Creating and Using Language and Content Objectives for English Learners

Content and language objectives support English Learners in identifying what they will learn and how they will learn it
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Content and Language Objectives
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About This Strategy

Teachers can use content and language objectives to support students, particularly English Learners, in understanding what they will learn and how they will learn it.  Content objectives tell what students will learn during the unit or lesson and are usually associated with State Standards. Language objectives tell how the students will learn through an identified language function (or functions) such as reading, speaking, writing, or listening. The content objective will guide the creation of the language objective. Content and language objectives give focus to a unit or lesson, and are particularly helpful to English Learners. These objectives can also be beneficial to most students in a class, as everyone can benefit from the teacher outlining the what and the how of a lesson or unit.

Implementation Steps

  1. Determine State Standard(s) and Assessment you will use for a lesson, unit, or project. 

  2. Explore the "Using Content and Language Objectives to Help All Students in Their Learning" article included below to differentiate between content and language objectives. You can also use BetterLesson's Differentiated Lesson Planning strategy included below to learn more about creating learning objectives. 

  3. Use the Content and Language Objective Template included below to create a content objective. 

  4. Identify the language function (reading, writing, speaking and listening) needs of the English Learners in your class. You can focus on groups of students or individuals. Determine which function best fits the identified students and the content objective you created. Refer to the "What Can your ELs Do" resource or the "WIDA Can-Do Descriptors" included below for support on determining appropriate language functions for various levels of EL language proficiencies. 

  5. Use the Content and Language Objective Template included below to choose at least one language function to describe HOW students will learn the content objective. Multiple language functions can be identified if appropriate. It is helpful to outline and track the language functions over time for individual students using a document such as the "WIDA Can-Do Grade Level Descriptors." These forms are organized by grade level and can be used for tracking the language acquisition growth of individuals or groups of students. 

  6. Review the content objective, learning objective and assessment to make sure they align. The identified assessment should assess both the content and language objectives. 

  7. Share the content and language objectives with students and refer to them periodically throughout the lesson or unit. Using the identified assessment, determine if students mastered both of the content and language objectives when appropriate. If students do not master either objective, a plan for reteaching should be implemented. 

  8. Students can also be encouraged to track their own mastery towards these objectives by using a strategy such as BetterLesson's Progress and Mastery Tracking, which is included in the resource section below. You can also refer to BetterLesson's Learning Target Self Assessment strategy which can be found in the BetterLesson Lab to deepen your understanding of student-centered tracking of learning objectives.

EL Modification

When identifying the language function needs of EL students, you can focus on individual students or the Language Proficiency levels identified in your class.  If you have a variety of proficiency levels present, you may want to create two language objectives that focus on different language proficiency levels. For example, you may want Early EL's to draw or point as their language function, but your Intermediate or Advanced EL's may be able to orally summarize or write an essay as their language function instead. The content objective can remain the same for all students. Refer to the What Can your ELs Do resource or the WIDA Can-Do Descriptors for support on determining appropriate language functions for various levels of EL language proficiencies.

Special Education Modification

You may use a student's IEP to determine a language function need when creating a language objective for a student with disabilities.  Refer to BetterLesson's Differentiated Lesson Planning strategy to learn more about planning for instruction on an individualized level.

Questions to Consider

  • What are some ways you might share content and language objectives with students?
  • How might you access an EL student's language proficiency level?
  • How could you determine the language function needs of students?
  • How do content and language objectives support instructional planning and assessment?

Coach Tips

Heather Meesey
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Content and Language objectives are a great starting point for teachers when lesson planning.  When teachers have a clear understanding of the assessment, standards, and how they will deliver instruction, lesson plans tend to be more comprehensible and supportive for all students.

Tech Tools

Google Drive

  • Google Drive is both a versatile cloud storage device and a provider of apps, such as docs, sheets, and forms.

  • Google Drive could support this strategy in a number of different ways. Google Docs could be used to build a lesson planning template that include content and language objectives to support the implementation of this strategy.  Google Sheets could be used to track student language acquisition growth and progress.

Related Lessons

  • Explore the Mastery Tracking Goal Setting by grade 5 Math BetterLesson Master Teacher Stephen Pham included in the resources below to see how students can track their own progress and mastery of objectives.

  • Explore the Leveled Interventions by grade 5 Math BetterLesson Master Teacher Stephen Pham included in the resources below to see how you can plan for differentiated intervention for groups of students.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the following resources were consulted. 

  • Kumar, Shanthi. Using Content and Language Objectives to Help All Students in Their Learning

  • Writing and Using Language Objectives published by Shoreline Schools

  • Daily Learning Target Template published by Sweetwater Union High School District SmartELD 

  • Daluddung, Kristina. What Can Your ELs Do?

  • WIDA Can-Do Descriptors published by Wisconsin Center for Education Research