Language objectives are an important part of every lesson, for English learners and in many cases English-speaking students also. Academic language is sometimes considered a second language for all students. The academic language required to be successful in school is language that few students are exposed to outside of the classroom, e.g., compare and contrast the characteristics of historical figures, or formulate questions and generate hypotheses prior to conducting an experiment. Not many families talk like that around the dinner table!
Language objectives work in concert with content objectives. Content objectives identify what students should know and be able to do during a lesson, and they support state content standards and learning outcomes such as the Common Core State Standards. Language objectives, on the other hand, represent an aspect of academic language that students need to learn or master. They may be drawn from state language proficiency (ELP) standards and language arts (ELA) standards.
- Content objectives are the what – what students need to learn about the content topic.
- Language objectives are also the what – what students need to learn about English so that they can
- learn, express, practice and apply new information
- demonstrate knowledge
- perform academic tasks
We sometimes hear that content objectives are the what and language objectives are the how. That idea tends to result in language objectives becoming activities rather than measurable outcomes.
When designing language objectives, teachers should consider:
- What language will students need to know and use to accomplish this lesson’s objectives?
- How can I move my students’ English language knowledge forward in this lesson?
We suggest 4 categories to draw on when writing language objectives:
- Academic Vocabulary – Vocabulary development is an essential part of building literacy skills and content knowledge. Simply put, those students who know and can use the most words do best in school. For language objectives, teachers select key words needed to discuss, read, or write about the topic of the lesson. The following three sub-categories of academic vocabulary, with some examples, may be useful in selecting words for language objectives.
- Content-specific vocabulary – These words would most likely be encountered only in a specific subject area: colonists, metaphor, thermodynamics.
- General academic vocabulary –These words are found across content areas: circumstances, observe, however, measure, compare, persuade.
- Word parts – This category refers to writing a language objective that teaches roots, prefixes and suffixes within the context of the lesson. Learning the most common prefixes and suffixes can multiply students’ understanding of words exponentially. For instance, learning that the prefix anti which means “against” helps students understand the meaning of antidote, antiseptic, and antithesis. After learning the root mand which mean “to order” students recognize related words: command, demand, mandate (it’s also a cognate for Spanish speakers).
- Language Skills and Functions – This category refers to the ways students will use language in the lesson, and many English learners will need explicit instruction in how to do so. For example,
- Find text evidence in social studies.
- Record observations during a science lesson.
- Predict events in a text.
It cannot be assumed that English learners know how to use language in the ways called for in the lesson. Creating a language objective that incorporates the teaching of necessary language skills and/or functions into the lesson ensures successful participation of all students.
- Language Structures or Grammar – This category helps teachers become more aware of the language structures, or syntax, used in written and spoken discourse and provide instruction to English learners. Some aspects that may be challenging for English learners include:
- passive voice
- if-then sentences
A popular and effective way to model grammar and language structures is using sentence frames. Also called language frames, this scaffold needs to be used wisely. A previous blog addressed their overuse and emphasized the need to differentiate frames by language proficiency. Frames can be a useful way to support English learners as they learn to use English, but they are just that – a support that should be removed when no longer needed. Authentic, self-generated expression is something English learners will eventually need to be able to produce on their own.
- Language Learning Strategies – Teachers explicitly tell student about with the resources they need to learn on their own. Some strategies are:
- Corrective – rereading text that is confusing.
- Self-monitoring – make and confirm predictions
- Language practice –imitating a native speaker or rehearsing useful phrases.
Not all categories need to be tapped for every lesson but the categories serve as a guide for teachers when writing objectives. Here are some examples of language objectives, one from each of the 4 categories:
- Content Objective: Use multiple sources to describe key individuals at the beginning of the American Revolution.
- Language Objectives:
- Engage in collaborative discussions using key vocabulary: tax, British, conflict, colonist (vocabulary)
- Ask and answer Wh– questions to organize the descriptions (e.g., What was her role?) (language function)
- Summarize a reading passage using past tense forms (language structure)
- Reread passages as needed to enhance comprehension (language learning strategy)
We are often asked if a different language objective needs to be written for each English proficiency level represented in class. In short, no.
However, teachers should have different expectations for how students will be able to demonstrate that the objective was met. The WIDA “Can Do” descriptors may assist teachers in identifying the kind of language tasks students at various proficiency levels should be able to perform.
Writing language objectives is probably the aspect of lesson planning that proves most challenging for teachers. Hopefully some of the ideas presented here will generate ideas for writing your next language objectives. Don’t forget to post and review them with students!
From: Echevarria, J., Vogt, M.E., & Short, D. (2017). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model, Fifth Edition. New York: Pearson.