Literature Reviews/Essays

Not Just for Little Kids:  Using picture books in the middle years to engage and teach about the world


This literature review explores the use of picture books in the middle years to promote international mindedness and cultural literacy. Evidence from research is used into the use of picture books with middle year students to engage in learning, bridge gaps of literacy and create learning situations that enable higher level learning.  Beyond this idea, picture books can be used to promote cultural literacy. Evidence from research about appropriate book selection and scaffolding strategies are used to create links with the Middle Years Program of the International Baccalaureate.  The study highlights the links and gaps in research in the use of picture books in the MYP.  Thirty one pieces of literature (journal articles, academic papers and books) were used in this literature review, while many other articles and books were sourced as background reading.


Picture books are universal. In a single sitting you can be challenged, informed, transported to a new place and entertained.  While it is accepted that picture books are used widely to teach early literacy, there is also evidence that the use of picture books in the middle years can be beneficial in an integrated approach to learning about the world.  The International Baccalaureate perports to prepare students to have a global view, have awareness of other cultures, develop empathy for those not living in as privileged a society, be tolerant of other cultures, religions and race and be open to new experiences because they have been exposed to the possibilities. The use of picture books in the Middle Years Program will enhance and support this vision.  Although, the literature on this topic covers many aspects and views on using picture books with older students, this study will focus on the benefits, limitations, use of picture books to teach cultural literacy, appropriate strategies and the selection criteria of picture books to be used for this specific purpose.  It will also find links between picture book use and the MYP and gaps in the research.


Theoretical Framework

A qualitative approach has been used in this literature review related to the use of picture books in the middle years.  The findings reflect the interpretations of individual writers, as the topic and research is subjective and often based on case studies and action research. Commonalities have emerged through the literature that have allowed the researcher to make links between use of picture books as an instructional text, cultural literacy and considerations to be made in terms of teaching strategies and books selection for older students.

Research Questions

What are the key considerations when using picture books in the middle years to promote cultural literacy?

This question has been scaffolded with the following guiding questions to lend clarity to the literature review:

What are the benefits in using picture books with older, disengaged and ESL students?

What are the limitations in using picture books as an instructional text in the middle years?

What strategies need to be employed for the successful use of picture books in the MYP?

What are the essential attributes of a picture book with the purpose of teaching cultural literacy to middle school students?

What is the evidence that picture books are used effectively in the Middle Years Program of the International Baccalaureate?

Keywords for research: cultural literacy, picture books, resources, strategies, multicultural literature, MYP, International Baccalaureate, children’s literature, international mindedness

Databases: ERIC, Google Scholar, OCC (Online Curriculum Centre) of the IBO, Education A+, Academic OneFile


Picture Books and the Older Student

For a long time picture books have been promoted primarily to teach early literacy. The pictures help students predict text and recognize the shapes of words related to these pictures. Their purpose has been two-fold: to entertain and inform. Picture books have the ability to connect a young child with familiar and unfamiliar pictures. Some tell stories, others generate discussion. Both approaches allow children to ask questions and make sense of heir world while teaching them how to read and decode text. Mendoza and Reese (2001) discuss how picture books with a range of ethnic, racial and cultural groups enable a child to develop their understanding of others. This aspect can and should carry on beyond  the stage when children have learned to read. Picture books still have the capacity to inform and instruct as students get older. “One of the real problems with the notion of development is that all too often it carries with it implications of passing from inferior to superior states, discarded like Mr Toad’s caravan on our educational journey to ‘better things’ (Horner, 1990, p1)”. It can argued that placing value on picture books as a teaching tool can create a learning environment where critical analysis emerges from the known.

A picture book allows the reader to look at a subject or story from a different angle. Often, as in the case of the books of Shaun Tan, familiar pictures or subject matter is presented in peculiar ways, from different points of view. “We like to look at things from unusual angles, attempt to seek some child-like revelation in the ordinary, and bring our imagination to the task of questioning everyday experiences (Tan, 2012)”.  This can appear playful, however, in a classroom setting such texts allow for exploration of higher order thinking skills as students must question what they see and read. For this reason, Tan does not understand why a picture book needs to be placed only in the realm of young readers. “But is this a necessary condition of the art form itself? Or is it just a cultural convention, more to do with existing expectations, marketing prejudices and literary discourse? (Tan, 2012)”.  It is these societal viewpoints that mean that teachers must have a positive attitude to picture books when attempting to use them with older students.

When a teacher is comfortable using picture books and understands their potential, the books will not appear too juvenile to use with adolescents and young adults.  Appelt (1985) discusses that while it may seem offensive to older students to use ‘easies’, if used in the right context with meaningful purpose the picture book provides ESL learners with clear language presented in an interesting, often repetitive way. This is exactly what they need when learning a new language. This is particularly significant when looking at an ESL student in the MYP of an international school. Apart from providing valuable cultural clues, picture books can be used to practice reading aloud, writing, analysis, gaining different perspectives on folk tales, building vocabulary and to stimulate discussion (Appelt, 1985).  O’ Sullivan (1987) in The Challenge of Picture Books highlighted the use of picture books to support these types of learners. “They introduce ideas, allusions, concepts and cultural experiences within a visual and textually concise context. This broad but manageable reading experience is essential for ESL students and unsuccessful readers if they are to become confident and competent language users (O’Sullivan, 1987, p10)”.   It is these experiences that allow struggling students to engage in subject matter, and develop the much needed critical analysis that will be expected of them later.

There are lost opportunities for all stakeholders when picture books are cast aside once students get to an age where they can cope with more complex texts. There are many advantages of using multicultural picture books in the MYP. First, they allow access to content and ideas to those who may struggle with literacy. It also allows scope for analysis, leading to higher level thinking activities. The complexity of the text in not linked to the student’s level of understanding of content. Picture books are an accessible text that allows students to access a level of knowledge that they can then move forward. “Multicultural education meas finding and using culturally and linguistically relevant materials to develop students’ cognitive skills,” which include children’s literature (Nieto &Bode, 2008, p418).

Picture Books and Cultural Literacy

Using picture books in the MYP leads naturally to lessons of cultural literacy. In The Literacy Landscape (2005), Bull and Anstey highlight picture books as important ‘windows to the world’ for students young and old. “Using picture books in this way can make for an inclusive classroom where differences can be seen in terms of richness and variety rather than as a way of marginalizing or excluding particular cultures of social groups (Bull &Anstey, 2005, p202).” This is important and true for an international school setting where a class may be made up of a variety of cultural backgrounds and where that background is particularly important at home, to help in creating a student’s cultural identity. The International Baccalaureate Oraganisation aims to educate students in such a way that influences their values and goals. “It is explicit in expressing its ideological goal to create world citizens who care not only about their own country but also about others from around the world (Fail, 2011, p114).” In order to do this effectively, a teacher needs to explore respectively not only the cultures within the class but also beyond those walls. The question, then, of what cultures to include and how much to cover is raised.

