7 Steps...Language Rich Classrooms

By, John Seidlitz

7 Steps to a Language Rich Interactive Classroom

What if you could design an amazing learning environment? We already have, and it's all contained in 7steps! 7 Steps to Building a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom provides a seven step process that creates a language-rich interactive classroom environment in which all students can thrive. Topics include differentiating instruction for students at a variety of language proficiencies, keeping all students absolutely engaged, and creating powerful learning supports.

The 7 Steps...

  1. Teach students what to say when they don't know what to say
  2. Have students speak in complete sentences
  3. Randomize & Rotate when calling on students
  4. Use total response signals
  5. Use visuals and vocabulary strategies that support your objective
  6. Have students participate in structured conversations
  7. Have students participate in structured reading/writing activites

Step 1 - Teach Students What to Say When They Don't Know What to Say

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Frequently Asked Questions...

What does the research say?

Teaching students what to say when they do not know what to say is a metacognitive strategy. Research shows that the use of metacognitive strategies in the classroom has an impact on student performance.

How does this step work?

First, the teacher must explicitly teach the strategy to students, model the strategy and explain when and why the strategy should be used.

What if a student does not respond?

Smile politely and ask students to, "Please use one of the strategies." Then wait. If they refuse, model the strategy and ask again, letting your tone and body language communicate your expectation.


For additional FAQs check out pages 13-15 in 7 Steps to a Language Rich Interactive Classroom By, John Seidlitz

Step 2 - Have Students Speak in Complete Sentences

Our AVID Scholarly Language Sentence Stems...

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Frequently Asked Questions...

What does the research say?

Research indicates that in order for students to use content language accurately in their speaking and writing, they must hear the language multiple time and in multiple contexts. Having students speak in complete sentences provides a means for students to hear content-area vocabulary used in context, not only by the teacher, but also by their peers.

How does this step work?

Teachers can support students as they learn to respond with complete sentences by providing them with sentence stems. A sentence stem is a short phrase that gives students the beginning of a sentence and helps them structure a response.

Do we expect complete sentences all of the time?

Let's not overdo it. We should expect complete sentences when we ask questions directly during whole-group or small group interactions, but we do not expect students to communicate with complete sentences in every interaction.

A good rule of thumb: Every time a new question or topic is introduced in a discussion, it's good to reiterate the expectation. If you are having an open discussion, relax and allow the free flow of ideas.

Step 3 - Randomize & Rotate When Calling on Students

Many teachers struggle with finding ways to manage a classroom full of diverse learners. Imagine the group of students in your classroom. When you ask a question of the whole group or small group, do the same energetic participators always raise their hand and subsequently get called on?

Solution 1: Radomizing

We all love solutions that require very little planning. Create simple systems like using index cards or Popsicle sticks with students' names on them. It changes the way we ask questions and remember, the teacher "always" knows which name is on it. If you draw Danny's name, the only person who really knows who's name is drawn is the teacher.

This solution helps us avoid phrases like:

  • Who can tell me
  • Let's see who knows
  • Does anyone know
  • Can someone tell the class

The goal is to have ALL students involved in the discussion, so ALL students' learning can be assessed. When randomizing the questioning technique looks like this:

  • Ask the question
  • Pause
  • Select a student to respond using a random selection process

In some cases, it's ok to ask students to not raise their hands; this eliminates the temptation to call on those who volunteer. Pausing after the question gives everyone a chance to think, and it creates some "positive tension" as students wonder who will be chose.

Index cards & Popsicle sticks work great, but you can also use apps like Stick Pick which allows you to create a class and track the levels of questions asked and the students' success. Talk about formative assessment!

Solution 2: Rotating

Spencer Kagan's "Numbered Heads Together" is an easy way to get everyone involved and avoid the problems of calling on the same students again and again.

  1. Divide students into groups of four
  2. Ask the students to count off within the group (1-4) so each person has a number
  3. Ask a question
  4. Give groups a chance to talk to each other about the answer
  5. Ask one number to stand up in each group. For example, "All Ones, please stand."
  6. Have the number One person report for the group.
  7. Instruct students to respond with this sentence stem if they have the same response as another group: "We agree that ______ because _____..."

This can be repeated until each number from 1-4 has been given an opportunity to respond.

The goal is to get us, as teachers talking less & students talking more!

