Adult Ed

Exploring New York City's Ethnic Neighborhoods

Overview | Activities

Introductory Activities

One Question Interview

Divide the class into pairs and give one question strip from the One Question Interview handout to each pair of students. Make sure that students understand the question they have been given. Ask students to choose the role of note-taker or interviewer. Pairs circulate in the classroom surveying at least ten of their classmates with their assigned question. The note-taker will list the names of the students interviewed along with their responses. The interviewer is responsible for asking the question and eliciting a response. Once students have finished interviewing, ask students to review the results of their survey, to add up the number of students interviewed and to identify any commonalities and something surprising or interesting. Students prepare to report back by completing the following phrases:

We interviewed _____________people and asked them _____________________. Most people said ____________________. We thought it was interesting/surprising that ____________________.

Ask students to share their findings with the whole class. Make connections to the focus of this lesson, i.e., exploring New York City's ethnic neighborhoods.

The International Express

Divide the class into groups of three to four students and give each group a downloaded copy of The International Express: A Guide to Ethnic Communities Along the 7 Train. Assign one of the neighborhoods featured in the guide to each group. Next, distribute The International Express Activity Guide and explain that they will be reporting back on their assigned neighborhood to the whole group. Circulate and provide support as necessary.

Learning Activities

Around the World in a Class

Explain to students that they will become "urban anthropologists" and travel to three of New York City's ethnic neighborhoods — Harlem, Jackson Heights and Williamsburg. Distribute and review the Field Trip Guide and Schedule and Guide and Exploring New York City's Ethnic Neighborhoods. Students work in assigned field trip groups to generate interview questions and list what materials they will bring to complete on the field trip. Students should consider bringing paper, colored pencils, cameras, recorders and extra spending money to buy a typical cultural snack or artifact. Remind students that in some instances they may need to ask permission to take pictures or record.

Preparing to Interview

Post two pieces of newsprint in front of the class. At the top of one page write (+) and, at the top of the other, write (-). Ask for a student volunteer and together role-play an interview similar to what students will be doing on class field trips. You play the role of a shopkeeper who agrees to be interviewed by the student. Elicit from students what was effective about the interview and write on newsprint. Stress the importance of a clear and friendly introduction to the interview that includes the student's first name, school and reason for doing the interview.

Next, ask for a new student volunteer and flip the roles. The student will play the shopkeeper and you play the student who is interviewing. However, you should be ineffective at interviewing, i.e. do not make eye contact, do not listen, interrupt, etc. Ask the class to describe this second interview and list the characteristics of an unsuccessful interview on the (-) newsprint. In addition, review strategies to clarify an answer or to get an interviewee to speak more slowly.

Finally, ask for a different student volunteer who will play the role of interviewer and you play the role of shopkeeper. This time you should act suspicious about who the student is and why s/he is doing an interview. After a couple of minutes, stop the interview and ask the class to describe this interview. Ask the student who was interviewing how s/he felt. Explain that, while most shopkeepers will be easier to interview, there is always the possibility that some will be mistrusting, too busy or just not interested in being interviewed. Remind students that they will conduct the interview in small groups and therefore not encounter such a situation by themselves. Ask students to copy the characteristics of both an effective and ineffective interview in their notebooks.

In assigned field trip groups, students role-play effective interviewing using the questions generated above. Circulate and meet with each group to ensure that interview questions are accurate and pronunciation is clear. Once students are prepared to interview, ask for groups to volunteer and perform their interview in front of the class. Class should evaluate interviews based on the criteria listed on the newsprint paper.

On the Road

The class may meet at school or at a selected meeting spot for the field trip. It is important that students carry a subway map and a copy of the field trip guide in case they get lost, fall behind or arrive late. In addition, it is helpful if students have the cell phone number of a classmate who is on the trip to call if necessary. Once the group has arrived, review the journal questions from Exploring New York City's Ethnic Neighborhoods. Walk slowly through the neighborhood together taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Remind students to jot down observations in their journals and to take or sketch pictures. Some students may also be interested in recording their observations with a tape recorder. Students should also be listing new vocabulary words they say or hear. Next, ask students to break into their assigned field trip groups and choose a time and place to meet after their interviews. Student groups spread out and enter different local businesses to interview shopkeepers or customers. When students have completed their interviews they return to the meeting spot and briefly describe their experience. Remind students to bring their notes, pictures, or artifacts to the following class. Students who are able to stay will go to a local eatery to sample an ethnic food typical of the neighborhood.

