Lesson 1


1. Good news! You have ten minutes of free time to do whatever you would like in your classroom. There is just one catch: you may not use any language during the ten minutes. If you are caught by your teacher or a classmate using any form of language, you will be sent back to your desk to wait quietly until the ten minutes are up. Go!

2. Divide a sheet of paper or an electronic document into two parts. On one side list everything you were able to do without using language. On the other side, make a list of everything you wanted to do and could not. 

3. Discuss and make a class list of why language is important. Post the list to use and add to throughout these lessons. 

4. Assignment: Over the next week, interview at least 3 people (family members, teachers, community members) about what languages they speak. This should include:

  • How many languages do they speak? What are the languages?
  • What circumstances or people led them to learn those languages?
  • Why are those languages important to them? 
  • Add to class language list. 

Section 1: Investigate the World

Investigate the world beyond your immediate environment


Investigate your world through the exploration of endangered languages and the impact vanishing languages have on the people who speak them. Integrate information from multiple types of visual and print information to build an understanding of vanishing languages. 

1.  Watch the UNESCO Languages Matter! video.

2. Add new learning to the language chart (and continue to do this throughout this unit).

3. Explore the Endangered Languages Map by the Alliance for LInguistic Diversity. Click on the dots for more information. Then, with a partner, discuss:

  • What are three things you noticed while exploring the map?
  • Which is most important and why?
  • What questions do you have?
  • Why is an interactive map a good way to share information about endangered languages?

4. Read "Ireland: Language and Cultural Identity" by Anna Hoffman. In your notes, write down three main ideas from the article and why each are important. Note any questions you have.

5. Use the map below to understand where Irish and English are spoken in Ireland today. 

Click here to view a larger version. 

  • What do you notice?
  • What information is necessary?
  • What information is interesting and unnecessary?

6. Watch the video "To Have Irish" by Anna Hoffman and the Pulitzer Center. Add to your notes:

  • What are three or more pieces of information you learned?
  • Why is the information important?
  • What questions do you still have?

7. Now, read the article "To Have Irish." With a partner, answer and add to your notes:

  • What more did you learn?
  • Was it helpful to watch a video and read an article on the same information?
  • Why do you think the Pulitzer Center provides both formats for visitors to their website?
  • Which format do you prefer, video or text? Why?

8. Assessment check-­in: Using your notes and the class language chart, share with your teacher the answers to the following questions:

  • Why are languages important? Be detailed in your response.
  • Why are some languages considered endangered?
  • How and in which formats did you learn this information? Why is each important?

Section 2: Recognize Perspectives

Recognize your own and others' perspectives


Recognize different perspectives on the importance of languages on culture and identity, and identify your own perspective. Prepare thorough and reflective information on the importance of language to share with classmates, using different types of visual and print information to strengthen key points. 

1. Divide into one of four groups:

  • "Learning Irish"
  • "Puju: A Language Warrior from Greenland"
  • "Turkey: Meet the 12-­Year-­Old Girl Who Risked Prison to Revive Her People's Language"
  • "Egypt: Saving a Language and a Culture on the Brink of Extinction"

2. Read the article your group is assigned. Look up any unknown words as you are reading and add them to your notes.

3. Together with your group, create a thorough summary of the information you read. Include evidence from the reading, and consider:

  • What is the author's perspective on the story and on languages? How do you know? Cite evidence.
  • What is your perspective? What are the perspectives of the people in your group? Are they similar to the author's perspective?
  • What questions do you have after reading the article? Research to see if you can find answers to those questions. Cite evidence.

4. Prepare the above information to share with your classmates in small groups. This can be shared orally with visual support (such as images and links on a doc, or using slides). 

  • Add visual and print elements to share that will enhance the information (maps, images, video clips, other stories, print information and websites, charts, or graphs). Use at least three different multimedia components.
  • Make sure each group member has a copy to share.
  • Each group member practices sharing. 

