What Should I Know About Teaching English in Classes? (source lost)

Many language educators have come to view content-based language classes as

the ideal environment for language learning and teaching. Content-based language

classes differ from ordinary language classes and ordinary content classes

in that they involve both language and content objectives for students, and they

gear instruction to the needs of language learners.

SIOP Model specifically addresses the

integration of content, language, and cognitive development.

content courses focus on the teaching of a specific

subject matter, they can provide large amounts of contextualized comprehensible

input and the opportunity for authentic conversations and negotiation of meaning

learners will not

develop particular language abilities if they do not receive comprehensible input,

practice, and communicative experiences in that variety of the language.

since teachers

in these classes are familiar with content being learned and with what students

may want to communicate, they are able to scaffold learners’ conversational

attempts by supplying needed vocabulary or structures.

ELs who appear to be very “fluent” in oral

varieties of English can still have difficulty with school assignments that require

abstract reasoning and formal writing. (EFL and other foreign language learners

can have the opposite problem of being exposed to formal but not conversational

language, resulting in difficulties establishing social relationships.)

Helping Learners Develop Academic Language in Content Classes

Assess your learners’

degree of language and

cognitive development.

What kinds of educational experiences has the

student had previously?

What kinds of language experiences has the

student had outside of school, such as at home

or in church?

Does the student’s level of cognitive development

seem to be appropriate for the age and grade


Does the student’s knowledge of the world

(animals, geography, life skills, etc.) seem to be

appropriate for the age and grade level?

Does the student seem to speak English well but

still have difficulty learning content?

Does the student seem to learn more successfully

when the content is presented orally rather than

through reading?

Is the student able to participate in class discussions

on abstract topics but unable to express similar ideas

adequately in writing?

Generation 1.5 and Transnational Students

The distinction between BICS and CALP is especially critical in understanding a

group of learners who have come to be called Generation 1.5. Generation 1.5 learners

are longtime immigrants to the United States who are not literate in their first language

and who also have language problems in English. They are called Generation

1.5 because they have characteristics of both first- and second-generation immigrants.

Like second-generation immigrants, they can seem thoroughly acculturated into

American society, but, like first-generation immigrants, they may not be literate in

English. Like other students with good BICS but little CALP proficiency, Generation

1.5 students tend to do fine in oral activities in school; however, their English difficulties

become more apparent in content classes, especially when they must do academic

writing. In fact, teachers may not even realize that these students are still language

learners until they see their written work. Unfortunately, Generation 1.5 students

are typically exited from ESL or bilingual classes because of their good oral proficiency

and therefore receive little if any help to improve their English proficiency. For

this reason, often the only chance they have to improve their English proficiency is

through the intervention of alert teachers in their content classes.

Some Generation 1.5 English learners may simultaneously be heritage

learners of their family’s native language. Heritage learners typically can understand

and speak their family language much better than they can read or write it.

Thus, it is unfortunately possible that some Generation 1.5 English learners will

not have a good CALP foundation in either English or their heritage language.

In addition to Generation 1.5 students, many ELs and their families are

transnationals who move back and forth between the United States and their

countries of origin. These learners may have gaps in their literacy development in

both their native language and in English due to interruptions in their schooling

in both countries. They may also have especially complicated feelings about their

true cultural identities.

When children learn their first language, they are exposed to large amounts of

contextualized language input. Language input is contextualized when it refers

to objects and actions in the learner’s immediate environment.

oral interactions in content language classes approximate authentic

communication because everyone involved has a stake in understanding what

the other participants are saying.

the contextualization of language in content classes facilitates scaffolding

by helping teachers understand and respond helpfully to learners’ oral

comments. Teachers are better able to anticipate the kinds of things students will

want to say and to help them articulate their ideas through feedback and scaffolding.

teachers in

content-based language classes are careful to develop specific language objectives for

their students, while content teachers often concentrate on their specific content area,

expecting the ESL or bilingual teacher to take care of language development.

One important difference between content-based language classes and regular

content classes is the explicit emphasis on both language and content learning. By

examining information and concepts in their subject area, content-based language

teachers develop language objectives for their students and coordinate those objectives

with the content to be taught.

There are generally two ways to organize language objectives: around grammar

and around the kinds of things learners will need to communicate.

