Classroom Activities to Promote Cultural Connections

By Sakoi Junko, Tucson Unified School District and Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico

In our first WOW Current for October, we talked about how the “Read, Write, Review for Us (RWRU)” project was reaching out to help educate local Tucson children about refugee students’ homelands and cultural diversity. This week, we will expand on our discussion about ways to engage young children in making cultural connections. Two ways we used to expand that discussion was to create hands on activities in which the children could create and share with the children from the other school. Through book browsing, described in the previous WOW Currents’ October posts, each student chose a book with which they felt a strong connection. On the bookmark face, they wrote the book title, information about the author and illustrator, and themes of the story. On the back, the students’ expressed through writing and drawing how much they appreciated the book from a reviewer’s perspective. Once this process was complete, the 5th graders sent their creations, along with a letter, to their pen pals at another Tucson school. In all, it was a careful process that took reading, writing, reviewing in order to learn about other cultures and create a bookmark for their pen pal friends.

The Marshallese girl chose the story On a School Day in the Marshall Islands, reflecting her school life in the Marshall Islands. She said, “This book talks about my school in my Islands. I want to share (this book) with my pen pal friend,” and then she created a bookmark (see Figure 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Bookmark created by 5th grader from the Marshall Islands (Front).

Figure 2: Bookmark created by 5th grader from the Marshall Islands (Back).

A girl from Somalia created a bookmark with the book Up!: How Families around the World Carry their Little Ones (see Figures 3 and 4). She said that story reminds her mom carried her and her sisters. A student from Iraq chose to read the book, Birthday Customs Around the World and created a bookmark with it. She said that it reminded her of her sister’s and her own birthday parties at home and wanted to share the book and how she celebrates a birthday with her pen pal friend.

Figure 3: Bookmark created by 5th grader from Somalia (Front)

Figure 4: Bookmark created by 5th grader from Somalia (Back).

Through this project, we found that reading a book about the students’ homeland was overall a very emotional and meaningful experience for the students. It was evident as we read through the students’ writing that that cultural connections to their homelands had really motivated them to put a lot of thought and effort into their bookmarks, reviews and letters. Their experiences and memories served as a learning resource for their pen pals as they discussed the children’s books from the book browsing sessions. The experience empowered the 5th graders as they recalled their “previous home” through the their cultural heritage and the shared stories. This project helped provide an authentic purpose of literacy practice, reading, and writing.

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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