It is impossible to teach all cultures, with appropriate depth all of the time but that doesn’t mean teachers should avoid texts that stimulate discussion about culture. Rochman (1993) discusses that when teachers concern themselves with being politically correct, they often censor points of view on a culture. She encourages us to read a range of books from a range of writers, from various cultures and to not expect one book to do the job of teaching students about a culture.

“Books can make a difference in dispelling prejudice and building community: not with role models and recipes, not with noble messages about the human family, but with enthralling stories that make us imagine the lives of others. A good story lets you know people as individuals in all their particularity and conflict; and once you see someone as a person flawed, complex, striving you’ve reached beyond stereotypes (Rochman, 1993, p134).”

Teamed with this idea, is that by using a diverse range of literature on various cultures, discussions can lead to better understanding of the cultures within a classroom.  Students themselves are a valuable resource in the teaching of cultural literacy. The sharing of stories and rituals, complemented with great picture books can provide connections. “The best books break down borders. They surprise us – whether they are set close to home or abroad. They change our view of ourselves, they extend that phase ‘like me’ to include what we thought was foreign and strange (Rochman, 1993, p9)”.   Teachers must also be aware of how each student would read a story differently depending on their prior experiences and knowledge.

In an international school setting, with a student body of representing many cultures, cultural literacy isn’t just about teaching other cultures but being aware of how students interpret what they read depending on their personal background and story. Flately and Rutland (1986) believe that “often culturally different students interpret the main idea of a text selection differently. Because culture plays such an important role in comprehending text, it is crucial that these students be guided through the practice of finding the main idea as it emerges from the author’s culture (Flately & Rutland, 1986, p270)”. This is an interesting point – as the learning doesn’t just come from finding out more about other cultures, but also how those from another culture learn, interact and what they value.

Teachers must be open to learning about the learning styles of the students where culture may play a large part. “When we fail to take into account the culture of each child we teach, we are in danger of reaching only those children who share our own ways of communicating and interacting (Cimillo, 2011, p6)”.  Cimillo discusses how teachers need to reassess their cultural bias and be open to learning about the cultures and backgrounds of students to create those much needed positive relationships and have an understanding  of learning styles  (that are often affected by culture). Sharing information, getting help from a peer may be considered cheating in one culture, but highly valued in another. It’s important to have an awareness of what students bring to the classroom in order to give them what they need as learners.  Although, it can be argued that no matter where a student is from, their learning style is individual. This is the challenge for all teachers.

Cimillo’s research has offered insight into the dangers of being unaware of the cultural baggage a student may carry with them to class. This is also reflected in the need to be careful about using picture books in such a way that treat the students as a tourist but not giving much substance.  Schwindt echoes this notion in her article about a model for international education stating: “I would argue that literature alone may create a pseudo understanding comparable to the skewed knowledge a tourist acquires through hotels and tour bus windows (Schwindt, 2003, p69)”. The use of picture books as the sole exposure to other cultures would not give an authentic view of a culture. Teachers must be careful to scaffold the use of such books with learning experiences that would give a more honest, less stereotypical view of any culture.

Cultural literacy or the desire to teach international mindedness aside, the use of picture books can aid in breaking down barriers in terms of learning styles, as their use acknowledges that some learn best with visual aid. Oliver in Crossing the Mainstream discusses this idea stating: “There are other ways to identify learning styles. Some of us learn better visually (seeing); some auditorially (hearing), some kinesthetically (through activity, such as writing) (Oliver, 1994, p166).” Picture books help support this truth. Teachers who read a variety of picture books, showing and discussing the visuals and then complementing that reading with a physical activity such as a drama response or creative writing activity will go a long way to support the learning styles of many of the students in their class. Brown and Stephen (1998) support this notion in United in Diversity.  “The illustrations in picture books evoke immediate response, and the language is rich and clear. The vivid images and strong themes offer middle school and high school students valuable means for examining cultural representations, unfamiliar dialects, and historical perspectives (Brown &Stephen, 1998, p96).”

Teachers who are attempting to teach international mindedness must be prepared to respond to the challenges that will arise when teaching and learning about a culture different to their own:

“Teaching a curriculum for global citizenship requires courage and commitment. In a pluralistic curriculum, the teaching and learning of difficult knowledge, which may take both teachers and students outside their comfort zone, cannot be avoided. Teachers must be aware of their students’ developmental level and scaffold the teaching of difficult issues in age appropriate ways. (Davy, 2011, p8)

This means more than just using texts and picture books that offer a perspective on a culture. Being educated under the International Baccalaureate umbrella, means more than superficial exposure. For many it means being educated in a country other than their home country.  Students need to learn about other cultures but then show through actions and intent that they are becoming internationally minded. Hill also warns of the use of only providing knowledge but no further authentic experiences.

Most national programs have always included elements which oblige students to know something about the geography and history of other countries, artistic expression from other places and to learn another language. Alone, these aspects do not constitute an international education, above all if they remain at the level of knowledge only. Students need skills to interpret knowledge, which in turn, leads to the formation of positive attitudes about people whose origins are different from theirs – this if fundamental to the concept of international education at the school level. (Hill, 2006, p99)

It is in this way that the use of multicultural picture books has its limitations. It is simply a tool. A powerful one in that it can engage, enhance literacy skills and give insight into other cultures.  However, the goal of the MYP in an International School is more than to just provide information to students about other cultures. It runs much deeper than that. As Heywood (2004) suggests: “The interculturally literate person, in these terms, possesses the understandings, competencies, attitudes and identities necessary for successful living and working in a cross cultural or pluralist setting. He or she has the background required effectively to ‘read’ a second culture, to interpret its symbols and negotiate its meanings in a practical day to day context (Heyward, 2002, p10).”  This needs to be kept in mind, as texts are chosen and activities developed.  If students are only presented with stereotypes and token stories of other cultures, the lessons of cultural literacy have not been taught. Banks (2007) supports this idea saying “It also helps students to acquire cosmopolitan perspectives and values needed to attain equality and social justice for people around the world (Banks, 2007, p1).” These comments embrace the final product hoped for when embracing the IB Learner Profile.


