Finding Success in Play-Doh

As part of a Service Learning class here at the College of Charleston, I am volunteering 2 days a week at an Elementary School on John’s Island. John’s Island is a rural community in the Charleston Area that is home to a lot of Migrant Farmworker Families, many who are Spanish-speaking. This is not my first time working with the Spanish-speaking community on John’s Island, and through my experiences I have learned a lot about their lives and the obstacles they face.

One of these obstacles is learning English. For the parents, it is especially difficult because they work from sun up to sun down and have little time left in the day to learn English. Their children, if they begin school in the States early on, are usually a little bit better off because they are fully immersed in the language at school in their formal instruction and through social time with other students.

While these kids seem to acquire English quickly as their second language, there are usually gaps in their knowledge. For example, they may be able to carry on a conversation with you just fine but when they have to take a test that requires reading directions or reading for meaning they falter.

They also might ‘code-switch’ when they are talking to you, meaning they switch between English and Spanish in the same sentence/conversation without really realizing it. Most of these kids speak only Spanish at home with their parents so it is very easy for them to switch back and forth and get confused while doing so.

Below is a little info-graphic I found a while back that makes me smile, and really puts things in perspective for people who have never tried to learn a second language and may not understand how difficult it can be. Click here if you need to see a bigger version.

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Basically my time at the school has been spent working with these students who need a little extra help with their English. I have been working specifically with one little girl who just came to the states and is in the 5th grade. This puts her at a disadvantage because she is older, and to some extent has already passed the ‘sponge’ stage of acquiring a language naturally.

Having no English at all, I have been working with her on the basics. Naturally we started with the alphabet, but I was finding my task difficult and overwhelming. I can speak Spanish, but I have not been trained as a teacher, and I especially don’t know how to go about teaching someone English from the beginning (i.e. Kindergarten level). And if I was feeling overwhelmed, I can only imagine how she was feeling.

After much googling, I finally found a site that mentioned using play-doh when teaching the letters. And because what 21-yr old doesn’t have play-doh…i quickly stashed 2 jars in my school bag in preparation for the next day.

Monday morning, with play-doh in tow I arrived feeling a little more optimistic than the last time. And y’all, I am happy to say (as if the title of the post didn’t already clue you in) that we were very successful! Not only did the play-doh supplement my lesson, but it was fun! Who doesn’t love play-doh?

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She would make the letters out of play-doh as I called them out to her, and we were able to go over the sound that each letter makes and even create some basic words. At the end we had a race to see which of us could make the word out of play-doh the fastest, and she seemed to really enjoy that.

It finally seems as if I have made a breakthrough or at least a step in the right direction and I will definitely be bringing play-doh every week. It was so awesome to see her smiling and enjoying herself instead of being overwhelmed by the task at hand. Plus I felt a little more on my game.

What are you working on lately that has you stumped? Have you tried google? (Of course you have) Do you have any successful play-doh stories? (You definitely do)

Happy Hump Day to All!

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One thought on “Finding Success in Play-Doh

  1. Pingback: Find the Beauty Friday (3/1/2013) | mel and la vida bella

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