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Arlington Public Schools

Teaching & Learning: Curriculum - English Language Learners



Planning for Language-in-Content
For Beginning Proficiency ELLs in grades 1-5

Arlington's elementary ELL teachers have been working together for two years to link English language instruction to essential concepts, skills, and language in the content areas. Current "best practices" in the field as well as state requirements around program design for English learners promote this linkage so that children will not fall behind in essential content such as mathematics and science while they are acquiring English (proficiency in speaking, listening, reading, and writing). In order to organize this program development task, the theme of "Changes" was selected to provide focus and continuity for both staff and students.

What essential content can be introduced to effectively integrate with language acquisition and literacy development at the earliest proficiency level? Specifically, what observable, real world things are changing: e.g., leaves, seasons, animals, weather (See Science, Technology and Engineering Frameworks), individual and family changes, changes in the community (See History and Social Studies Frameworks). How can the children collect data on these tangible things? and finally, how will they represent their data? (See Mathematics Frameworks)

Our program goal at the first level of English proficiency is to provide access to hands-on experiences for children to observe and compare, to measure and predict, working in interactive, inquiry-based settings.

  • What will language functions "sound like" (oral production) when modeled, experienced, and applied by children in the ELL setting?

  • What kinds of reading and writing tasks can the children engage in directly related to these activities? (please note that English (ELL) proficiency goals are closely aligned with MA English Language Arts Curriculum Frameworks. These references are delineated in the ELPBO document, available at

  • What tools can children use to note changes: e.g., their senses; measuring devices...(e.g. "We observed that the clouds got darker." The thermometer shows the outside temperature is 34 degrees. It might snow tonight.")

  • What activities can the children engage in to construct their thinking about change? Which hands-on, electronic, and print materials are needed for Level I related to this theme?

  • Finally, how do we assess and communicate start- and end-points of language learning in this type of context?

The yearlong "Changes" unit is designed to remain flexible for new arrivals at level I (Beginning) and for changing program enrollments and proficiency movement (from level 1 to 2, for example) over the course of the year. Through parallel, pre- teaching or "background-building", for example, grade-level essential content needs of ELLs can be addressed from the outset.

Because general education content expectations vary by topic and depth of learning from grade to grade, elementary ELL staff need to manage curriculum choices to reflect the needs of specific learners not only within a given year but to provide maximum exposure to any essential content that may have been missed due to different schooling experiences. Thus, "re-teaching" or spiraling of content may also be useful.

Collaboration with classroom teachers is needed to assure that overlap or gaps do not result in wasted time or effort. Constant communication between ELL and classroom teachers will result in efficient and effective learning of content and language by the district's newest arrivals.


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