60 EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP / FEBRUARY 2016
cycle—egg, larva, caterpillar, chrysalis,
and butterfly. Nice work! I want to tell
you a couple things that will help me
understand your writing better and
make you sound more like a scientist
when you write.
I want you to use the specific
vocabulary that we used in class. Here
you said, “The caterpillar goes on the
leaf in a bag.” The name for that bag is
chrysalis. Can you say that with me?
Chrysalis. You will have a chance to use
that word again to show me that you
I also want you to use transition
words that show the sequence of the life
cycle. These words are first, next, then,
and finally. In English, we use these
words to show that one idea or action
follows another. For example, “First
I got out of bed. Next I got dressed.
Then I had breakfast. Finally I came to
school.” Do you see how each idea has
a transition word? Can you point to
them? Let’s look at your writing. Do you
see where you can put the words, first,
next, and then (Ms. Shostad works with
Muna to find the places.)
Ms. Hunt works with Muna in a
small-group setting during part of
each day, and she uses that
time to give feedback and
further instruction on the
verb to be and on adding
s to third-person-singular
present-tense verbs. She
selects examples from
Muna’s and other students’
writing to work with during
the lesson. She puts each
sentence on a separate index
card and writes it in correct
English on another card.
She asks students to match
and discuss the sentences.
For example, “The egg on
the leaf” matches “The egg
is on the leaf.” As a group,
they talk about when to use
the word is. Other sentences
also highlight the third-
person s, and the students
discuss when to use it in English.
Ms. Shostad and Ms. Hunt give
Muna time to practice the key
vocabulary, the verb to be, and third-
person s by providing a graphic orga-
nizer with sentence frames for her
to review (see fig. 2). There are four
boxes, one for each stage in the life
cycle of the butterfly. After practicing
verbally, Muna writes a descriptive
sentence about each stage, selecting
the correct transitional word.
After practicing, Muna has another
opportunity to rewrite the original
assignment without the supports.
The teachers are thrilled to see that
although Muna’s writing isn’t perfect,
her message is much clearer and she
can use the language features they
highlighted. They agree that over the
next few weeks, they’ll both look for
opportunities to reinforce Muna’s
language learning by giving feedback
during other learning activities on how
to correctly use the verb to be, third-person s, and transitional words.
From Caterpillar to Butterfly
can be time-
Although analyzing student language
can be time-consuming at first, it can
pay off in big ways when teachers
begin to see improved language pro-
duction based on their feedback. Many
teachers fear that giving feedback
on language will seem critical or
hurtful to students who are
trying to learn a new lan-
guage. My experience has
been that giving specific
feedback in context and in
a caring way—and keeping
it focused—will become
the standard for learning
and won’t be perceived as
Many educators believe
that English language
learners will eventually
“grow into” correct language
usage through continual
exposure. Although some
students will manage to
grow in that way, most stu-
dents will not. I ask teachers
to consider which is more
hurtful: students’ possible
sensitivity to language
consuming at first,
it can pay off
in big ways.
Complete each sentence and choose the
right word to start it!
then first next finally
FIGURE 2. Graphic Organizer for Transitional Words
______________ the egg is little.
______________ the larva hatches on the leaf.
______________ the caterpillar forms a chrysalis.
______________ the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.