Imagine if students could learn a language by opening up a math, history or science book.
If only there were a teaching method that allowed students to develop a firm grasp on the language and culture—and also learn their other school subjects along the way.
That would be a killer three-for-one package deal.
Think I’m reaching for the stars?
Well, maybe not.
This actually exists, and it’s called immersion teaching.
Are you looking for ways to help your students reach fluency in a foreign language more effectively?
Maybe you’re in search of a fun, engaging method that will help to deliver the results you want?
Or perhaps your school is considering an immersion curriculum for all its students, but you’re not sure how to make the leap.
Read on, friends. We’ve got everything you need to know in order to turn your school into a larger-than-life language lab with immersion teaching.
What Is Immersion Teaching?
Not quite sure what immersion teaching is or how to implement it at school? We can walk you through this.
Imagine that you can transport your whole school to a country where the target language is spoken, so your students can learn the language at a much faster pace and discover the richness of another culture.
That’s what immersion teaching is about—without actually moving anyone anywhere.
First and foremost, this method is all about using authentic materials. You’ll be using a variety of interactive multimedia content consumed by native speakers of the target language. This can be written content as well as authentic video examples of the language such as those available from FluentU.
Students will be exposed to lots of authentic material, which allows them to achieve a higher level of proficiency and fluency.
Modern immersion teaching takes advantage of all the technology we have at our disposal. After all, technology allows you to source and stage a wide range of situations so your students can receive a constant, ongoing exposure to the language they’re learning.
It recreates the immersive experience that you’d naturally encounter if you were living in the target region, full time. This will enable them to gain familiarity with the target language’s unique sounds and pronunciations. They’ll also get a chance to pick up more subtle non-verbal elements, social etiquette and codes. Most importantly, they’ll be placed in situations where they’ll use the language more readily and immediately.
That’s because the real virtue to immersion teaching is that it breaks down the barrier to language learning. It works by making language not the object of teaching, but the medium. Concretely, rather than teaching students how the language they’re studying works, you’ll be putting them in a context where they’ll be naturally using the language to communicate various things.
To make immersion teaching a reality, your best bet is to rethink your curriculum and integrate lessons about the language and associated cultures—even if you’re teaching math, science, history, art or gym class. Truly interdisciplinary, immersion allows students to utilize knowledge from various subject matters to help them to connect the dots faster.
Before we get into how to implement immersion teaching in any classroom—and while teaching any other subject in school—let’s take a quick look at all the benefits this teaching method has to offer.
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Benefits of Immersion Teaching
- Supports educational excellence
Research shows that students who get immersion teaching at school quickly gain a significant edge over monolingual students.
This isn’t limited to their language skills. Rather, by developing positive thinking patterns, it allows them to outperform monolingual students in the areas of cross-cultural sensitivity, literacy and even cognitive development.
So, by implementing immersion teaching at school, you’ll be giving your students the tools to become creative thinkers, better problem solvers and more employable on the ever-more competitive, global job market.
- Builds a high level of comfort with the target language
Immersion teaching allows students to rethink their view of the target language by breaking all barriers to communication. That’s because language isn’t the sole focus of immersion curriculum, ideas and content are.
This is incredibly empowering to learners, especially if they’re self-conscious about their accent or grammar skills. In immersion lessons, they aren’t exclusively judged on their usage of the language—it’s more important that they can understand things and get their ideas across. They’ll always have the opportunity to interact more freely and naturally, without fear of failing. So, students are more willing to engage and participate in class.
- Encourages students to learn naturally
The first days of immersion are the hardest for your students, especially if they have limited knowledge of the language to start. Eventually, things become much easier for them. Continuous exposure to a language is key to fluency.
Even students who don’t think they’re good at learning foreign languages will find a way to learn more easily. For instance, they’ll shine in another subject—like math or art—and, since they want to learn more about something they’re passionate about, the linguistic ability will follow.
- Exposes students to foreign cultures
Fluency isn’t about language alone. Their knowledge of the culture counts too.
Immersion teaching helps bridge the language and culture gaps that often pop up. It exposes your students to many aspects of cultures associated with the target language, especially ones that aren’t necessarily taught in the regular language classroom, such as pop culture, gastronomy, social etiquette and the educational system itself.
How to Successfully Integrate Immersion Teaching with Subject Classes
So, now that you know how and why immersion teaching works, here are some strategies to implement it at school. First, we’ll start with three big, general tips that must be applied to any immersion classroom.
Afer this, we’ll look into some specific strategies and activities for different subject classes.
3 Tips for Implementing Immersion Teaching in Any Class
1. Provide a structured learning environment
Structure is key to helping your students assimilate the immersion curriculum.
During an immersion lesson, a lot of concepts, vocabulary and content will be introduced at the same time. To help students learn all this, make it simple to understand and memorize everything. Students can often become overwhelmed when presented with overly-long lectures, reading assignments and demonstrations. There’s just too much new information crammed in there, and they need both time and support to learn everything from vocabulary and grammar to subject lessons.
