Five first graders sit in a semi-circle around a table in the classroom of Souha Mansour as she guides them to answer questions, then speak in complete sentences.
“Everybody, what is this?” she says pointing to the object.
“A horse,” they respond in unison.
“Let’s say the whole thing,” she instructs.
“It is a horse,” the students say together.
“Is it a dog?” she asks.
“No,” the students answer back.
“What is this?” she asks again.
“It is a horse,” they respond.
“Is it a dog,” she asks.
“No,” they say.
“Say the whole thing,” she instructs.
“It is not a dog,” they reply.
The lesson continues as she points to different objects in the classroom and in the workbook on the table in front of each student. The floor. The bookcase. A box. A wagon.
When she notices a student not responding, she calls on that student to say the full sentence alone. The pattern of teacher questioning to identify an object in the classroom or in the workbook repeats over and over again. The teacher asks. The students respond. It goes on until the teacher is confident every student knows how to speak in complete sentences and is comprehending.
The 30-minute session is one of 10 sessions Mansour will do with small groups of students who are learning to improve their English while also learning other subjects at Lean Elementary School in Warren, a blue-collar community north of Detroit and Michigan’s third largest city.
English is not the first language spoken by parents in many of these students’ homes. Helping these students speak and understand English is a particular focus at Lean where 25 different languages are spoken among the nearly 600 students grades pre-K to 5. About 35 percent of the students are Bengali.
Mansour’s group of five first graders during a recent session represent that diversity. The five students come from families from four different countries. Two students come from homes where the families’ first language is Bengali; one, Arabic; another Vietnamese; and a fifth, Albanian.