An emerging theme in research regarding picture book use on the middle years is that teachers must assume responsibility for learning which are the best books to use, acquire appropriate strategies and in the case of teaching international mindedness, use complementary activities. Albright (2002) not only justifies the use of picture books with the middle years, but using an example such as Inca Ice Mummy she explains how she uses questioning and students’ prior knowledge to build a situation where students feel connected to the literature and are able to remember facts. When using the Red Tree by Shaun Tan, Pantaleo (2011) explains how other books are used to help facilitate group discussion and student responses. It is essential to create guidelines; students can work with so they can have meaningful discussions. This would particularly true of picture books where culture is a point of difference and the discussions must be handled carefully and honestly.

Struggling readers and ESL aside the use of picture books in the middle years can also be used as a tool of engagement. “The potential impact to classroom experiences for students and teachers alike when picture books are used is significant. When well integrated into unit lessons, they offer pathways to deeper emotional connections and high order thinking skills for all secondary students (Reiker, 2011, p16)”. Once a class is hooked with well selected, high interest picture books, the teacher has the opportunity to teach about the world and learn to deconstruct text. Derouet (2010) highlighted the use of Luke and Freebody four resources model when dealing with a picture book. The strategy of this model which explores the relationship of reader to text can be learned through using picture books and then applied later to more complex texts. “The reading of picture books requires much more than just decoding words, as it involves the reading of the visual images as well. This means that readers of picture books need diverse strategies to be able to code break, make meaning, use texts and analyse texts critically across both verbal and visual modes (Derouet, 2010, p2). Derouet cites an important aspect of the picture book as teaching tool is the fact that teacher can use many in one session or to explore one topic. This idea is supported by Ivey and Broaddus (2000) who state “what students who lack experience need is a wealth of experiences with print, and we see no reason why regular classroom teachers in the middle school cannot provide it (Ivey & Broaddus, 2000, p74)”.

Fingerson and Killen (2006) in Picture books for young adults discuss the idea of using the strategy of students writing their own picture books. If one considers the amount of research, planning, careful selection of text and complementary illustrations, it can lead to an extremely challenging but appropriate task for middle school students in the MYP. This is not a new idea – English teachers often have their students create picture books within the English area – often with a specific target audience in mind. However, if the research is linked to researching a specific culture with the intention of representing that culture in a respectful and honest manner, then the process would actually embrace many of the qualities of the IB Learner Profile. A task such as this could be across areas of integration or subject areas. It is challenged by the notion that a quality multi-cultural book must be written by those from that culture, but surely any process that allows a student to create from a different cultural viewpoint would be a very powerful experience.

Another useful strategy when presenting picture books as a tool for higher level learning and cultural literacy is the Think Aloud strategy. Murray and Puchner (2012) explain this process by saying it is where one would “explicitly discuss culture and socio-cultural issues as they related to the characters in our literature, and to facilitate in students the construction of new meaning about their lived experiences (Murray & Puchner, 2012, p38).” So, in reading a picture book, the teacher would stop at relevant points and model breaking down/decoding the text and illustrations while relating it to their prior knowledge or experiences. As students become familiar with this approach, they would be drawn into the discussion. This strategy not only serves as an explicit teaching tool, but also leads to safe discussions about cultures, especially those present in the class.

A recurring reference in the research was made to Banks four level approach to using multicultural literature. Within this context one can see the limitations of using picture books at a certain level, but it also gives insight into how to use texts in a more meaningful manner.” Banks (2007) identified four levels of using multicultural literature across the curriculum: 1) the contributions approach, 2) the additive approach, 3) the transformation, and 4) the social action approach.  Beiger (1987) describes the various levels in her article Promoting multicultural education through a literature-based approach. These approaches offer useful strategies when using picture books for this purpose.

The contributions approach is the most superficial level (one that many teachers would be) that involve looking at holidays, rituals and heroes at a basic level and in a way that attempts to define a culture. It, of course, does not. This is where the danger of using picture books actually presents limitations. Oliver (1994) warns against leaving multicultural education at this one dimensional level. The problem that arises is that due to limited time and an abundance of cultures; which cultures does a teacher/school choose to explore and how much time should be given? These are practical concerns that challenge the ideal scenario.

The ethnic additive approach literature from other culture is added to the curriculum but not integrated. Points of view still present the mainstream. “Content, concepts and themes that reflect other cultures are added to the existing curriculum without changing its structure, purpose or characteristics (Beiger, 1987, p310). The third level: the transformation approach is one that provides students with points of view of other cultures. This is an important level. “When you get lost in a story, when you get to care about a character, you find yourself in a new world that makes you look at yourself in a new way. You think about things you took for granted. You imagine other people’s lives and that makes you discover your own (Rochman, 1993, p147)”.

The highest level is the social action approach. This is where through depth of exploration of a culture using authentic texts and activities, students are moved to act. “This does not simply mean reading a book about the globe. This can mean anything from having the ability to see more than one viewpoint in a situation, examining biases in society and the curriculum, volunteering in poor communities, and more (Turner, 2011, p15).” This is the level that best supports the philosophy of the International Baccalaureate. To be global citizens means to be able to work, play and live alongside those of other cultures in a way that reflects respect and understanding. It would be useful to see further research in the area of how carefully selected picture books are then used as a springboard for action.

Selection Criteria

There are a number of key factors that come into play when selecting appropriate picture books for the middle school age student. The aspect of presenting a multicultural view, aside, there is a basic  selection criteria that can be followed for any picture books to be used with an older student. Seney (2012) in Teaching for High Potential supports the use of picture books at a non-fictional level to teach about people in an interesting a visually appealing way.  He believes careful selection is paramount in ensuring students will be hooked by a text. The picture books should have stunning visuals (essential for visual literacy and complex discussion), no sing song rhymes, accurate facts and information, humour and word play, connections to the real world and stories that can be enjoyed at many levels. It can be argued that this is a solid selection criteria for the choice of picture books at any level. There are millions of picture books – they are not all quality. Using a thoughtful eye when choosing picture books, will only make the experience for all students for meaningful.

Michele Anstey is a key researcher in mulit-literacies and a supporter of using picture books to promote such literacies. She identified key aims in literacy education for the 21st century that reflect the current environment in which texts are read. The understandings that shape these aims are (Anstey, 2002, p448):

–          All texts are consciously constructed and have particular social, cultural, political and economic purposes

–          Text comes in a variety of representational form, incorporating a range of grammars and semiotic systems

–          Changes in society and technology will continue to challenge and change texts and their representational forms

–          There may be more than one way of reading or viewing a text depending on a range of contextual and other factors

Picture books have the ability to be used in such a way that reflects these understandings. In an international school perspective that is very relevant.  The key, however, is appropriate selection of texts.  The limitations of using picture books (or a poor approach) have been explored. There is only so much one text can do. It is the careful selection and subsequent strategies that make a text worthwhile to use in the context of teaching multicultural education. In terms of the aforementioned key understandings, selection of text is critical. “Text is a product of its social and cultural origins and the social and cultural background of its authors and producers. Because of this, no text is neutral – every text has a purpose and has been shaped with the purpose, audience and the context in which it will be used in mind (Bull & Anstey, 2005, p133).” It is for this reason that teachers must read widely, choose carefully and scaffold appropriately. A book does not have to stress the uniqueness of a culture for it to be beneficial, however, it just has to be accurate, sensitive, and avoid negative, stereotypical, and condescending depictions of the culture in question.

