There’s a new section on Ellii (great site) for Academic Vocabulary. Here’s the blurb:
‘A content- and language-integrated learning approach gives K–12 students a chance to learn English and an academic subject at the same time. The resources in this section will support students as they master subject-specific academic vocabulary used in their core subjects such as science and math.’
I’m pleased to say that I’ve been involved in creating this content. It’s one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on to date, and I see tons of value in the resources we’ve created both for teachers and learners.
Here’s a bit more about the section.
Why this section?
I’ve felt for a while that there’s a need for more structured, curriculum-aligned content available for EAL learners. There are tons of great resource sites out there for teaching subject content, but few resources seem to focus on language development as an integrated part of the process. That means a clear focus on language to access the curriculum itself, as well as developing both foundational knowledge and communication skills around that.
How did I get involved in the project?
Luck! I actually approached Ellii with a similar idea. The response was pretty much ‘It’s funny you should say that… we were thinking exactly the same!’ So… that was it! Right place, right time. I sent them samples, they built a template for the resource, I was given a great editor to work with. Love it.
When I say ‘curriculum-aligned…’
I teach EAL at an international school. We follow the National Curriculum of England at Secondary. In this instance, I’ve started with content that aligns mostly to National Curriculum for Key Stage 3 and 4 (that’s US Grades 6-10). There seems to be plenty of crossover between NC and general curriculum/content standards from the US and from Canada, although not always at the same grade level.
In practice, even though the resources are aligned to curricula, it’s quite hard to tie them down to one specific grade level. It’s not just that the curriculum content varies across UK/US/Canada/different states, etc, it’s also that there’s often relevance for a resource across different grades/years. For example, our Year 7s last week were learning about plant cells, our Year 8s were learning about leaf structure, and our Year 10s were reviewing both topics and learning both in slightly more detail. So any lessons I build around such topics often serve a purpose across grade/year levels.
Anyhow, the section isn’t just for Secondary learners, they’ll be Primary content too.
Which content is a priority?
Well, they’ll eventually be content for Science, Maths, Language Arts, etc. However, I’ve been given freedom to focus on the areas which I think are the biggest need for EAL learners (seriously, Ellii is like ‘power to the teacher-writer!’ Awesome). I’m starting with KS3/KS4 Science. Stuff like this:
What does a typical resource look like?
These aren’t complete lessons, they are supplementary resources. That said, you could totally build a lesson around them. Here are some snapshots from the PDF format of the lessons. Each lesson is digital too.
They usually start with either orientation/prior knowledge type questions:
Or an intro with key concepts from the subject lesson to review:
Then you’ve got your keywords or key phrases. These might be in a simple phrase/meaning match, but I prefer matching sentence matching because it gives the learners more context. Like this (from Acids and Bases):
The thing about academic vocabulary for me is that content teachers seem to focus a lot on keywords, but neglect phrases that build meaning and are also important for discussing the subject. Sometimes my ‘Key Terms’ focus is on that type of language instead (from Prokaryotes):
Learners check meaning of key terms by reading a short text. Here’s one for acids and bases:
I think this is much better than just ‘What’s the answer to 1? B – correct’. Teachers can choose to prime learners by predicting content (like the way Widdowson suggests reading preparation tasks for challenging content), or have them read the text first and then match info, etc. Text enhancement too. Simple images, not overkill but useful support.
There are often comprehension questions for longer texts too. Usually something like a True/False like these from the prokaryotes lesson:
It’s about choice and coverage for the teachers. The thing is, you really don’t know how teachers will choose to use the resource. Will it run alongside teacher input in the subject class? Will they use it as part of a sheltered instruction programme? Will this form part of an EAL ‘link lesson’ or study support slot as such, where EAL learners review content? Will teachers just take out one part of the resource (like the keywords) for reference in class, or will they use this as a complete step-by-step resource? With that in mind, it’s better to cover more bases I think (excuse the pun re: bases, given some examples here).
Then there are concept checking and practice activities. These vary depending on the topic. A couple of things that are consistent across the resource are…
I include lists of (normally display) questions for the students to practice asking/answering. I choose these based on content teachers’ questioning in class. Good teachers regularly review core concepts and check learners have gained certain foundational knowledge before they move on or intro new content. In my experience, some content teachers have a tendency not to include EAL learners in whole class questioning (various reasons). We use these resources to help learners rehearse, and feel more prepared to contribute (verbally) during these questioning stages. Stages like this basically (from Acids and Bases):
Process language, sentence starters
It can be tricky for my EAL to explain their thinking, or to go beyond short answers. We try to provide language around the keywords to help with this (from SDT):
I know this might seem like bread and butter to an ELT teacher. However, sentence level support is sometimes neglected by content teachers, so we need to give EAL learners that support.
There’s a whole array of concept checking tasks too, which serve to consolidate the classroom teachers’ input (or work alongside it as I said). Diagram matches using info from the texts are a favourite (from Atomic Structure):
I won’t Boron about them though (I hope that’s not Beryllium, would be an epic fail on the pun front). Sentence completion related to key concepts is another (from Acids and Bases):
Something else that I think is more obvious to us ELTers in pair speaking tasks. They always feature in some way/shape/form (from Contact Forces).
As do review activities that refer to the lead-in. Sense of progress is important – I like referring learners to ‘where they were’ at the start of the lesson and where they are now. Assuming this is used as a ‘lesson’ that is, you never know.
Quickfire quizzes – it is all about questions, questions, questions with EAL learners. Build that confidence!
Finally, these are resources for language development. With that in mind, we include reviews that cover other skills, and help learners keep a record of their learning. Like these (from Plant Cells):
I think it’s important that we have these language focused tasks, in fact I think we need a few more. A pronunciation focus is needed in some resources so I’ll certainly think about how best to include that.
How are the resources going down with users?
It’s early days, but there’s already been some positive feedback on this section. Here’s a comment about it shared on LinkedIn…
‘Targeted, scaffolded, core subject ESL support, love!’
You can probs tell that I’m really invested in this content. I build the content for my own learners, I trial it in my EAL classes. I tweak it, ask learners for feedback, run it by content teachers, etc. Feedback like that just makes all the hard work worthwhile. Thanks.
(A bit for writers)
A note on Ellii
I wrote about what it’s like to write for Ellii (formerly ESL Library) last year. Honestly, this company continues to impress me.
It is rare (in my experience) for a company to invest in a freelancer. Ellii do. I’ve got to that stage where I’ve recommended them sooooo much to other writers that I’m like ‘what if they find better writers and I do myself out of work?!’ So, officially, this is the last time I say how good they are. Maybe.