Discourse in Core Content Instruction

by Margarita Calderón

Discourse is

  • Written or spoken communication
  • A formal discussion of a topic in speech or writing
  • Engagement in conversation
  • Debate
  • A connected series of utterances
  • A text or conversation around a text

For English learners/Emergent bilinguals/Multilingual learners, discourse is

  • One instructional component that is a must to help them succeed
  • One instructional component that can be integrated into math, science, social studies, and all subjects in addition to language arts
  • The component that is frequently left out because there is too much content material that has to be “covered”

We can integrate more discourse by

  1. Reducing teacher presentation to no more than 5 minutes and asking students to “Teach your buddy what I just said, and use my words.”

For example, after writing a part of a math equation, stop and let them teach each other. During the inquiry part of science, let students discuss at every step or smaller important intervals. As you relate or explain a historical event or a social studies issue to explore, chunk the content and ask students to summarize what happened so far or summarize the first issue.

  • Building content ideas by explicitly saying (1) this is the concept, (2) these are some facts, (3) these are some claims, (4) discuss each with your buddy.
  • Teaching different types of graphic organizers and having students graph the scientific concepts, or key information from the first paragraph, or math problem.
  • Asking students to formulate questions in teams of four from a text they just read, information you presented, or a video they viewed. Using Numbered Heads Together for each team to test their questions with other teams.
  • Asking students in pairs or teams to plan different ways of solving a math problem or creating a math question, designing a science project, solving a civics problem, writing a play and enacting a play with a different story ending.
  • Using their own background knowledge, culture, and personal history, design a collage with a path for the character in the story who must solve a dilemma.

 Bring closure to the learning during each class period by

  1. Debriefing with questions such as “What did you think of …?” “Why is this important…?” “What would you do…?”
  2. Having partners summarize for each other what they learned.

Of course, for quality discourse to occur, a teacher must

  1. Preteach the words, sentence frames, and sentence starters you want to hear in students’ discourse
  2. Provide interesting content
  3. Have students engage in Partner Reading and Summarization after each paragraph
  4. Use a timer for better time distribution
  5. Teach social emotional norms and protocols for working together, respecting each other’s discourse and ideas, and learning from a task.

Try a couple of these strategies first. You will quickly notice the students’ enthusiasm and learning that is taking place. After a week or so, try some more. More opportunities for discourse at the elementary level will prevent sending Long-Term ELs to middle school. More discourse in every subject in middle and high school will help English learners/Emergent bilinguals/Multilingual learners get better grades, graduate on time, and pass the state exams. More importantly, they will be developing the type of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills for success in universities or careers.

Here at www.exc-ell.com you will find discourse tools such as table tents, conclusions, types of words, and other tools to help design discussion-rich lessons.

Our virtual workshops for teachers on vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing provide hands on practice with discourse.

Our virtual workshops on tutoring on language arts and math emphasize discourse.

Our follow-up coaching for teachers and tutors facilitate quality implementation.