In this post Andrea Felker shares some transferable concept acquisition strategies from her EAL classroom:

For English Language Learners (ELLs) the exploration of the Frayer Model not only provides an opportunity to examine a concept, but it also offers them an authentic context to practice using the academic language that surrounds new learning.  

Grade 6 EAL students used this model to explore new concepts and vocabulary to support their learning in the unit Working as a Scientist & Matter.

To begin, students were asked to think about their own understanding of nine key concepts that their Science teacher had identified as essential.  Using a sliding scale each student independently rated each word according to familiarity, decided whether or not each was essential to their understanding in the unit, and then they selected three words to review.  Like the sliding scale, the knowledge rating chart is another simple tool that gives students explicit exposure to new concepts and encourages metacognitive thought.


The review was structured in the form of a Frayer Model.  Students had already been through a series of lessons in Science classes introducing them to the concepts identified, although they had not necessarily consolidated their learning.  In this case the Frayer Model asked students to include:

  • the concept
  • a definition in their own words
  • a drawing, diagram or illustration
  • 2 helpful examples
  • a non-example
  • 3 or 4 things to remember (characteristics or facts)

Students used their notes from Science class, resources on their class OLP page, books from the Science library in EAL class and, when they needed to, they turned to Google for more information.  Completing a Frayer Model is time-consuming as students work to make connections between existing knowledge, the information that they’re examining, and for ELLs there is the added challenge of adapting and implementing the academic language and vocabulary surrounding the concept.

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After recording their learning on chart paper, students uploaded each concept to VoiceThread.  By giving ELLs the opportunity to record, and re-record, and re-record again if necessary, they had a final product that they were truly satisfied with.  Having to express their understanding orally, and giving them the chance to rehearse, naturally demanded that they make use of a wide range of academic vocabulary and grammatical structures specific to Science class and the unit that they were studying.  For example, one student noticed that she had used the very common and overused verb making a number of times in one sentence.  She had to think deeply, on the spot, to retrieve the more precise and specific word describing, which helped her to explain the concept of making an inference.  

Using the Frayer Model to describe her understanding of making an inference, the same student had the opportunity to interact with scientific vocabulary including hypothesis, theory, experiment, clues, conjecture, reasons, facts and observations and more.  With our current population of Middle School ELLs, some may and some may not be able to draw on their mother tongue for an understanding of new academic vocabulary across the curriculum.  For a non-native speaker of English, concept stretching is essential in helping build this wide and varied academic vocabulary.  

To Make an Inference