In recent years, however, language educators are more likely to use

syllabi organized around communication tasks and the kinds of ideas that people

need to communicate. Topics on this type of syllabus might include narration in

the present and the past, hypothesizing about the future, making requests, supporting

an opinion, and apologizing.

it is helpful to think of recycling language objectives and concentrating on the

same objective or objectives at different points during the year.

Listening input can be made

comprehensible to more learners by using foreigner talk. Teachers should articulate

clearly and use high-frequency vocabulary words (“kick the ball hard” rather

than “kick the ball firmly”) and simple sentence structures (“stand there” rather

than “I would like you to stand over there”). Narrow listening is another useful

way to make listening input more comprehensible and can be easily incorporated

into thematic units.

Since it is likely that many language learners will have difficulty learning content

through class discussions, teachers should summarize each discussion or elicit a

summary from students. This approach has the advantage of reinforcing the content

of the discussion for all students.

text may define an abstract concept such as

“population” or “urban area” and then go on to use the newly defined terms in

increasingly complex ways. If a student does not understand the concept of population

when first introduced,

Helping Learners Read to Learn in Content Classes

Help students understand

that the language used in

class materials is different

from the oral language they

use in social situations.

Point out specific common examples of the

way BICS and CALP language express the

same idea.

Have students identify instances of BICS

and CALP language in various texts.

Make certain that students

have the background

knowledge they need to

read a particular text.

Preview reading materials to determine the

background knowledge that students need

to know.

Use advance organizers and other prereading

strategies to activate background knowledge.

When necessary, teach students the necessary

background information before asking

them to read.

Teach specific content

reading strategies.

Tell students how to skim text to get the

general idea of the material and activate

background knowledge before reading.

Encourage students to scan text in order

to identify specific information, especially

when reviewing content reading materials.

Teach students to take notes and keep a

record of important information. Reviewing

notes and then rereading the text is a very

helpful reading strategy.

Help students develop good

dictionary strategies.

Help students identify important words

and distinguish between important and less

important words.

Encourage students to finish reading a paragraph

before they jump to the dictionary.

When ELs in content courses have reading difficulties, it can be difficult to

determine the source of their difficulties. A student may simply be at an early stage

of English development, but it is also possible that the student does not know how

to read in his or her first language, has a reading disability, or does not have sufficient

academic background. Students from immigrant or refugee families may

have had little formal schooling due to frequent family moves or the political situations

in their home countries.


teachers often have difficulty determining whether a student’s writing difficulties

are due to an inability to write in English, lack of CALP language, difficulties understanding

the content material, difficulties organizing concepts, or a combination of

these factors.

Coherence refers both to the logical sequence of a text and to the way ideas are

related to each other. Good writing is not a simple listing of ideas: the writer must

show readers how the ideas are connected, and the ideas must follow each other

logically. The sentences in a paragraph must connect to each other and advance the

central idea of the paragraph, and all the paragraphs in a paper must relate to each

other and to the overall unity of the written text.

articles are

an importance source of coherence in English. In the sentences “Phil ran into a

friend while he was at the store. As the two were talking, the friend realized he

was late and quickly said good-bye,” the switch from the indefinite to the definite

article signals to the reader that the sentence is now talking about a specific friend.

There are, of course, many ways to achieve coherence in writing such as repeating

phrases from one sentence to the next or using synonyms and pronouns to avoid

repeating the same phrase over and over.

Most tasks require the use of several second language skills as well as learners’

other cognitive abilities, and students generally work in groups. The listening

and reading components give students targeted input that they can later incorporate

in speaking and writing. Conversation theories maintain that reusing the same

vocabulary, language structures, and ideas reinforces learners’ second language

development, and from the perspective of the cognitive learning theories of SLA,

language becomes more automatic each time the learner uses it. Students might

first do a lot of listening and speaking to decide how to approach the task and what

Some Guidelines for Teaching Language

Through Content

Activities in content classes should focus on both language and content objectives

for ELs. ESL teachers in stand-alone or pull-out classes should identify the kinds of

tasks students will have to accomplish in their content classes and include similar

assignments in their language curriculum.

1. Assess students’ existing knowledge in the content area. It is essential that classroom

tasks be at the appropriate level of content difficulty. If a student is having

difficulty learning content or accomplishing tasks, it is important to know

whether the difficulty is due to limited second language development or to

insufficient content background.