Step 4: Use Total Response Signals

Total response signals are cues students can use to indicate they are ready to respond to questions or ready to move on to new material. Response signals allow students to prepare for oral or written participation in a non-threatening way and they provide a very effective tool for gauging student understanding in real time....aka Formative Assessment

3 Elements of an Effective Total Response Signal:

Total - Includes "every" student in the classroom. Total means ALL students.

Response - Every student will make a choice. Students think through what they know to make choices.

Signal - Once students have responded, they will give a response with a visual signal. The signal must be clear enough so that teachers can immediately survey how many students can respond to the question or decision.

4 Basic Types of Response Signals:

Written Response - Students write their responses on paper, sticky notes, cards or white boards and hold them up so they are visible to the teacher.

Ready Response - Students show they have finished a task or are ready to being a new task.

Making Choices - Students show their response to a specific set of choices using a physical signal or object. After reading a question, ask students to show their choice. (Have you heard of Plickers? Check it out and instantly allow students to make choices you record on your smart phone) Ciick here for more: Plickers Response System

Ranking - Students can show their agreement or disagreement with particular statements. Be sure you ask students to explain their reasoning.

Check out the chart below for specific examples of each type of response signal.

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Step 5 - Use Visuals and Vocabulary Strategies that Support Your Objective

You have heard the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words," and often this is true. Photos, maps, drawings, movie clips, and concrete objects give students access to content in spite of possible barriers such as lack of background on the subject or limited English proficiency.

Visual Tools

Graphic Organizers - These provide a way for students to organize facts, ideas and concepts that help them make sense of the content. You probably make use of these already. Graphic organizers can be used before instruction to provide a scaffold for new material, and they can show much students already know about a topic. During instruction they can be used to help students organize key information. After instruction, graphic organizers help students connect prior knowledge with new information and determine relationships between the two.

Some Graphic Organizers Include: story maps, Venn diagrams, spider maps, T-charts & KWL charts.

Always remember, when using graphci organizers, be sure to model its use and provide time for guided practice.

Point & Talk

This strategy helps clarify meaning for new concepts. Simply draw or show a visual of the key concept for each lesson. Keep it posted throughout the unit of study and consistently point back to it. (Anchor Charts) Interested in seeing some tremendous anchor charts - Visit Megan Jackson or Kelly Bender's Classrooms rooms.

Developing Vocabulary

A good rule of thumb is to introduce and display at least two new words per lesson. Here are two specific strategies that build academic vocabulary:


This strategy teaches students essential words for understanding new content minutes before they encounter the words in text. Using this strategy increased student achievement by 33% as compared to students who did not use the strategy.

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Marzano's Six Step Process

In "Building Academic Vocabulary" (Marzano, 2004), Marzano outlines a comprehensive approach to learing the context specific academic vocabulary, or the brick words that students encounter in their reading. The first three steps help us introduce new terms during the frist lesson; the last three steps help students practice & reinforce those terms over time.

Remember: Describe, Describe, Draw, Do, Discuss, Play

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Step 1: Describe - Instead of a standard definition, teachers give students a description or explanation of the word or term using examples and visuals. The goal is to appeal to learners of ALL types in order to help them understand new vocabulary.

Step 2: Describe - Students are asked to give their own description or explanation using their own words. By listening/reading student descriptions/explanations, we can assess mastery or provide help. Students record descriptions in their personal notebooks to reference later.

Step 3: Draw - Students draw representations of the new vocabulary word/term. Acceptable ways to complete this task include: drawing pictures, designing symbols, making graphics, creating cartoons, finding a visual on Internet or magazine. This can be done individually or in groups.

Step 4: Do - Give students more practice using new vocabulary words/terms. Have them participate in activities such as: identifying prefixes, suffixes, synonyms, antonyms, related words and additional visuals.

Step 5: Discuss - Students discuss words/terms as they work with/in partners, triads or groups. This conversation is more effective when structured. Monitoring discussions clears up any confusion students may have.

Step 6: Play - Students participate in games that reinforce deep understanding or new vocabulary words/terms. Examples of games include: Jeopardy, Wordo (like Bingo), Charades, Pictionary, Scrabble, etc...

Step 6 - Have Students Participate in Structured Conversations

Asking students to talk with each other using specific language about a clearly defined topic is called a structured conversation. Structured conversations allow students to share ideas and points-of-view with each other.

A simple strategy that weaves structured conversation into instruction is QSSSA or (Question, Signal, Stem, Share, Assess).

