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Language Conscious Teaching

Ways of adding language awareness to all content areas

Language consciousness means being mindful of the features of texts and language as well as situations where language is used. This method especially supports first and second generation immigrant students by paying attention to how language is used in class.

Finland 100


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100






Target group
March 2017
Language awareness plays a key role in understanding what abilities students from an immigrant background have to use and understand language at school.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

The aim of language conscious instruction is to promote equity in education. People are more frequently than ever moving from one country to another, and schools have a key role in integrating people to society. When the language used in school is different from the student’s mother tongue, teachers have to pay special attention to the language used in class.

Language has a big role in learning. The aim of language conscious teaching is to help teachers pay attention to how language is used when they are teaching –in other words, improve their language awareness skills.

Language consciousness means being mindful of how language works in different situations, text and speech. From the teacher’s point of view, language awareness clarifies the typical ways of how language is used in different content areas to the student. Language that is specific to content areas includes, for example, key vocabulary that acts as a gateway to knowledge acquisition. From the student’s point of view, language conscious instruction encourages them and gives them tools to think about how language is used in familiar situations.

One of the core ideas of language conscious instruction is making metaknowledge apparent: How does a class proceed? How do you write a long answer on an exam? What does a definition mean? How do you find important vocabulary from the different genres of each content area? In what order do negotiations proceed? What kind of language is used in customer service?

Every student benefits from language conscious teaching. It especially benefits classes that have big differences in reading, writing and other language skills. Students’ skills and motivation towards language differ depending on how language and texts are used at home and in their social circle.

Language conscious instruction also benefits classes for language learners, as first and second generation immigrants tend not to perform as well at school as native students. The same phenomenon has been observed all over the world. Language conscious instruction aims to decrease the gap between the learning results of students from immigrant backgrounds and others’.

This article presents five ways to practice language conscious instruction in your own class. You can implement one or several of them depending on your group’s needs.

PhD. student Elisa Repo talks about her PhD. study about language aware teaching.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


The innovation helps uncover the unspoken ways school works and changes them in a way that benefits students from an immigrant background.


Language aware instruction helps immigrant students understand how language is used differently in different contexts. This promotes integration.


Every teacher is effectively a language teacher for the language used at school and there are students from different language groups everywhere.

Implementation steps

Content specific texts
Look at the texts of the content area you teach and think about how language is used in them.

What kind of structure and vocabulary do the texts use? What are the text genres used in your content area? What is the order things are discussed in: beginning to end, cause-and-effect, or something else?

It’s useful to clarify these things to students. Support your teaching with as many pictures, concrete objects, videos and experiments as possible. Try to make everything as concrete as possible and connect it to the everyday lives of students. Try and demonstrate in ways that are natural to yourself, such as telling a story, writing on the board or putting flashcards with key vocabulary and explanatory pictures on the classroom walls.

For example, during language classes you can have a class discussion about what structures are called. What does the ‘definite’ and ‘indefinite’ form mean? Could you also call them the ‘long’ and ‘short’ form? The latter way might be easier, but the words ‘definite’ and ‘indefinite’ also include an explanation for when to use them.

Lesson structure
Clarifying lesson structure will help students understand and observe the lesson.

This requires metalanguage: “today we’ll start… afterwards… at the end...”

The teacher can explain the lesson structure to the students at the beginning of the lesson, so that students know what’s going to happen. It calms students and helps them focus on the day’s topic.

When the lesson plan is always up on the board, students can follow the lesson independently: “now, where were we again, what’s happening next?”

This lesson started with going through the homework (läksyt). Afterwards a new topic was taught (opetus) and it was tried out together (kokeilua). At the end, there was time to do a few exercises (tehtäviä) from the book.

The multilingual school day
The goal is to get students to realize that everybody speaks several languages.

Help students point out and wonder at their language environment. Which languages are spoken in our class? Which languages do we see every day? What kind of language do you use with your family and friends? What kind of slang and dialects do you use?

You can use different kinds of language during different situations in the school day and show appreciation towards the language potential at your school with your words and gestures.

Using language differently in different situations
What kind of language is used in the newspaper, your history textbook, Facebook-chats, with the cashier at the store, or in a job interview?

Talk about how language is used differently in different situations, because people have different goals in different situations. In a multimedial society there are different types of reading skills depending on what you need to do.

Set an example and show students how to search for information, evaluate it, analyse it, interpret it, define vocabulary, and create text. When you teach how to choose appropriate expressions for each situation and understand the relationships between things, you are teaching multiliteracy skills.

Assessing language awareness
Reflect on the learning process and put what you have done into words.

What does it mean to have language skills and learn language in your content area?

Just a little while ago, we still taught language at our school behind closed doors in a separate class. Languages were seen as clearly defined, either correct or incorrect. However, nobody knows a language perfectly, even native speakers only master some parts of their language.

Give students permission to be language learners, who can learn and forget, try again, mix up languages and play with them, again and again. People living in multilingual societies master languages in different ways and their competencies in different areas vary. No-one’s language skills are static, nor will they stay the same. Instead, people’s skills grow, wane and differentiate depending on the situation.

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