Higgins (2002) developed a checklist for developing and evaluating multicultural literature. This criteria seems to strongly suggest the need to select texts with clear intention of providing as an authentic view of a chosen culture as possible. The checklist is as follows:

–          High literary quality

–          No distortions or omissions of history

–          No negative or inaccurate stereotypes portrayed

–          No loaded words that are derogatory

–          Lifestyles presented are genuine and complex

–          The dialogue represents the culture’s oral tradition

–          The characters are strong – having a standard of success

–          Women, elderly and family are portrayed accurately

–          No aspect that would embarrass or offend a child from that culture

–          The author and illustrator have the qualifications or background to accurately portray the culture presented

–          Illustrations do not generalize or reinforce stereotypes

–          There are relationships between characters from different cultures

–          Books that are written later than 1970’s so to represent a more pluralistic society and are less bias

Through research, Higgins concluded that “authentic literature is determined by some to be books written by or about other cultures around the world. Many scholars feel that historical accuracy and validity can only be reached if the author is of the nationality or race being written about (Higgins, 2002)”. To take such pains to select literature that ticks off all from the above checklist and has been written/illustrated from within that culture would be very cumbersome for any teacher. It is here that critical thinking and analysis comes into play. Students must learn to read a text, with an understanding of the bias or level of research that may be present. While they may get some distorted views of some cultures – the key is to not use one book alone. When presented with a wealth of stories, showing many characters and aspects of a culture students will form a clearer view of what the truth is about that culture. The ability to assess a quality if a text or information is a very real world skill: from listening to others with an ear of objectivity, to sifting through all the information available on the internet and knowing that an author’s intention often drives the story or information.

Picture books and the MYP?

Very little research has been done in the use of picture books to promote international mindedness or the key philosophies of the IB, including the learner profile. There have been suggestions of texts that may be used but very little in the ways to use said texts or strategies to use to ensure that teachers avoid the tourist approach to teaching cultural literacy. There seems to be a gap in valid research here. As the MYP moves into DP, the rigors of using challenging texts from a range of cultural backgrounds, often means that there is little opportunity to use picture books. Perhaps the need to prepare students for the rigors of the DP means that more complex texts are used in MYP. Having said that, there are many schools that offer MYP but not the DP.

“The five-year programme is intended to offer an educational approach that embraces but goes further than traditional school subjects. After consultation with the IBO, provided certain conditions are met, schools enjoy much flexibility in terms of language of instruction and languages taught.  Intercultural awareness is stated as being central to the programme (Carder, 2002, p9).” It is quite clear that the MYP provides students with a very different experience than the Diploma Program. It is during the MYP, when students are in their impressionable and formative years that as much uncensored exposure to the wider world, explored in the safe setting of the classroom can go a long way in promoting international mindedness. Along with this idea, is that through appropriate selection of texts and authentic learning experiences, students gain experience and develop the attributes of the IB Learner Profile which is at the core of the International Baccalaureate curriculum. “The IBO is concerned that students develop a personal value system which will guide their own lives, creating thoughtful members of local communities and the larger world (Carder, 2002, p9).”

Michael Allan (2011), in his IBO position paper on the roles of cognition, language and culture, discusses the importance of using appropriate resources to give students cultural insights. One of the most significant resources is the student body. Allowing students to share their stories and cultural backgrounds allows them to make sense of new learning. “It is important both to situate new learning within a cultural context familiar to the student and also to connect with prior knowledge (Allan, 2011, p8).”  Determining the prior knowledge of students is always important; however, in a cultural setting one could argue that it is absolutely essential. It’s possible that another resource (texts) in the form of picture books could provide the bridges from prior knowledge to new – especially about culture.   Allan points out that teachers can’t know everything about other cultures, but must be open to learning as much as they can to broaden their global perspective if they are to teach it. It seems that picture books about other cultures and in other languages could only support this idea.

In Irene Davy’s paper, Learners without borders: a curriculum of global citizenship, the author discusses how the education of today needs to meet the needs of an ever changing world. This is a world where due to technology making the world smaller and that cultures are living side by side in any given country, students need to have the skills to deal with the differences in people and cultures that will very well be part of their lives. “Culture is the fabric of life for students both in and out of school. Engaging in explicit discussions of their own cultures is the starting point for exploring diversity and complexity. Perspective and cultural understanding are underlying drivers of a curriculum that must reach beyond the delights of culture to probe the ambiguities, challenges and provocations of cultural difference (Davy, 2011, p6)”.  This supports the notion of not censoring texts, not just learning about heroes and holidays of another country, but also the day to day lives of the people that inhabit the space. Picture books, chosen carefully, can go a long way to provide some key insights into other cultures. “Many picture books are censored by parents, schools, etc. as they want to keep their children innocent. There can be a lot gained in dealing with these texts in a compassionate way that is honest to the subject matter (Lillis, 2010).”

While there has been little research evident in how the MYP uses picture books to promote the IB Learner Profile attributes, one can see how using appropriate books can only enhance the development of these attributes. In Dr Kate Bullock’s literature review on the IB Learner Profile, she breaks down the attributes to into learning skill sets. The cognitive aspect of learning is represented by the attributes Knowledgeable, Thinkers and Reflective. “To learn, an individual must first absorb a new piece of evidence, and second actively explore and (re)construct that experience on the basis of his or her existing understanding (Bulloch, 2012, p7).” A book that springs to mind that would be suitable to use is John Marsden’s Home and Away. This is the story of an Australian family who find themselves in the middle of was, and as result end up as refugees in a detention centre.  This would be a powerful and confronting book to use that would challenge students’ thinking skills as it contains changes in writing styles, graphic pictures and, for Australian students, characters who could be representing them.


Bullock (2012) also describes culture as an aspect of learning. The attributes underpinning this area of learning are Communicators and Open-Minded. What is particularly apt is Bullock’s description of Open-minded : “They understand and appreciate their own cultures and personal histories, and are open to the perspectives, values and traditions of other individuals and communities. They are accustomed to seeking and evaluating a range of points of view, and are willing to grow from the experience (Bullock, 2012, p15).” This is where using picture books that are about the student’s culture, reading familiar stories from different points of cultural views and reading as many picture books that are authentic, un-censored and honest can contribute to the development of being open-minded. Any avid reader will attest to the way a story can open their minds to a world they never knew existed.