Documenting and Sharing the Experience

When students return to the classroom, have them refer to their journal notes from the field trip to write a complete journal entry about the neighborhood visited. Collect the writing and give students feedback on what they have written. Students should write a second draft for which you will give editing suggestions and then complete a third and final draft. After writing draft one of the journal entry, students should take out any pictures or artifacts from the trip and show-and-tell the class. Remind students that they will need these items for their final project presentations.

Finally, have students break into their assigned field trip groups to reflect on the interview they conducted by discussing what they learned, what went well and how the interview could have been better. Post a piece of newsprint paper with the title "Tips for Future Interviews." Each group should share their reflections with the whole class. List any suggestions on how to improve the interviews on the newsprint.

Vocabulary Development

Ask each student to list one new vocabulary word they wrote down during the field trip on the blackboard. Explain that students will be keeping a vocabulary bank of words identified during field trips. Select and copy ten of the words. Next, erase the words on the blackboard and ask students to create a vocabulary section in their notebooks. Spell each of the ten words to the class which they then copy into their notebooks. Ask the students who listed the words dictated to explain the context in which they were seen or heard.

Divide the class into small groups and distribute English dictionaries. Have students work together to find the appropriate definitions of the ten words. Remind students that words can have several meanings and they should look for the definition that best matches the context in which the word was discovered. Students should list the definitions found on the blackboard and review them as a class. Practice and review should include identifying the part of speech and using the word in a sentence.

For additional vocabulary practice, create a crossword puzzle highlighting the field trip vocabulary. See Media Components for a website on which you can customize and produce a puzzle.

Culminating Activities

Exploring New York City's Ethnic Neighborhoods

Collect the final drafts of the students' journal entries along with any pictures taken or drawn on the three field trips. Select one to two pieces of writing by each student to compile and include in a class book. Ask students to volunteer to create a cover with the pictures collected and call the book Exploring New York City's Ethnic Neighborhoods. Use the remaining pictures as dividers to separate the neighborhoods that have been written about. If possible, makes copies of the book for every student. Distribute the book and having a "publishing" celebration at which students read their journal entries aloud and sign each others' books.

See and Tell

Divide students into six small groups and distribute Exploring New York City's Ethnic Neighborhoods Project Presentation Guide. Review the guide and then assign one of the neighborhoods visited to each group. Ask students to decide how they will present what they observed in their assigned neighborhood. Encourage students to be creative and use pictures, music, etc. in their presentation. Develop a presentation schedule and post. Prior to the start of presentations, give the students who are the "audience" a listening task such as listing three things they heard, writing what they liked best about the presentation, and/or additional questions they have about the neighborhood.

Extension Activities

Writing and Listening to Letters

Ask students to write a letter to a family member or friend about one of the neighborhoods visited. Collect the letters and read them aloud, without saying which neighborhood the student wrote about. Ask the class to guess which neighborhood the student wrote about.


Returning to the questions from the One Question Interview ask students to think about whether or not New York City is a melting pot or a mosaic based on their visits to the three ethnic neighborhoods. They should also consider what they have seen or experienced in other areas of New York City. Next, write "New York City is a melting pot." on the blackboard. To ensure an equivalent number of students on each team, divide the class in half and assign positions, i.e., agree and disagree. Teams then select a captain and start brainstorming points that support their team's position. List the steps of the debate, i.e., 1) stating the team's position 2) presenting the points to support the team's position and 3) rebuttal, on the blackboard. Stress that the debate is both a speaking and listening activity and students should note points made by the opposing team in preparation for the rebuttal. In advance, explain the criteria for "winning" which in the case of English language learners should be both clarity and persuasiveness. If possible, bring in another teacher or program staff person to judge or co-judge the debate.

Web Quest

Ask students to do some online research and write a profile of one of the countries represented in the neighborhoods visited. The profile should include the name of the country, its location, the language(s) spoken there and a minimum of five facts of interest.

Community Activities

Exploring New York City's Ethnic Neighborhoods Bulletin Board

In this activity students will work collaboratively to create a display about the ethnic neighborhoods they have visited. Ask students to divide into one of the working groups of interest below.

Artists: Students draw and/or collect pictures of the ethnic neighborhoods visited and write the bulletin board title: Exploring New York City's Ethnic Neighborhoods.
Writers: Students write captions, titles, descriptions of neighborhoods, places of interest, directions to get there and the name of the course and the semester/cycle. A copy of the class book could also be posted on the bulletin board.
Designers: Students choose color and place pictures, neighborhood descriptions, etc., on the bulletin board.

Community Discussion: Is New York City a melting pot or a mosaic?

Invite students from other classes to participate in a discussion about whether New York City is a melting pot or a mosaic. Students act as facilitators of the discussion and provide an introduction to the discussion by sharing their bulletin board and describing the work they have done in this lesson.