Language and Content Integration

Language skills are most effectively learned in context and emerge most naturally in purposeful, language-rich, experiential, interdisciplinary study.

Practices Associated with this Principle

  • Every teacher teaches content (i.e. there are no stand-alone ESL classes) and every teacher teaches language.
  • Teachers proactively seek language learning opportunities in all content (e.g. identifying language features of content and eliciting or explaining rules and providing students with opportunities to apply them in context).
  • Projects/activities include clear content and language objectives.
  • Native languages of students are acknowledged positively and used as a resource. Projects that require students to read and write in their native languages are incorporated into the curriculum.
  • The predominant form of instruction is collaborative learning so that students have multiple opportunities to interact with one another using oral language (both English and native languages) to discuss content.

Philosophy Behind Core Principle and Practices

Integrating language and content is connected to experiential learning and to collaboration. Providing students with rich experiences and tangible, hands-on ways to access materials builds their knowledge of a content area and provides a need to develop the language to explain the acquired knowledge. Language in this sense is an outgrowth of content. However, when small groups negotiate the meaning of the content and clarify understanding, the language becomes a vehicle for deepening content comprehension. In order to discuss the content effectively, teachers need to provide support for students to develop the necessary vocabulary and language structures. These are acquired through multiple opportunities to apply them in conversations and activities (redundancy). Grammar is taught in the context of learning content (e.g. the past tense is taught because students need to discuss something that happened in the past for a particular project). Language is not taught as a goal in and of itself, but as a means to improve understanding of the content.

Collaborative structures of the classroom can also be useful for students who need native language support to grasp the content. Through small group discussions, students have the opportunity to first comprehend the content in their native language (thereby developing their native language) before needing to articulate their understanding (through discussions, projects, presentations) in English. Research indicates that content knowledge in one language transfers to another, and that developing students’ native languages supports growth in English.

Collaboration among teachers also supports students in developing their language skills. An interdisciplinary project centered on a common theme helps to broaden students’ understanding of the content, providing them with more opportunities to use language to explain that content. Moreover, the vocabulary and language structures needed to access that content are often reinforced in several classes when students are engaged in interdisciplinary study, enhancing their ability to use the language structures and vocabulary in multiple contexts (DeFazio, T., Dunetz, N., Hirschy, D. (1993).