Content and Language Objectives in the ELA Classroom

Schoolchildren Studying In Classroom With TeacherA few weeks ago we added a post to the blog in which SIOP professional developers Amy Washam and Lindsay Young discussed the reasons behind having separate content objectives and language objectives. An English/Language Arts (ELA) teacher wrote back with the following question:

What about in an ELA classroom? Language is our content. Teachers often complain that the two objectives say the same thing.

Here are Lindsay and Amy’s responses and a final thought by SIOP author Jana Echevarria.

Lindsay Young
This is a common question of many ELA, ELL, and world language teachers. Sitting down to plan content and language objectives when your content IS language can be an exercise that leaves many of us dizzy or confused.

You may be relieved to learn the SIOP authors agree that in a language arts lesson the content and language objectives may serve the same end goal–to develop students’ academic language proficiency. With that said, the next thought ELA teachers have is often, “Then why would I need both a content and a language objective?” Looking back at the original research, one reason for having two separate objectives is for the students to recognize a pattern of both content and language objectives in each subject area. Students recognize the consistency that language development is an aspect of each lesson.

In addition to the consistency of two separate objectives, many teachers consider the content objective based on the grade level and the language objective based on students’ proficiency levels. One can see how a 7th grade student who also happens to be an intermediate level proficient EL may need a more developmentally appropriate language objective than what the 7th grade ELA standards suggest. Under these circumstances, the ELA teacher might pull the content objective from the 7th grade ELA standards while looking to English proficiency standards (e.g., TESOL, ELD, ELPs) as a resource for the language objective.

Lastly, a simple tip for writing two separate objectives for ELA lessons is to consider receptive verses productive language development. Design the content objectives to develop receptive skills, reading and listening; then make the language objective about the productive skills, writing and speaking. With this method you can easily create two separate objectives and avoid redundancy. See the example below:

ELA standard from CCSS: R.L.7.6. Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.

CO: Students will analyze character dialogue and actions while reading fictional text.

LO: Students will discuss character points of view citing specific evidence from the text.

Amy Washam
Lindsay really covered all of the bases here. The question also made me think about the ways language objectives can be used to “fill in the gaps.” Language objectives allow ELA teachers to continue to deliver grade-level, standards-based lessons while still meeting the language needs of the English learners, or any other student with gaps in their language skills. It is not uncommon for students’ reading levels to be lower than the classroom grade-level texts. Teachers can focus their language objectives on developing reading strategies for struggling readers and helping students increase their vocabulary knowledge.

CO: You will write three questions you think will be answered in the text.

LO: You will use the following phrases to summarize the first paragraph: years before, shortly after, at this point in time.

Language objectives can be used to help students develop more complex sentence patterns or even work on grammar or punctuation.

CO: You will compare two characters using the following words: although, both, and while.

LO: You will compare two characters using the following sentence frames:

Although both characters are . . . , only . . .

While one character . . . , the other character . . .

Finally, a lot of the general academic vocabulary that is used on state tests and in textbooks can be embedded in the language objective, giving students exposure to academic terms and difficult multiple meaning words. Earlier this year, a teacher shared the following anecdote with me. Her students took a state test that asked them to read a passage featuring a character named Emily and then to “compare the struggles that Emily faces” to someone in their own lives. The teacher told me that one English learner was in tears after the test because she could not find what was wrong with the main character’s “face” in the passage.

This is an example of an opportunity to think ahead about possible language challenges in a text that can be addressed through language objectives. For example, a language objective might be: Compare the multiple meanings of the word, face.

Jana Echevarria
The SIOP authors have had similar questions from ELA teachers since we first introduced content and language objectives for every lesson back in the 1990s. I always welcome the opportunity to discuss important issues such as this one that affect teacher practice.

Lindsey’s and Amy’s comments are spot on, as usual. I would add, though, that ELA has it’s own content which isn’t necessarily limited to language. Although much of what is taught during a literacy lesson in elementary school or in a secondary English class involves language development, not all is about language. For instance, determining the author’s point of view isn’t about language, it’s content. In this case, the content objective would have students analyze the text to determine the author’s purpose, or point of view. The language objective would support their oral language by providing a scaffold. As you can see, the content objective isn’t about language.

CO: Identify the author’s point of view using text evidence.

LO: Use the following sentence frame to express your idea and provide evidence for it:

I think the author wrote this to ___________________. The evidence to support this is _____________________.

The author’s reason for writing this was ____________________. I think that was her reason because ______________________.

So, even in an ELA class, there should be both a content and language objective for every lesson. True, at times the two may seem quite similar but at other times there will be more of a distinction between them.


  1. I appreciate these suggestions, but how would this be applied for a world language teacher? (Lindsey makes reference to this, but I’m not sure I understand the answer.) Are the language objectives supposed to be objectives for the students’ English, or for their proficiency in the new world language?

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