Organized Session: Linguistics in High School: Pathways towards Student Engagement


Over the past several years, considerable efforts and progress have been made toward bringing linguistics in various forms to K-12 students and the general public, and in particular toward highlighting the benefits of using a linguistics framework to address issues of equity, diversity, and discrimination both in schools and in society at large. As the community of linguists in the schools grows, whether through teachers who have linguistics backgrounds, self-taught linguists with a passion for the discipline and bringing it to their students, or linguists in higher education partnering with K-12 teachers, opportunities for engaging students in linguistics research and introducing them to the disciplines also grow. The opportunities are as varied as the different settings within which each linguist operates, whether in their classroom, school, district, or professional organization.  

This symposium highlights a range of ways in which teachers have engaged high school students in the study of linguistics and linguistics research, and possible ways in which students can become further engaged in linguistics via professional organizations. In her presentation, Amy Plackowski describes a thematic approach in a core English Language Arts (ELA) high school class in which students used a linguistics framework to address both current issues of interest in our nation and the world, such as fake news and prescriptivism in the public sphere, and traditional ELA content such as poetry, fiction, and film. Tatiana Yudovina and Nick Boros, math teachers, bring a different perspective to those interested in linguistics in schools. They present their work with high school juniors and seniors in an intensive linguistics elective course framed around constructed languages. In her presentation, Cristina Procaccino, a high school Latin teacher who has sponsored a linguistics club at her school for nearly a decade, describes how the club’s activities and network have grown over the past year. They have formed a Linguistics League and developed a strong social media presence and following, drawing in several hundred students from across the world. Daniel Ginsberg’s presentation provides a model for how high school students can be brought into an academic discipline by intentionally providing opportunities for academic discourse socialization. In this case study, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) accepted two high school student interns who, under the guidance of AAA staff, researched and selected academic articles of interest, and wrote accessible and engaging summaries that were published on the AAA’s public education website. This model could be extended to the LSA and linguistics, and provides insight into how professional societies can work to further advance their disciplines.


Amy Plackowski (Hudson High School, Hudson, MA)

Linguistics and Media Studies as a core English Language Arts course

In the fall of 2020, Hudson High School in Hudson, Massachusetts began offering a Linguistics and Media Studies course that 11th and 12th grade students can take for core English Language Arts (ELA) credit. Teachers developed creative approaches to offering content in linguistics while meeting the requirements of a core ELA curriculum. They organized the course around thematic units that present students with a question, issue, or case study that can be examined through a linguistic framework. These units include “Descriptivism and Prescriptivism in the Public Sphere,” “Black Language on Trial,” and “‘Fake News’: Politics, the Media, and Language.” Students approach these issues by gaining knowledge in phonology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and other subfields. This course structure allows students to explore the application of linguistics to media literacy, anti-racism, and traditional ELA content such as poetry, fiction, and film.


Tatiana Yudovina (Hawken School, Gates Mills, Ohio), Nick Boros (Hawken School, Gates Mills, Ohio)

A Linguistics Elective in High School

In Winter of 2019, Hawken School in Gates Mills, Ohio offered an Introduction to Linguistics elective to high school students. The course was structured around the creation of a constructed language for an imaginary world. Students began by creating the phonetic inventory and developed other components following units on writing systems, morphology, syntax, and pragmatics. As their final project, students created a grammar and dictionary for their language and wrote a creative piece in it. Students were also exposed to several types of linguistic research, such as field data collection by interviewing a Hungarian speaker, replicating the Wug Test on kindergarteners, and deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. These activities addressed one of our essential questions: How can language be studied scientifically? Our other essential question examined how linguistics can be used to solve societal problems and was addressed by learning about language preservation efforts, accent-based prejudice, and issues surrounding African American Language.


Cristina Procaccino (Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax, VA)

Creating a National Linguistics Network for K-12 Students

In January 2021, a group of high school students formed a Linguistics League (LL). Their mission was to build a national network of high school students interested in linguistics and provide extra-curricular programming for high school students. They have developed a social media presence, and prepare and share facts about language and linguistics, working to engage K-12 students and teachers. Through social media, the group has also partnered with members of indigenous language groups to help highlight the voices and languages of Indigenous people. Through these outreach efforts, the LL has recruited several hundred high school students from across the world. They have partnered with undergraduate linguistics groups and have led linguistics quizbowl events and social meet-ups. The LL has collected data on the interests of K-12 students interested in pursuing linguistics and has worked to offer a wide variety of linguistics activities to high school students. 


Daniel Ginsberg (American Anthropological Association, Arlington, VA)

Socializing High School Students in the Academic Enterprise through Professional Societies 

In spring of 2020 and 2021, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) offered virtual internships to two high school students each year. During four weeks of virtual collaboration, their task was to select recent articles from AAA journals that matched their interest, and to rewrite those articles as engaging summaries for their fellow high school students. To accomplish this, interns analyzed the discourse structure of academic writing and contrasted it with popular science journalism, a genre that intersperses expert perspectives with concrete narratives that make the topic relatable to lay audiences. This analysis informed their approach to their final write-ups, which are now available on the website of the AAA’s public education initiative. Our experience shows that a brief intervention can involve high school students in the real work of an academic discipline, positioning them as valued community members who provide something of value to the community.