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Using Communication-Focused Activities in Designated English Language Development Lessons

Thursday, October 1, 2015 to Saturday, January 30, 2016
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Course description

English language development (a.k.a. English as a Second Language; English as a New Language, "Designated ELD," Focused Language Study) takes a variety of forms in present-day schools. In many schools, teachers teach ELD for a set amount of time (e.g., 30 minutes) a day. Other ELD/ESL teachers have multiple classes each day. In many cases, teachers emphasize grammar and vocabulary. However, the grammar and vocabulary route isn't the most effective for lasting and engaging language learning.. Language was created to get things done, to communicate—and this is how students best learn it. This is where this MOOC starts. It focuses on how to design and teach activities that are saturated with communication, and, where needed, strategically develop grammar and vocabulary to support communication.

Each session presents the focal area to work on for the following month (e.g., listening and watching, reading and viewing, writing/multimedia output, speaking, writing, and conversation), along with model activities and lessons that emphasize the focus, analyses of the models and non-models, lessons to be strengthened by participants, and a sample "expert" modifications of lessons. Whenever possible, we include samples of activities from two levels: beginning and intermediate. 

Course organization

Session 1 – Course Overview & Communication-Focused Listening & Watching (October 1 - October 21)

Session 2 – Communication-Focused Reading & Viewing (October 21 - November 11)

Session 3 – Communication-Focused Speaking (November 12 - December 9)

Session 4 – Communication-Focused Writing (December 10 - December 28)

Session 5 – Communication-Focused Conversations (December 29 - January 20)

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How much does the course cost?

The course is offered free of charge.

2. Are any materials or textbooks needed for this course?

You will be asked to complete readings as part of the course, but all required readings will be available for free via the course website. Several of the optional readings will also be free to participants and available online. To access additional optional readings online, participants may need to pay a small fee for copyright royalties to authors and publishers. Details about how to access these optional readings will be available via the course website.

3. How do I show my school that I completed this course?

Every participant who completes the course requirements will receive a free statement of accomplishment signed by the instructors. As to whether this free statement of accomplishment may be used for professional development units in your specific context, you would need to check with your employer. Specific requirements for receiving a statement of accomplishment will be available when the course begins.

4. Do I have to be a teacher to take this course? Who else might be participating in this course?

You do not have to be a teacher to take this course. The course may also be valuable to ELL coaches, teacher educators, and site and district administrators, among others. In order to fully participate in the course, however, you do need to have access to a classroom in which you can obtain student language samples and implement lessons (or collaborate with classroom teachers to obtain student language samples and implement lessons). This is because several of the course assignments require submitting language samples - either samples of student writing or brief transcriptions of students' oral language - and reflecting on lessons.

5. Are there any tests or assignments?

The course will be organized into five sessions. Within each session, you will have one assignment to complete. In general, the course follows a cycle of inquiry approach in which you gather data about student language (specifically, samples of language students used when constructing a claim supported by evidence) implement a lesson based on your insights about student language, reflect on that lesson, and repeat the cycle again. In addition, you will provide feedback to your peers about their work. 

6. Is the course self-paced? Can I work ahead?

Some aspects of the course, such as readings and lecture videos, you can complete at your own pace. Within each of the five course sessions you can largely work at your own pace, but you cannot work ahead on future sessions. Because several assignments center around providing feedback to peers and collaboratively creating a lesson plan with your team, you will need to coordinate some aspects of your work with your teammates.

7. How long should I plan on spending in the course and on coursework each week?

The course will be organized into five sessions, each spanning approximately three weeks. We anticipate that each session will take approximately 7-8 hours to complete, spread out over the approximately three week time span.


  • Jeff Zwiers, Senior Researcher in the Stanford Graduate School of Education
  • Elsa Billings, Consultant at Understanding Language Initiative, Stanford Univeristy
  • Sara Rutherford-Quach, Lecturer in the Stanford Graduate School of Education
  • Steven Weiss, Project Manager, Stanford ELL Leadership Network

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