The final attribute worth mentioning in this context is Caring. Bullock believes this comes under the affective aspect of learning. This is how students feel about their learning, links to their past experiences and the world around them.  It would be a common hope that all children would be able to have those higher level thinking skills in order to move forward in whatever path they hoped, and do so with an open-mind and a caring nature. A world of these types of citizens would be quite incredible. Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival”, would be an excellent choice in exploring the idea of immigrants and how they make sense of a new place.  As an international student, traveler or refugee there would be many common themes and feelings to explore.



While there has been little research into the specific use of picture books in the MYP, there are clear links between the use of picture books and cultural literacy and the ways that using picture books in this way supports the philosophies of the MYP in the IB.  Further research into the actual use of picture books in MYP needs to be made and whether teachers are reluctant due to the stigma surrounding picture books or the need to use more challenging texts in readiness for the Diploma Program. This challenges the contention given that many schools offering the International Baccalaureate often only have it in the middle years.

It can be argued that teachers in the MYP should use every opportunity when using picture books or any text to create learning situations that enable students to develop as global citizens. Roberts (2008) in a focused study on literature choice in the International Baccalaureate concluded that the use of appropriate multicultural literature wasn’t as extensive as it should be. “The study concluded that more global literature options are needed in the IB English program and that professional development opportunities need to be created by the organization to empower teachers to make choices that align with the mission statement of the organization (Roberts, 2008,p1)”. Furthermore, whether in the MYP or mainstream classrooms, due to the brevity, accessibility and availability of wonderful multicultural literature that every choice made in terms of picture books should be to promote an understanding of the wider world.




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Banks, J. (2007). Educating citizens in a multicultural society. (2 ed.). New York: Teachers College Press. *

Beiger, E. (1996). Promoting multicultural education through a literature approach. The Reading Teacher49(4), 308-312.*

Booker, K. (2012). Using picture books to empower and inspire readers and writers in the upper primary classroom. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years,20(2), 1 – 14.

Boix-Mansilla,V. (2010). MYP guide to interdisciplinary teaching and learning. International Baccalaureate Organisation.

Brown, J., & Stephens, E. (1998). United in diversity. Urbana, Ilinois: National Council of Teachers of English.*

Bull, G, & M. Anstey. (2005). The Literacy Landscape. Pearson Education Australia.*

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Derouet, L. (2010). Using picture books in middle years classrooms. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years,18(1), 1 -11.*

Ericson, B. (1995). At home with multicultural adolescent literature. The Alan Review23(1), doi:

Fail, H.. (2011). Schooling Internationally: globalisation, internationalisation and the future for international schools. In R. Bates, (Ed.), Teaching and learning in international schools; a consideration of the stakeholders and their expectations pp. 101-120 Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. *

Fingerson, J., & Erlene, K. (2006). Picture books for young adults. Teacher Librarian33(4), 32. *

Flatley, J., & Rutland, A. (1986). Using wordless picture books to teach linguistically/culturally different students.The Reading Teacher40(3), 276 – 281. *

Garnett, R. (2003). Canadian picture books for older readers. The Medium, 42 (3). Saskatoon.

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References directly used in literature review *


The challenges of learning and teaching English as a Second Language or a foreign language are not limited to the linguistic structure of the language alone. To truly engage and use effectively this new language in its cultural setting, students must learn the other aspects that give the language meaning and allow them to interpret the language effectively.

