Many languages, one classroom: Supporting children in superdiverse settings


Oliva-Olson, C., Espinosa, L. M., Hayslip, W., & Magruder, E. (2019). Many languages, one classroom: Supporting children in superdiverse settings. Teaching young children, NAEYC.


This is the first of two articles offering strategies for teaching children in classrooms where a variety of home languages are spoken.

Matthew, a monolingual English speaker, and two assistants who speak Spanish and Tagalog, teach in a classroom with children who speak five different home languages. The classroom buzzes with new songs and phrases in English and sometimes words of comfort in each language. Carefully placed pictures and labels help children see and interact with key words and items from all their cultures. In one corner of the classroom, Matthew welcomes a new parent and arranges a family language and cultural background interview.

Are you one of the many teachers today with children in their classrooms who speak a number of different languages and are just beginning to learn English? Teaching in a classroom like this is a challenge! How in the world do you go about it?

You need concrete strategies you can use to support children’s language development in both English and their home languages. Of course, it’s ideal when teachers speak the children’s languages. But in superdiverse classrooms, that’s unlikely to be the case.

Here, we offer strategies from an approach we call personalized oral language learning (POLL). Teachers who have tried them find these strategies especially useful for supporting the learning and development of children in classrooms with a range of languages.

Transform your classroom into a rich setting with areas for children to talk and play, and with spaces for both quiet and active learning and small group interactions.

  • Label in each of the home languages of the children, with one color for each language used consistently throughout the classroom for schedules and topic displays. (Use an online translation tool, like Google Translate, and ask parents to help with specific words.)
  • Place environmental print in all the children’s home languages—everyday objects like magazines, food packaging, commercial products, etc.—throughout play areas and the classroom.
  • Display family photos, books, artifacts, and posters and other visuals from all the children’s cultural backgrounds throughout the classroom at child’s-eye level and in learning centers. Families are often eager to help supply the classroom with items from their home that represent family and cultural traditions, such as examples of artwork, empty food boxes, pictures, etc.

Teachers can work with librarians to select books in the children’s languages that relate to curricular themes and can adapt puzzles to include writing in all the children’s languages. Families can share songs, rhymes, and dichos (playful sayings) in all the languages of the children; they can also help stock the dramatic play area and art center with clothing and cultural artifacts from each child’s background.

In the February/March 2019 issue of TYC, we’ll share even more strategies for linguistically appropriate instruction.

This article supports the following NAEYC Early Learning Program Accreditation standards and topic areas
3B: Creating Caring Communities for Learning
3F: Making Learning Meaningful for All Children

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