The Goodness and Challenge of Writing Language Objectives

What do I see least of in K-12 classrooms?  Language objectives.  In my work with K-12 teachers of language learners (LLs), I see a lot of sound research-based sheltering strategies like using graphic organizers to help LLs get their feet wet with new language and concepts or showing pictures to help make content clear.  But, of the research-based practices that LLs need to succeed, the least often strategy I see in classrooms is one that can be difficult to carry out: writing and sharing language objectives with students.  We are used to thinking about content objectives, like, “The students will be able to name the capitals of 30 of the 50 states” because this is something that we learned about in our teacher education programs.  But, for LLs to do well, we need to help them gain not just content, but language as well.   How might LLs of different proficiency levels be challenged by map reading, legends, pronunciation of unfamiliar capital names etc?  This is where a language objective could help to reduce the linguistic load of the lesson and assignment.  How about, “The students will be able to recognize the bolded capital cities on a map of the United States and identify Spanish-language cities (e.g. Sacramento, California).”  If you write this objective on the board and share it with your students, it will help them to recognize - out of all of the words and language they will hear, read, and produce in the next 30 minutes of the lesson -  what language is key for them to focus on.  If you are already writing and sharing language objectives with your students, here’s the next step: Fisher & Frey’s (2010) study of teacher’s language objectives concludes that teachers are pretty good at writing language objectives that direct LLs to focus on key vocabulary, like, “Name the phases of the moon” but are less often helping them understand language structure and function that can really be a mystery to LLs, such as, “Use sequence words (first, then, next, finally) to describe the phases of the moon. ([language] structure)” and “Explain how the moon, earth, and sun move through the phases. ([language] function)” (p. 330).  I wish you well in your work with objectives.

Here are some products that may help you with using objectives more effectively in the classroom:


Magnetic Pocket Chart Strips are great for saving space but posting your objectives for lessons!
link to charts for posting objs



The ESL/ELLs Teacher's Book of Lists is a great resource for choosing appropriate language objectives with it's  many lists of pronunciation, phonemes, cognates, sentence patterns, grammar, content vocabulary and more!

Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen
Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen


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