The Nature of Language
Language is a tool we use to communicate ideas and feelings. In its simplest form it is structural, with the purpose to communicate and then to be interactional. James Gee described the nature of language as ‘to scaffold the performance of social activities (whether play or work or both) and to scaffold human affiliation within cultures and social groups and institutions” (Gee, 1999, p1). In keeping with this view, other significant scholars in this field believe it is imperative to teach language within the cultural context, and that the language may be a tool to enable interactions, however, success within the new culture depends on how well the student of the language embraces the paralanguage and cultural nuances. This belief is relevant as we see so many foreign students come to Australia to learn English. They may have been learning English in their mother country, however, did not feel it gave them the most authentic language experience.
To communicate and interact we also need the paralanguage of the culture. Alastair Pennycook (1985) describes this as being all the other aspects that contribute to communication. Words alone tell us little, however, teamed with facial expressions, gestures, body language, proxemics, voice quality and tone a speaker’s meaning can be gained clearly. Pennycook describes how there is no body motion or gesture that is truly universal. Misuse can lead to offense and sometimes amusement. In learning or teaching another language we must be sensitive to also giving creed to the paralanguage of the culture. There is little point in teaching perfect swim stroke technique, but not how to save yourself in the case of being caught in a rip.
Having said that, Claire Kramsch (1996) believes that while authenticity is important, students should be allowed to play with language in the way they would in their mother tongue. This interculturality gives their new language depth and helps them make sense of ways to use the language effectively. Steve Kauffman (2009) points out that one of the most important factors in learning a new language is emotion. How you feel about the language and culture effects your motivation to learn the language. He talks about how if you can see yourself in the culture; you will access information about the culture to support language attainment. His view, while contradicting many significant researchers in the area, is interesting in that he resents having the culture imposed on him but thinks it more authentic to discover on his own and that these natural feelings aid in better language attainment. This is an interesting viewpoint from a man who has learnt ten languages. But perhaps this is more a question of different learning styles.
Culture and Interculturality
The idea of interculturality is explored by Kramsch (2000) who does indeed believe that success can be linked to the emotional feelings of the language and that there is a need to nurture the stylistic and cultural differences brought by the learners. As an eleven year old, I was given the gift of living in a small village in Italy for three months. Being raised in Australia, with Italian parents I believed I was Italian, however living in that small village quickly made me realize that I wasn’t. I watched the other children in the village, I gradually interacted with them and by the end of our visit was a fluent speaker. My slow start meant many of the children thought I was a ‘stupid Aussie’. It wasn’t until I could express myself clearly in their language and interact in their way that they thought differently. This was a learning experience I have carried with me in my teaching.
Jim Cummins (2008) explores the notion that many misconceptions about a learners’ abilities are made as they can learn to speak English (for example) in a relatively short time, however, to use it in an academic way can take 5 – 7 years. This big difference in perceived ability (not language attainment or development) often can lead to the students being poorly catered for in the school environment. It can be said that it is important for teachers of English as a second language to have intercultural literacy as it “expands your knowledge of behaviours and helps you avoid the misunderstandings that can take place when you interpret them using solely your own cultural software” (Phillipson, 1992). If teachers can embrace the culture that student’s bring with them, it will make their learning of English meaningful as they are encouraged to make connections to the world they know.
The Relationship between Language and Culture
Claire Kramsch and Michael Byram appeared to have assisted in the movement to teaching language in the context of culture. There is a resounding belief that language taught without culture is inaccurate and incomplete. “If language is seen as a social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching” (Kramsch, 1993, p10). This statement most clearly sums up the point of learning English as a second language or any foreign language. People do not learn another language to sit and read literature in the newly acquired language. They do it to interact, travel, work and live in a country of their choosing. This means to be bilingual means one needs to become bi-kinesic and have non-verbal competence in their newly chosen language and culture. Byram has a practical explanation for why language and culture are linked. He explains how words in a foreign language refer to meanings in a particular culture, which creates a semantic relationship. The learner of the language needs to comprehend these meanings in order to take part in the culture.
The Nature of English as a World Language
There has been much written on the notion of English s a world language. There seems to be a consensus that while learners may believe they are learning ‘proper’ or ‘World English” there is actually no such thing. Braj Kachru (1986) describes how it is used internationally but there is not an international variety of English. As native speakers of English, we know firsthand the differences in the language form English, to American to Australian. David Crystal (1999) in The Future of English, relays an anecdote that highlights that while we talk of non-English speaking cultures using English within their culture, English speaking countries (in this case the U.K, U.S.A and Australia) have country specific terms, references and colloquialisms that reflect the differences in culture (pavement, sidewalk and footpath). How can we then expect other non-English speaking countries to use a ‘Standard English” that doesn’t exist?
Kachru (1997) goes on to explain that there are international functions of English based on three concentric circles. The inner circle are the countries where English is the native tongue, the outer circle, including countries where English has official or historical relevance and then the expanding circle including countries where English plays no official role but is important for certain (usually world business) functions. “It has unique functions, unparalleled domains, and overwhelmingly diversity. It changes its face in each continent, in each region, and in each English-using nation” (Kachru, 1997, p103). Jennifer Jenkins (2007) agrees with Kachru’s notion that non-native speakers use the English language for a wide range of public and personal needs. She also discusses a revised version of the concentric circles: the inner circle, then high proficiency uses, to low proficiency users. This seems to change the circles from the way the world uses English, to how well the world uses English. In Jenkins’ discussion paper, English as a lingua franca: Attitude and identity, she explains how there is a need to recognize that people learn English for their own personal reasons and on their own terms. This may not reflect how a nation, where English is the mother tongue, uses it. Non-native speakers will colour the language with their accents , and should be able to feel that they can keep their identity and culture while communicating in English. This, however, is different from using English with the appropriate context needed. This, in essence, is intercultural literacy in practice.
Crystal (1997) recognizes that English is now the most widely taught language, and with it comes dangers of an elitist, monolithic culture. While the United Nations have defined English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese as the world’s most widely used languages, there is agreement that for business and political reasons a common language is needed. Currently, it is English – a language has traditionally become international because of the power of its people in a political and military sense. This was the case with the world use of Greek and Latin. To say that English will forever be the world language is arrogant and naïve. It changes, as the needs of the people who use it change.
Implications for Teachers of ESL or Foreign Languages
So, what does all this mean for teaching English as a second Language? Much of the reading has reinforced what I already know about good teaching practice – the need for authentic learning experiences that cater specifically for the student clientele. Pennycook (1985) believes it is important to provide activities that address paralanguage, and gives the students a practical application of the language. It is essential to promote full communication in class – allowing freedom to move, use body language, engage in role plays, and face each other. I believe these to be important in any classroom as collaboration and effective use of space aid in providing dynamic lessons in a social context. It also means that effective language teachers need to see themselves as ‘transformative intellectuals” (Pennycook, 1994), being innovative and flexible depending on the needs of their students.
Kramsch (1993) describes that in a language class, the school’s culture is confirmed with cross-cultural dialogues through grammatical exercises, speaking and listening activities and discussion of texts. Teachers are challenged to “help learners read texts at a variety of levels of meaning” (Kramsch, 1993, p8). Literature is used so that there comes an exchange of ideas and emotions – the discourse needed to make sense of the new language. She discusses how language education gives students many opportunities to problem solve – as they struggle with conversations using appropriate grammar, syntax, tone and word selection.
Schools, as a whole, need to be seen as cultural arenas, not neutral sites for learning a language. When they are not viewed as institutions that simply pass on a body of language, but rather an educational setting, catering for students with different backgrounds, value and struggles, they will then be able to be more effective (Kramsch, 1993). Schools must take into account where their students have come from and why they need to learn English. While Kramsch and Pennycook strongly argue the need for authentic lessons with a focus on paralanguage, this notion is challenged by Suresh Canagarah (1999). There is the idea that many learning English have, as the purpose, a path for a better life. Good teaching practice promotes task-based, process oriented, student- centred pedagogy, however, the attitudes and motivation of many of these students would lead to preferring formal, product-oriented, teacher- centred instruction. They have a goal. This is not about how they learn but getting to a better life. Technology may be harnessed to get the students closer their goal. This is especially true of students learning English in countries that do not have English as its mother tongue. If resources are available, the use of technology is essential to make the language real. “Computers seem to realize the dream of every language teacher – to bring the language and culture as close and as authentically as possible to students in the classroom” (Anderson & Kramsch, 1999, p31). Through technology the world is becoming a smaller place in terms of distance and separation. The connections that are possible should be used whenever possible to increase the chances of students attaining functional and academic use of English.
In conclusion, it is apparent that language alone does not give insight into a culture and its people. Students learning English as a second language or a foreign language must be given all the tools to survive, and indeed thrive in a new cultural environment. These tools include the paralanguage of the new language, and the knowledge of how the language is used in that specific country – whether socially, academically or at work. Teachers must be aware of why their students are learning the language and assist in creating bridges to their new life experiences.