To avoid this, keep it simple.
Just present the essential information in bullet points, rather than narrating everything at length. Accompany every new factoid with an example to illustrate your point.
Create recap worksheets that summarize a whole chapter or unit, and hand them out at the beginning of the lessons covering these chapters or units.
Use the blackboard to write down important keywords as you go over a concept. Summarize all important information, and use bullet points, lists, grids and graphs to keep things neatly structured whenever possible. PowerPoint is a great tool for creating easy-to-follow presentations on lesson content, and you can always skip back to the last slide if the class isn’t following.
2. Use visuals to complement any lesson
Not every student learns well through listening alone. Some of them do better when they see words in writing, and the majority excels when a combination of visual and audio elements is provided.
So, don’t neglect the following tools when teaching immersion-based classes:
- Signs and posters: Include oversized typography, colors and images to make key concepts and vocabulary pop.
- Real-life objects: Demonstrate a concept in action by using actual products or puppets.
- Charts: Condense information, and use different types of charts to show the relationships between different elements.
- Body language: Set the tone of the class by expressing your attitude through body language. For example, when describing a positive event in world history, express your excitement with your expressions and movements.
- Gestures: Every culture uses hands and non-verbal elements differently; show students some gestures that are used by native speakers of the target language.
- Ads and posters: Scatter large, educational signs and images around your classroom—or your entire school—that students can learn from while sitting or wandering down. This serves to increase overall familiarity with the language.
- Movies: Combine the power of visuals and sound, and get students excited about learning with fun content.
3. Motivate students to stay on course
There are numerous occasions to reward your students, when they’re making great progress in class and beyond.
Perhaps your shiest student is now actively engaging in classroom discussions. Perhaps some students never arrived late or missed a class all semester. Perhaps you’ve noticed that a student is taking a very active role in the school’s success, for example, as a class delegate, a volunteer or a model student.
Give them rewards to validate their effort and progress. This reward doesn’t have to be anything costly or big. Your students will appreciate any positive gestures that come their way. Rewards will make them feel appreciated, showing that you’ve noticed their effort and hard work.
Give your gifts a cultural flavor. That’s right, the rewards themselves can be educational! For example, a popular novel (written in the target language they’re learning), a cult movie that epitomizes an associated culture, a poster of famous personalities who speak the language or, better yet, foods from a particular region where the language is spoken.
Set up celebration times where students can learn in a festive atmosphere. This is a positive, memorable way to bring them closer to the culture of the country in question and give them something that they’ll look forward to. It’s also a terrific way to celebrate their bilingual and bicultural education.
The ideal way to plan this is to model your calendar after that of a country where the target language is spoken. Then you can celebrate all the major holidays and occasions along with native speakers around the world!
To get the right dates for your calendar, check out this Wiki. Almost every holiday has its own dedicated Wikipedia page that you can read to get a brief overview of its origins, meanings and customs.
Then, celebrate like natives do! Use special decorations and favors for this particular holiday. Search Google for the name of the chosen holiday followed by “decorations” or “ornaments.” Bring special costumes, food and music to complete your festivities and have fun!
Recommended Immersion Plans for 5 Subject Classes
These ideas are meant for two kinds of teachers:
1. The language teacher who wants to teach language lessons through other subjects.
2. The subject teacher who’s part of a school-wide immersion program.
They all work equally well for each kind of teacher, so dig in!
1. Physical Education
Playing sports is a terrific way to bring your students closer to the language they’re studying because it combines movement, fun and competitive spirit.
Better yet, it places the focus on the physical activity rather than the language, making it less likely that your students feel like they’re “on the line.”
This means that they’ll be more willing to communicate with each other in the target language, even if they’re self-conscious about their mistakes. Things move fast on the field, and students tend to place their desire to win above everything else.
The typical strategy for leading gym classes in an immersion environment is:
1. Explain the rules of the game or sport in the target language, and see if anyone has questions.
2. If any speaking is required, make sure students know the right words and phrases. Either way, teach your students some fun exclamations in the target language that they can shout out when exciting things happen on the field!
3. Play the game or sport, demonstrating your students’ comprehension.
One of the easiest activities to explain and execute is the relay race.
Each runner must hand off the baton to the next runner within a certain zone, usually marked by triangles on the track. So, you’ll need batons and triangle markers. If your school has a training field or outdoor track, use it! Split students into teams of four of five runners and go over the basic rules in the target language.
This will be a great occasion to teach them spots terminology and cheer on fellow teammates in the target language!
A strong storytelling component can really fast-track your students’ knowledge of the language and culture(s) they’re studying via immersion.
History teachers can make a profound difference in a school immersion program, and language teachers who integrate history lessons into their classes also have this same power.
