages, giving teachers an opportunity to teach grammar, vocabulary and syntax.

Kensey Shannon, 10, who is learning Spanish, showed how the program works. She types words from her notebook into an Excel spreadsheet. She writes down the words when she hears them or wants to say something in Spanish.

Eventually the children will sort the words in alphabetical order and use a publishing program to complete the dictionaries, said Rosena Garcia, the instructional technologist.

“The big thing is the relevancy to the student,” Garcia said. “It’s very personal.”

Briana Salazar, 8, says the project is fun – using the computer, looking up words.

“Sometimes it’s hard, (but) it’s really cool,” she said.

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