Anderson, R. & Kramsch, C. (1999). Teaching Text and Context Through Multimedia. Language, Learning and Technology. 2 (2).
Byram, M. (1989). Cultural studies in foreign language education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Canagarajah, A.S. (1999). Resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Cummins, J. (2008). BICS and CALP: Empirical and theoretical status of the distinction. In Street, B and Hornberger, N. (Eds). Encyclopedia of Language and Education. Vol 2. New York: Springer Science.
Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, D. (1999). The Future of English. Plenary Address to TESOL. New York.
Gee, J. (1999). An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method. London: Routledge.
Jenkins, J. (2007). English as a lingua franca: Attitude and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kachru, B. (1997). English as an Asian Language. Links and Letters. (5).
Kachru, B. (1986). The alchemy of English: The spread, functions, and models of non-native Englishes. Oxford: Pergamon.
Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kramsch, C. (2000). Second Language Acquisition, Applied Linguistics and the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The Modern Language Journal, 84 (iii). pp 311 – 326
Kramsch, C. & Sullivan, P. (1996). Appropriate Pedagogy. ELT Journal, 50 (3). pp 199 – 212
Pennycook, A. (1985). Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Paralanguage, Communication and Education. TESOL Quarterly, 19(2), pp. 259 – 282
Pennycook, A. (1994). The cultural politics of English as an international language. New York: Longman.
Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Strategies and academic language proficiency

Professor J. Cummins (2008) conducted research and developed a theory based on the different levels of language acquisition. BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) covers the range of everyday language use that migrants need to survive in their new environment. ESL (English as a Second Language) students in an English speaking school can become fluent in ‘playground’ English relatively quickly so on the surface it appears they are on par with their native speaking peers.

Cummins, however, argues that to be able to work at the same academic level as their peers, ESL students may take 5 – 7 years to develop academic language proficiency. During this time, they should still be engaged with their primary language, developing new vocabulary alongside their learning of English. “Conceptual knowledge developed in one language helps to make input in the other language comprehensible” (Cummins, 2000). If students grasp mathematical concepts and vocabulary in their native language it is easier for them to acquire the appropriate terms in English – and they already understand the meaning.


Research indicates, as stated in ESL in the Mainstream (2000), that there are certain factors that play a part in an ESL students’ success with English. These include:

  • –  the level of use of the native language
  • –  the level of support available from family
  • –  the age on arrival of immigrants and how academically developed was their

    native language

  • –  for all learners, whether their first language is maintained and encouraged at home
  • –  the attitudes of maintaining native language and culture which will then provide solid links to learning a new language

    By building positive affective states (valuing first culture and therefore building a good self esteem), linking language and content (using existing knowledge when appropriate), giving opportunities for communicative language use (use of group work and using authentic activities) and having an explicit focus on form (teaching discrete language skills) students are more likely to develop the skills needed for academic proficiency of English. “Taking account of learners’ language needs is good teaching practice, and also an essential step towards social justice and equality, which is every learners’ right” (Burke, Kay, Matwiejczyk & Rees, 2000, p74).


    I have chosen teaching ESL in the Mainstream, specifically lower secondary in an English or Drama classroom (as I am a Drama/English teacher). This may mean only a couple students who are ESL or a class that are majority ESL learners placed in an English mainstream classroom.

    There isn’t one way to approach ESL teaching in a mainstream classroom – it is dependent upon the number of students who are English Language Learners, and how long they have had the opportunity to learn English prior to my class. Unless they have spent 7 or more years in an English speaking school, they will need modifications in

    their learning while still working with age appropriate curriculum. I will explore strategies

that would apply to those with very little prior knowledge and how as a teacher, to structure their learning to move toward a context reduced, highly cognitive domain. As I am dealing with lower secondary, I will not use undemanding cognitive tasks, as this does not challenge them at the appropriate level (they come with knowledge and skills, even if taught in another language/culture). I am also making the assumption there are no learning difficulties.

Either way I would create a Content Based ESL Curriculum where students (Brown, 2004):

1. Learnageappropriatecontentknowledge 2. Readauthentictexts’
3. Learnlanguageinpurposefulcontexts
4. Learntechnicalvocabulary

The discrete skills needed to ensure they attain academic language proficiency are:

1. Wordrecognition(decoding)
2. Grammaticalknowledge
3. Vocabulary(includingspelling)
4. Comprehension(higherlevelthinkingskills) 5. Speech

Chamat and O’Malley (1987) explored the Cummins concept of four quadrants encompassing the classification of language and content activities, based on a progressing and intersecting continuum.

A context-embedded task is one in which the student can access visual prompts and is given verbal scaffolding to assist in understanding of texts. A context-reduced task is one where no such aid is offered – they are to engage with and understand denser written texts relying only on language.

Cognitively Undemanding

Cognitively Demanding

Context Embedded

  • –  Answering low level questions
  • –  Playground vocabulary
  • –  Simple games
  • –  Participating in art,

    music, P.E activities

  • –  Face to face


  • –  Developing academic vocabulary
  • –  Participating in science experiments
  • –  Participate in academic discussions
  • –  Make brief oral presentations
  • –  Higher level comprehension


  • –  Understanding written texts

    using visual aids

Context Reduced

  • –  Initial reading skills
  • –  Role plays:simple

    phone conversations

  • –  Reading and writing for

    a simple purpose

  • –  Recipes, lists, notes
  • –  Operational


  • –  Understand academic presentations with no visual aids
  • –  Make formal oral presentations
  • –  Higher level comprehension – critical literacy
  • –  Writing essays, compositions
  • –  Sitting standardized tests

The implication for teachers is they must lead their ESL students to context-reduced, cognitively demanding activities when they have gained confidence in their English speaking skills and given access to context embedded, cognitively (appropriately so) demanding tasks.. This also means support from home, as concepts should be discussed in their native language so they can acquire those higher level thinking skills needed for academic language proficiency in English.


Discrete Skill Focus

Context embedded – highly cognitive

Context reduced highly cognitive

Word Recognition (Decoding)

  • –  Worksheets use appropriate vocabulary, however scaffold with visual aids
  • –  Content and concepts are not simplified, but language may be simplified
  • –  Display posters/printed visual aids to support oral instruction (helpful to all students)
  • –  Rote learning of sight words, using visual
  • –  Use texts that have p[lots that are actions based and have high frequency words

– Use scripts and stories that are not supported by visual or aural aids

Grammatical Knowledge

  • –  Use instructions/recipes to teach grammar
  • –  Play “Yes” – opportunities to play with language to make it work. Grammar game focused on building sentences that make sense (however, can be silly, creative, ridiculous – therefore all students can engage, enjoy and learn) in drama these sentences may be a starting point to performance
  • –  Read aloud to the class often to highlight appropriate emphasis and allow ELLs to hear how well structured sentences sound
  • –  Start lessons with a few
  • –  Script writing that shows an understanding of structure and character
  • –  Model and write stories with appropriate grammatical structures
  • –  Explicitly teach the importance of grammar through a debate – have an informal discussion about whether students believe learning grammar is essential in learning to use English properly. Divide class into teams based on the opposite of what they believed in initial discussion. Have structured debate – students to voice opinions, use examples, defend etc.


