Last week we talked about 5 Easy Ways to Add Language to Any Lesson. My goal there was to have us, ESL teachers, share this information to any new teachers in the field and also to content teachers. In that post, we talked about different layers, or levels, of language. I also shared a little goodie that includes a layers of language checklist. Because I really do love a checklist. As my daughter would say...it's just my thing.
This was personally something I hadn't explicitly thought out within my lesson plans. I knew the activities I wanted to do to look at these layers (even though I wasn't really thinking in terms of levels yet), but I wasn't being intentional with my planning.
I always tried to plan my lessons with the four domains in mind (speaking, writing, reading, listening), but something clicked with me when I thought about these two things together. I knew I wanted my lessons to be as balanced as possible and touching on all of the domains, and I knew of course that my goal was to get my students to grow in proficiency level, but looking back I wasn't thinking of the language layers in a vertical way. I wasn't looking at them as a staircase- it was more of a...well...floor! I soon started planning my tasks to show upward movement within the levels in each of my lessons.
I asked myself: Are my students SWRLing every lesson? Am I requiring them to use language at each level? Are they engaging in discourse through writing or speaking, and are they using the words and sentence structures we have been discussing?
In my (second!) YouTube video, I talk a little more about this and activities to go with the levels. Here are some examples, and there are some more great examples and details in the charts below from WIDA!
1. Word Level: This is where we are looking at our different tiers of vocabulary. As ESL teachers, we mostly live in tier 2. Tier 1 are words like run, dog, walk, cat. I certainly spend some time with these and my beginners, but it's not a focus. Tier 2 are words that students will see across content areas, have multiple meanings, and are important for reading comprehension. Examples are measure, establish, contrast, relative, resume. Tier 3 words are content-specific and technical jargon. Examples are isotope, legislature, permutation.
Activities to support this level are having students make their own personal dictionaries, word maps, and Frayer cards, to name just a few.
2. Sentence Level: At this level, we are focusing on grammar and sentence structures, language forms, and conventions. When looking at a sentence to pull out and do a language dive with, it's important to look at the word level within this sentence and also analyze how this sentence is helping your students understand the task and objectives/standards at hand. In other words, don't just pull out any old sentence! Be intentional.
Activities for the sentence level include juicy sentences and analyzing sentence strips. We talked about juicy sentences in our previous post (along with the free template goodie!) so go check that out! But sentence strips have been an all-time fave of mine because I can gamify it. I am telling you, just about every time I tell my high-schoolers that they are about to compete with their classmates to see who can arrange them the fastest, they are all about it.
So for this activity, it's again about being intentional. I will usually cut up a summary or a paragraph from our text that has the structures and vocabulary I want them to analyze, and they have to put them back together. In this previous post about academic language, I shared an example of one of my lessons from February this year. Here is a visual below. Also, this example actually did not include the physical cutting of the paragraph into strips, but due to time I just made a little chart. I liked how it turned out because they actually had to write their cues on the sides.
3. Discourse Level: This is where we want our students. We want them at the discourse level comfortably and using the sentence forms and vocabulary we've been teaching them. For this level, they can show us what they've learned through writing or speaking. Either way, we are looking at the product as a whole. We are looking at how cohesive it is, how organized it is, and how their language contributes to the finished product in relation to the objective and standard. How did they master it with the language they learned? Is it displaying their knowledge of the content clearly?
I hope these levels will inspire you to think of how you plan differently and how you are moving your students vertically to proficiency. Please leave a comment below or connect on social media with some favorite activities for the layers of language! I look forward to all of your ideas and learning with you!
To learn more about strategies for incorporating language into your lessons, check out my course, My EL Mentor: Creating a Language-Rich Classroom! And if you are a high school teacher, consider joining my membership, My MLL Mentor, to discuss ideas like this with other high school ESL teachers!
I support middle and high school teachers through monthly lesson plans, coaching, and guest speaker offerings in our Secondary ESL Teacher Membership.