In this strategy, the teachers asks a QUESTION and the students give a response SIGNAL when they are ready to answer. Using a sentence STEM, students are asked to SHARE their response with one or more peers. Lastly, the teachers assesses the quality of the discussion by selecting a few students to share their answers with the whole class.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the research say?

Student to student interaction focused on lesson concepts has been shown to have a significant effect on student achievement (Marzano, Pickering & Pollack, 2001). In several studies, students who participated in discussions with other students about a topic showed a percentile gain of nineteen points over students who do not participate in discussions (Guzetti et al., 1993 as cited in Marzano et., 2001).

What is the difference between "structured conversations" and simply calling on students randomly in the classroom, one student at a time?

First, structured conversations are much more engaging because the process includes 100% student participation. In single-student questioning, we select one student at a time to respond to a teacher's question while everyone else in the classroom remains passive.

I don't understand the "A" of QSSSA?

The "A" stands for assess. The process is simple. After students have shared their completed sentence stems with a peer, the teacher can assess their responses by randomly calling on individual students. Students can share their sentence stems, or they can write about their learning experience during the structured conversations. Teachers are not evaluating students; instead, they are using student responses to know whether to re-teach or to move forward with the lesson.

An Example of QSSSA - Math


What are some important things to remember when factoring equations?

Signal (Stand, Sit Down, Raise Your Right Hand/Left Hand, Thinker's Chin)

Raise your hand when you can complete this sentence...


The most important thing to remember when factoring equations is...because...


Share in groups of three


Randomly call on students

Step 7 - Have Students Participate in Structured Reading/Writing Activites

Step Seven is about structuring these reading and writing activities so that students gain a deep understanding of content concepts. We create structure by clearly defining our purpose, our plan and the process for each reading or writing activities.

Structured Reading Activities...

...should be purpose-driven. Teachers should be able to answer the question:

Why am I having my students read this?

We derive purpose from the content objectives and the state TEKS for each subject. Therefore, aligning the reading activity with the content objective gives us clear purpose for the assignment.

Two Specific Strategies...

Somebody-Wanted-But-So Strategy

Can be used during or after reading to help students understand literary elements such as conflicts and resolutions. It is also a great summarization technique.

Students determine: The main character (Somebody), his/her motivation (Wanted), the main conflict (but), and the resolution to the conflict (so).

Summarization Frames

This strategy provides a way of structiring summaries of content-area text. The frames involve specific questions that help students summarize difference kinds of text.

Narrative Frame

Topic Restriction Frame

Illustration Frame

Definition Frame

Arguementation Frame

Problem Solution Frame

Conversation Frame

Teachers would select the most apporpriate frame for the assigned text. As students read, they answer the questions from the frame, and then use those responses to create a summary of the text.

To see the specific questions associated with each frame click here: Summary Frames

Additional Structured Reading Activities can be found on page 51 in "7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom" which I will be sharing with you.

Structured Writing Activities

The first step is to determine why students need to write. Specifically, we want to define how the writing task will help students gain understanding of the content objective. If a science objective requires students to explain the differences between the three states of matter, the writing assignment needs to support that goal.

The second step is to ask, "Can my students successfully complete the writing task on their own?"

Lastly, select the structured writing strategy, structure or process that reinforces the content goals.

Two Specific Strategies...

RAFT - (Role, Audience, Format, Topic)

This strategy enables students to write from various points of view, using different genres, topics, and audiences. The strategy works well in all subjects, especially in Language Arts.

Role: The perspective the student takes

Audience: The individuals the author is addressing

Format: Type of writing that will take place

Topic: The subject of the writing

Here is a great website to support RAFT Writing: RAFT

Expert Writing

This strategy involves students taking on the role of "expert" for a given topic, concept, or unit of study. An effective way to introduce this strategy is to have all studnts find a nareas in which they are already an exprei (cleaning their room, irritating their siblings, making a sandwich, etc...) and to complete the expert writing process wit hthat topic before moving to academic concepts.

When ready to tackle an academic topic, students brainstorm the questions that someone would ask an expert relating to their area of expertise. During the unit of study or individiual lesson the student makes notes about the answers to those questions. The studnet then writies an explanation or description of the topic or conecept including all of his or her "expert knowledge".

***Bonus Strategy*** You will not find this in the book, but it aligns with our AVID Goals and is one students in 4th and 5th grade should be familiar with.


Additional Structured Reading Activities can be found on page 53 in "7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom" which I will be sharing with you.

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