sentences on the board that are topic related, and have grammatical mistakes : with the class model correcting each sentence, until ELLs feel comfortable participating


  • –  Lessons extend vocabulary – they keep a running list of newly introduced words, and their native language equivalent
  • –  Use brainstorms, lists, graphic organizers to explore concepts and teach subject based vocabulary
  • –  Introduce the most essential vocabulary before starting a new topic/unit
  • –  Students will use content based vocabulary when creating works or discussing literature
  • –  Students are taught to write a review of a viewed performance using appropriate terminology


  • –  Ask ELL questions that require one/two word responses: Who?, What
  • –  After reading a short story or section of a novel, have groups re- enact (bring to life) the scene
  • –  When teaching short story, script or novel, do sequencing exercises to check comprehension
  • –  Ask questions needing opinions and judgments – Why/ How?
  • –  Introduce figurative language
  • –  Have students analyse and predict using charts, diagrams and writing


  • –  Create an environment of acceptance and respect so students feel comfortable having a go – play non threatening drama/improvisation games that do not rely solely on language
  • –  Use cooperative language groups
  • –  Have them orally share with the class their favourite books from their

– “Talk Show” activity – students take roles of characters from plays or novels and are expected to answer interview questions, drawing on their knowledge of the text, and answering in a style that reflects the character (higher level thinking skills)


native language
– Using short monologues,

model and discuss the use of correct emphasise and pronunciation of words to sound most natural.

With all the above strategies/activities, students will have assumed basic interpersonal communication which will allow them to interact in a classroom, and enable them to develop the learning strategies needed to develop academic language in Drama and English. “For the minority- language student, these requirements of secondary school entail additional language demands. Language proficiency, which may have previously focused on communicative competence, must now focus on academic competence” (Chamot &O’Malley, 1987, p228). Aside from discrete skills, a good English as a Second Language program should “provide students with practice in using English as tool for learning academic subject matter” (Chamot &O’Malley, 1987, p236).

All the above activities are concerned with giving students experience with English to allow them to learn subject matter that is relevant to their needs. The next step, while developing this ‘academic use of language’ is to encourage students to develop learning strategies that they can apply to their wider learning. “Learning strategy instruction is a cognitive approach to teaching that helps students learn conscious processes and techniques that facilitate the comprehension, acquisition, and retention of new skills and concepts” (Chamot and O’Malley, 1987, p239).

This is the idea that learning that is meaningful, where the student can draw on prior

knowledge, have opportunities to use new skills, transfer skills to complete various

tasks and use the appropriate language associated with the specialist area will

encourage students to develop strategies that not only support their language learning but their content knowledge and skills.

O’Malley and Chamot created a model that encompasses three major categories that can show teachers how to integrate learning strategy instruction into their lessons. These are the skills to teach ELLs that will allow them to extend beyond simply learning English for survival, but to reach an academic level. I am adapting their model to be subject specific, providing examples of how they can be practically used:


Learning Strategy

Example of activity to teach strategy


Advance organization

Organizational Planning

Selective attention

Self- monitoring


  • –  Students identify the type of text they are going to read, by skimming first and looking for visual clues: feature article, script, report etc
  • –  Students plan an essay on poetry analysis using an appropriate scaffolding strategy: burger, SEED.
  • –  Students read a short story and highlight words that pertain to a particular character.
  • –  Practice a poetry performance, ensuring they use tone, pitch and volume. Students to tell teacher when they are ready to present to class.
  • –  Write an honest evaluation on their part in a scripted performance, given particular criteria such is use of voice and movement. Give themselves a ‘score’ based on this reflection.



– Students are taught how to use a resource text to find what they need for a Theatre history assignment – process of identifying keywords,



Note Taking


finding definitions and using an index.

  • –  In a stagecraft session, students groups keywords based on the different stage roles: lighting, sound etc.
  • –  Students take notes while watching a DVD on Commedia Dell Arte, identifying key features of the style of theatre.
  • –  Students write a short summary of a viewed performance.

Social – affective

Questioning for clarification



  • –  Teachers direct a student seeking clarification on a task, to ask another student to do so. This allows them to receive the information, in possibly, more easily understood manner.
  • –  Students collaborate in creating a devised piece of drama. They research, write and rehearse all aspects to performance level.
  • –  Develop a strategy for learning lines that is not overwhelming. They may use voice recordings, find a buddy, set goals etc.

Shih (1986) in Content-Based Approaches to Teaching Academic Writing discusses useful processes to teach academic writing in preparation for higher learning situations. These are based on the purposes for writing: rhetorical patterns (form), function, process and content. Writing assignments usually take on a form that must be learned and practiced (such as essay). Functional writing includes those ‘real world’ processes where the students must consider their audience and is usually after an outcome (job

application, letter of complaint). Process writing involves allowing the student to develop a writing style, draft, edit, explore – often this is in the context of personal writing. Through these three varied skill sets, students come to content – based approaches to writing. This is academic writing where there is less emphasis on personal experiences and more on research and higher level comprehension skills are needed.

Three steps to develop academic writing skills (based on Shih’s theories):


Writing First Draft


  • –  Recording ,sorting and synthesizing information taught in lessons using appropriate graphic organizers
  • –  Using personal experiences to make relevant connections (in script writing)
  • –  Conducting research on a style of theatre for performance
  • –  Reading a poem, developing an interpretation to prepare an oral presentation
  • –  Researching, gathering texts to create a thematic piece using script, poems, stories
  • –  Applying an efficient writing process
  • –  Monitoring one’s process (self


  • –  Knowing the form

    and structure of the

    particular writing

  • –  Using mechanical

    conventional to write well formed sentences

  • –  Reading the draft as a ‘reader’ not the writer and making changes accordingly for the right target audience
  • –  Evaluating organization
  • –  Editing grammar and spelling, vocabulary
  • –  Checking and acknowledging resources

If the teacher provides many opportunities to learn discrete language skills as well as learning strategies a student may apply to all learning, then they will find it easier to manage an ESL student in the mainstream classroom. All activities have relevance for


all students and the key is to not simplify content, but make it easily accessible to all students in order for them to have the tools to complete tasks competently.


Brown, C. (2004). Content Based ESL Curriculum and Academic Language Proficiency. Internet TESL Journal Vol X, No. 2

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Cummins, J. (2000) Language, Power and Pedgogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Chamot, A. & O’Malley, J. (1987). The Cognitive Academic Langauge Learning Approach: A Bridge to the Mainstream. TESOL Quarterly. Vol 21 (2).

Shih, M. (1986) Content- Based Approaches to Teaching Academic Writing. TESOL Quarterly, VOl 20(4)


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