Aside from teaching them about the roots of the language, history gives students a framework to think and understand current events and challenges.
One cool way to bring history to your immersion classroom is to have students create their own historical timeline.
Split your students into small teams of two or three, depending on how many students you have. Assign each team a time period for a particular region. Often, you’ll realize that assigning a team a whole century doesn’t make sense—the workload between teams may not be even considering that some centuries are less eventful than others.
To learn more about periods before assigning these tasks, read the country’s Wikipedia page or head over to this useful page on Timeline for a brief overview of the main events that occurred in this country. Alternatively, subscribe to CountryReports for concise insights about a variety of countries.
Once you’ve assigned everyone a time period, ask your students to conduct some research to identify key events, figures, inventions, publications, works of art and anything else that seems important. Let them create their own timeline on a poster, encouraging them to use colors, pictures and other visual elements to make their favorite elements pop. Set them up with a color code and keep it consistent for all groups: Black ink for political and events, green for economics, red for battles, blue for arts and so on.
With all the timelines created, assemble the posters together in chronological order, next to one another, on a wall in your classroom. There, you have a beautiful, larger-than-life timeline!
Along with historical facts about the target country or civilization, your students will learn plenty of useful vocabulary that applies to social sciences, including political, economic, social and cultural words. They’ll also solidify their knowledge of past tenses, along with numbers, locations and names of famous people.
Some students learn through experimentation, not theoretical studies.
That’s where science experiments come in.
They provide a terrific opportunity to develop scientific vocabulary while also introducing key theories, concepts and processes.
What better experiment to achieve this goal than building a volcano?
Not only is it fun, it’s also incredibly memorable, yet thrilling, inexpensive and easy to execute in class. Follow these WikiHow instructions to get started and get acquainted with the process. You’ll notice that there are numerous ways to create a volcano from scratch. Opt for the one that works best for you, that is, that is achievable within your desired timeframe and uses elements that your school already has available.
Next step, the actual construction! Go over the process with your students. This is a good opportunity to introduce them to the vocabulary of earth sciences, chemistry and, more generally, to the scientific method. To teach all of this, draw a chart on the board and ask students to follow these steps in the scientific method:
- Ask a question
- Formulate hypotheses
- Develop testable predictions
- Exercute the experiment
- Gather and analyze data
- Provide a discussion and a conclusion
If you’re looking for other cool experiment ideas, head over to this resourceful page on Science Kids. This will give you a general idea of what you can do, even though you’ll have to have to ensure that you’ve got all the vocabulary perfectly translated into the target language.
Don’t forget to supervise all science experiments, and to teach your students laboratory safety rules first!
No, lunch isn’t exactly a subject—even if some of us wish it were.
The important thing to know is that learning doesn’t stop in the classroom.
Turning your school cafeteria into a 100% target-language zone is a fantastic way to help the whole student body improve their fluency without much effort. That’s because they’ll be in situations where they’ll practice small talk in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
- Have lunches with authentic foods from places where the target language is spoken. Bringing these flavors into your school cafeteria may not be an option every day, but with one special lunch per week, you’ll still be able to introduce the spirit of the language and its related cuisine to the cafeteria.
- Hang posters and pictures of famous dishes. Make sure they include the names of the dishes and lists of main ingredients.
- Have the cafeteria staff add a unique target-language word or phrase to their name tags. This is a nice, personal touch, as you can ask them to choose an adjective that best describes their personality, their favorite vegetable or their favorite city where the target language is spoken.
- Display menus and food labels in the target language.
- If possible, make sure that the interactions with the cafeteria staff will be in the target language only.
This will enable your students to practice everyday communication, simple questions, food vocabulary and social etiquette.
Your school library is a fantastic gateway to immersion teaching.
Authentic books, dictionaries magazines, movies and audiobooks in the target language can bring your students closer to the language. Better yet, a library period is often a time for introspection and quiet individual study, which allows your students to focus and reflect.
But why not make the library even more inviting?
A great way to do this is to set weekly reading sessions. Pick a book of your choice, preferably a short, age-appropriate novel or story that’s well-known in the target language. Go over the storyline, introduce the characters and mention potentially difficult words in your teaser. Don’t tell the whole story, just give students enough elements to get them excited. You want them to be eager to read and find out what happens!
Gather students in a circle and pass the book around. Have a student read one portion aloud—whatever’s manageable, be it a sentence, paragraph or page. Then have that student pass the book on to their neighbor to continue reading out loud. Let them read at their own pace and incorporate their personality into their reading. Some students may be more “serious” than others, others more expressive. There’s no right or wrong!
Aside from strengthening your students’ reading and storytelling skills, this will teach numerous vocabulary words along with proper spelling. Reading on a regular basis is a fantastic way to help your students to visualize and remember how words are written.
Now that you have the tools to successfully teach your target language through immersion, what are you waiting for?
We know that your students are in for a treat.
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