Extending Language: What does it look like?

One of the three pillars of language learning, according to Jim Cummins, is extending language. It seems to me this is important for all students, regardless of language level.

What does ‘extending language’ look like? How does it translate to classroom practice?

I learned from reading Pauline Gibbon’s  English learners, Academic Literacy and Thinking  that what is hard in developing academic language with students is understanding the difference between spoken and written language. These differences are a challenge for all students and in particular for emergent bilingual students. She writes:

“Academic language packages information by making use of a group of words that represent a single thing but carry a great deal of information.”

In grade 5, our language objectives were for students to write an information report about their unit of inquiry on migration. Information reports carry noun groups that pack a lot of information, such as the following example:

“Human migration is the movement of people from one place in the world to another for the purpose of taking up permanent or semipermanent residence, usually across a political boundary.”

Or this example:

“Scientists recently discovered a fossil of a giant penguin, Icadyptis Salasi, a fearsome beast with and 18cm beak, powerful wings, and a chunky neck.”

To start, we asked the children what the difference between spoken and written language was.

Here are some of their answers:

“You have more time to think when you write, so you can use harder and better words.”

“You can go back and change things when you write.”

“Writing can be hard, but it can really say what you mean.”

As a class we agreed writing was a process, you needed time to make it good and really think about things like word order and choice.

Pauline Gibbons also suggest that for students to write texts associated with academic language, they need to be moved from the every-day familiar, and concrete, to the subject specific, unfamiliar and abstract. So we decided to use something they found easy and fun to describe, like a monster.

We showed them a picture of a beast. We asked them to describe the beast and to keep on adding to the description, without breaking the sentence. This wasn’t easy, illustrating our point that speaking is more immediate and finding the right words takes time.

Then, on to the writing. We used the following strategies:

We showed them an example of how to expand a noun (modelling). Like the one below:



We co-constructed one as a class and then the students had a go at writing one themselves. They used the same steps as the model we showed them and added new words for every step. Here are some of their final sentences:



We then asked them to do the same with a word from the Migration unit. Here are two students reading theirs out:



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