The following tool, the language analysis template (link here), is meant to help subject teachers to further analyze their academic texts, tasks, and assessments for the discourse features, language functions, and the grammatical and lexical features that learners must be able to understand or produce to accomplish the content objectives. This analysis is in turn meant to guide teachers’ development of language objectives and linguistic scaffolds that will support students’ academic language and literacy development while achieving content goals. It is important to note that this is an awareness-training tool, and something that teachers might refer to at times, rather than a tool to be used for everyday planning purposes.
The following sections explain each category of the template using, as an example, a science lesson for Year 3 or 4 of primary school that targets nutrition and food group categories. The example also includes a critical literacy focus on the authentic texts used for the lesson: grocery store sales fliers. The activities involve (1) a discussion of the fliers, (2) categorizing foods found in the fliers (cutting and pasting the foods into groups on a poster) and (3) using some of the foods they have found to plan a balanced meal for their family. This lesson could take place as part of a unit on nutrition and food groups.
These should be the regular content objectives that teachers create for their lesson.
It’s important to consider all texts that will be used in a lesson, whether they are written, oral, or visual texts (video, audio, graphs).
What language do students need to be able to understand in these texts to meet content objectives? In the sample lesson, learners need to understand the language of sales, both at a surface level (phrases such as “on sale,” “three for one,” etc.), but also on a more critical level (They need to understand that these phrases, their font size, and other elements all seek to motivate buyers to come to their store or for the stores to get rid of extra inventory.) Other components to be analyzed here would be what items are chosen for the flier and how those items might particularly interest a consumer.
What tasks will students engage in? Tasks in this lesson include a whole group discussion of the text language and purpose, group work in which they collaboratively cut and categorize food from the fliers and then plan and shop for a balanced meal for their family.
Language and cognition go hand in hand. All forms of thought must be filtered through language. What kind of language/cognitive functions will students need to use while they complete the activities? In this example, they will need to Identify the foods and Categorize them into food groups. They will need to Analyze and Evaluate the language used in the fliers. They will also need to analyze the foods to create a meal plan. When working in groups and during discussions, they will need to justify their choices and opinions to others. In the syntactical, discourse, and lexical demands categories, you can further break down the language requirements for these texts and activities.
In other words, how will students need to organize the information that they want to understand or communicate during the tasks? The way in which we find or present information or engage in communication exchanges in social interactions (including group work) is not only something that all students need to learn at school, but is also something that can vary depending on one’s cultural background. It is therefore important to make your expectations clear to the students. How should they seek information presented in the texts (e.g., Identifying key points? Ignoring extraneous details?); how should they present information in written work (e.g., Main point first followed by supporting points? Build arguments gradually?); how should they structure their group interactions (e.g., Assigning roles? Giving everyone a chance to share their opinion? Seeking consensus?)
What kind of grammar and syntactical structures will be necessary to understand the text and/or to engage in the activity? The examples given in the table focus on expressing ideas, justifying an opinion, and seeking consensus. We could also consider that students will need to use future simple tense or the conditional in order to express their plans for the family meal. It is often helpful to provide students with some model sentence starters to help them practice these syntactical structures.
While subject teachers may prioritize subject-specific vocabulary (the names of the food groups, various foods, food descriptors), it is also important to consider other words and phrases students will need to understand the information and the texts as well as to express themselves during the activities. Words and phrases that may come easily to a native speaker are not intuitive for a non-native speaker. For example, expressing the idea that a food ‘belongs to’ a certain category or would be ‘categorized as’ a certain type of food, may create an obstacle to non-native speakers’ full participation in class. Previewing or emphasizing these types of high-use phrases could be very helpful for them.
Now it is time to transfer the analysis of the content objectives into realizable language objectives. Here, teachers need to consider their groups’ language needs and abilities. Perhaps they will have already mastered many of the required elements for the lesson, or they may need a lot of help.
A strong language objective includes function, form (grammatical structure), and vocabulary. The examples given in the sample template address all three of these. Please also look at the language objective exercise for more help in creating clear and manageable language objectives.
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