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Tips to consider when planning and sequencing tasks in a unit of work

This update looks at some tips that I consider necessary when you are writing and sequencing tasks in a unit of work. The tips are based upon second language acquisition research. To learn more about these view the Making Language and Learning Work video clips, and see the ESOL principle and strategy pages in the pedagogy section on ESOL online.  

“Language teaching involves the notion of the ‘negotiation of meaning’. 

This involves the teacher: 

(1) making language understandable to students;

(2) helping students make their messages understood; and 

(3) stretching, expanding, and refining students’ language repertoire.”  (Met, M. Chapter 7, Teaching content through a second language. In Genesee, F. (1994) Educating second language children.)

In the curriculum cycle we generally move through the following stages:

  1. Building the field. The focus is on linking to a student’s prior knowledge and building content and information.
  2. Modelling the text type. The aim is for students to become familiar with the purpose, overall structure, and linguistic features of the type of text they will be using.
  3. Joint construction. Completing a task or text together.
  4. Independent work and the transfer of knowledge.

Top Tips for Designing and Sequencing a Unit of Work with a Language Focus


  • Focus on meaning. The language that students listen to, or read, must be comprehensible.
  • Provide an explicit focus on language in all lessons.
  • Focus on use. by using language to transform what has been learned, through generating new knowledge, creating something new, or taking an action.
  • Activate student prior background knowledge.
  • Plan for the integration of culture. Link to the students’ cultural backgrounds and knowledge and use cultural contexts and resources so students can see that their culture is valued.
  • Move from the concrete to the abstract. Begin with immersion in an experience whenever possible or with something concrete or visual.
  • Provide many opportunities for pupil-pupil communication particularly in paired and small group task work.  This results in greater opportunities for students to produce and practice language.
  • Use a task-based approach.
  • Allow the use of students’ first languages especially when thinking about abstract concepts or before being expected to speak or write in English.
  • Ensure a balance between listening, speaking, reading and writing tasks.
  • Generally begin with listening and reading tasks (input) before moving onto speaking and writing tasks (output). Writing is often the mode that students find most difficult so it is generally sequenced towards the end of a lesson or unit or work.
  • Incorporate the language to be learned into the design of the curriculum activities or modify tasks to include the focus language.  
  • Explicitly teach academic / content vocabulary and provide lots of opportunities to reuse and practice the vocabulary.
  • Provide opportunities for repetition of language and for fluency development.
  • Ensure the content is cognitively challenging and hold high expectations for learner success.
  • Provide explicit modelling of what is expected.
  • Differentiate and scaffold the students to success.
  • Incorporate metacognitive strategies and learning prompts.
  • Plan to assess language and look for suitable opportunities to do this throughout the unit of work.