5. Groups jigsaw into new small groups so there are groups of four, one person representing each article. 

6. One person at a time shares their learning. Other group members take notes. Questions are asked after the sharing is complete. Repeat this process until everyone has shared.

7. Create a new class chart called Perspectives on Language. Add new information to this chart.

Section 3: Communicate Ideas

Communicate your ideas effectively with diverse audiences


Listen to and communicate effectively on diverse ideas. Form and express ideas and opinions on a topic. Pose thoughtful questions and responses to develop new understandings on language and language usage.

1. Choose a topic you are interested in:

  • Is cursive handwriting obsolete? Some schools have decided to stop teaching cursive handwriting because more people are typing or printing. Others believe it is very important for developing fine motor skills and believe cursive is a language people need to know how to read to have access to documents like the Declaration of Independance.
  • Should there be one universal global language all people should try to learn?
  • Should classical languages­ like Ancient Greek and Latin (root languages) be taught in schools?
  • Should schools teach traditional languages (like Irish) or should they be teaching modern languages (like English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi)?
  • Choose another language-­related topic of your choice to debate. Get permission from your teacher to add it to this list.

2. Get into groups of like interest and choose a side. Each side becomes a panel.

3. Like groups research information and evidence to support their thinking.

4. Create two panels at the front of the classroom to debate the topic. The two panels should be opposite views of the same topic.

  • Each panel member speaks his or her opinion on the topic and gives the reasoning for his or her opinion.
  • Repeat the process with the other side of the issue (the other panel).
  • Audience members pose questions to both sides of the panel.
  • Class votes on which side they agree with.
  • Audience members give feedback to the panels. 

5. As a class, add new learning to the two classroom language charts.

Section 4: Take Action

Translate your ideas into appropriate actions to improve conditions


Create a product, with strong evidence, to effectively communicate your learning about languages and their importance. Inspire others to learn a new language. 

We have learned how important language is in our lives and in the lives of people across the world. A vast number of studies have shown there are many benefits to being bilingual, such as being able to communicate with other people across the world, a deeper understanding of other cultures, higher salaries and more job opportunities, and better brain functionality (knowing more than one language builds brain matter and keeps your brain healthier!)

1. Get motivated by learning about the benefits of bilingualism.

  • Watch the Ted­Ed video: Benefits of the Bilingual Brain by Mia Nacamulli 
  • Why Bilingual Brains Rock!
  • Read the New York Times article: Why Bilinguals are Smarter by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

2. Make a list of the benefits of being bilingual.

3. Research additional benefits.

4. Pick one of the options to take action:

Option 1: Language classes in schools

1. Research what language programs your school or school district is currently offering. Consider:

  • Are current offerings sufficient (languages offered, class availability, time)?
  • Are students encouraged to enroll? Do students like the classes?
  • Is second language instruction started in early grades?
  • Would after school or language clubs be a benefit to students?

2. Decide on what would be a good next step for language instruction in your school or district.

3. Create talking points and/or a product (slides, video, podcast, brochure, etc.) to convince the school or district's decision maker to take that next step. Provide evidence for your opinions. Ask for teacher support as necessary.

Option 2: Convince others to consider language learning

1. Students are often inspired by other students to learn. Create a product sharing the following information with other students:

  • Why language is important
  • What you learned about endangered and vanishing languages
  • The benefits of bilingualism 
  • Convince and inspire others to learn another language

Option 3: Create a list of apps and resources

1. Sometimes students, or people in general, don't have access to language classes. However, there are many apps and resources for people to learn languages on their own. Research those apps, websites, and other resources. What is available?

2. Create an organized list of resources.

3. Talk to your teacher or school's technology teacher to list your list of websites, with a brief description of the benefits of language learning (with explicit evidence), on your school or school district's website. 

4. See if this link and information can be advertised on classroom blogs and school newsletters. 

5. Use social media to send your list to people who might be looking for that information or would be interested in language learning.

Please help us understand your needs better by filling out this brief survey!

Will you use this lesson plan in a class you teach?
By sharing your email address, you are opting in to receive updates from the Pulitzer Center Education team.