Answering Students’ Questions about African-American English

Total time for this activity: 30 minutes

Part 1: Evaluating teacher responses to students’ questions about AAE

During the first 15 minutes, work with your assigned partner to discuss and evaluate the following questions by students (S) and answers by teachers (T). How effective is the teacher’s response to each question? Does each teacher response meet the goals of being effective, accurate, sensitive, and appropriate? Why or why not? How could you improve less-than-ideal responses?

  • Question (S): What do people mean when they say I done went to the stow?
  • Answer (T): This is how some people who speak AAE say I already went to the store. The word done goes before the verb to emphasize that the action already happened. And many speakers of AAE, as well as some other varieties of English, don’t pronounce the /r/ sound at the end of words.
  • Question (S): Someone at the gym told me I’m finna use dat machine. I didn’t really understand what he meant.
  • Teacher (S): Some African-Americans say finna but that’s not proper English, so please don’t repeat it.
  • Student (S): Why does my friend end so many sentences with the word yo?
  • Teacher (T): This is just something some Black people say. It doesn’t really mean anything.

Part 2: Providing your own responses to students’ questions about AAE

During the last 15 minutes of this activity, work individually to develop your own responses to the following questions students may have about AAE. Then work with your assigned partner to discuss and evaluate each others’ responses. Are they understandable, accurate, sensitive, and appropriate? How might you improve upon your responses?

  • Student (S): What does it mean when someone says Ain’t nun you can do.
  • Student (S): What does ashy mean? My friend said that’s how her arms were looking.
  • Student (S): I heard someone say At six, it do be dark. Isn’t that bad grammar?

Reflection activity: After today’s session has concluded, reflect on this module’s discussion, readings, and activities. What lingering questions do you have about African-American English and how you can effectively answer students’ questions about the use of AAE? How can you continue to improve your understanding of this variety of English after the course has ended?