2. Assess students’ CALP language development. It is especially important to be

sure that students are progressing in their CALP language development. Be

sure to look for differences in ease of expression when students are talking

about concrete “here and now” social topics (BICS) and more abstract academic

topics (CALP). Look for opportunities to have “CALP” conversations

with individual students.

3. Choose tasks that require a variety of language skills. The use of various language

modalities (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) enhances language

learning. The input derived from listening and reading gives students

patterns that can be used as building blocks in oral and written language

production, and the repetition and negotiation of ideas through speaking

and writing helps learners clarify their ideas and state them more comprehensibly.

4. Include targeted oral and/or written input as part of the content task so that students

have a model for the kind of language they will have to produce. Complex

final products such as summaries or reports are usually more demanding

for students than the projects that they are doing or did in their ESL or

bilingual classes. For that reason, it is very helpful to include an oral or

written model of the kind of language students will need to accomplish the

task. For example, Task 2 (“Prove It!”) in the next section asks groups of

students to prepare mathematical proofs and has the teacher both explain

and write a sample proof as the first step in the task. Hearing and seeing

the teacher do the proof first gives students an idea of the scope of the task,

the steps involved, as well as specific phrases and vocabulary that can be

used. They can also refer to the teacher’s original proof for relevant language


5. Remind students about language learning and communication strategies that will be

helpful in accomplishing a specific task. Since content assignments are organized

around independent, individual, and group work, strategy use is especially

important. These strategies will also be helpful to students if they find themselves

in a “sink or swim” situation in other content classes where they must

rely on themselves to figure out an assignment.

Teach students to take notes and keep a

record of important information. Reviewing

notes and then rereading the text is a very

helpful reading strategy.

7. Apply the SIOP Model and CALLA (see next section).

CHAPTER E I G H T / What Should I Know About Teaching Academic English . . .?

Activity Ideas pg. 195

Like the SIOP Model discussed in Chapter 3, Anna Uhl Chamot’s Cognitive

Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) is a widely used

method for teaching language through content and is made up of

3 components:

1. The instructional topics are chosen from major content subjects.

2. Instruction focuses on the development of academic language and literacy.

3. There is explicit instruction in both content and language learning strategies.

198 PA R T T W O / How Do You Teach a Language?

content-based language learning since students are learning content and language

simultaneously. Without resolving the general question of whether language

learning and content learning are the same or different processes, a hybrid learning

model such as the one underpinning CALLA seems reasonable for language

learning in content settings. The cognitive learning element of Chamot’s approach

is similar to the controlled processing and automatic processing components of

the cognitive learning SLA theory described in Chapter 2. Chamot is concerned

with how learning—either language or content—becomes automatic through

the interaction of declarative knowledge and procedural memory. Declarative

knowledge “consists of facts and information that we know” (Chamot, 2009 p. 18)

and “includes words (forms and meanings), facts, and rules, including our memory

for images and sequences of events” (p. 9). Procedural memory, in contrast,

refers to “things we know to do” (p. 18), and “underlies our ability to understand

and generate language” (p. 9). Thus, Chamot agrees with the cognitive learning

theory of SLA in that language learning is very similar to other types of learning

and that with sufficient practice language becomes automatic.


What teachers do: Conduct class in the target

language ensuring that both

the content and language is

comprehensible to students.

Monitor student comprehension.

Identify, teach, and promote the

use of learning strategies for the

specific content and language

objectives. Teach test approach


Coordinate instructional

objectives with state and

national standards.

Promote higher-order thinking


Use a variety of activity types

such as cooperative learning,

process writing, and inquiry


Use alternative assessment


What students do: Participate in content learning

activities that are designed to

develop language literacy.

Apply language and content

learning strategies.

Participate in a variety of

learning activities including

experiential learning.

Engage in self-assessment.

Although many content-based language

teachers choose to give separate grades for the language and content components

of an assignment, it is never possible to separate the two areas completely

since poor language use might make it seem that the learner does not understand

the content well. The use of group work in content classes can also make it difficult

to detect individual difficulties in either language or content.

All in all, rubrics that combine language and content criteria are a good

assessment choice in the content classroom.

Since task-based activities provide time for planning, opportunities for

revision, and the possibility of negotiation of meaning, students may produce

more polished speech during task-based activities than they do in spontaneous

conversations or class discussions. It is important to remember that the quality

of students’ language will vary according to the demands of each specific task.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s