Dual Language SchoolsHow to Infuse Environmental and Hands-On Supports for Language and Literacy

Author Photo: Shawn Slakk

By: Shawn Slakk

CEO and Founder of ABCDSS Consulting Consortium

After reading a few articles and attending the latest professional learning session focused on language and literacy acquisition that his district facilitated, Mr. Hayashi is wondering how to implement his new learning in his classroom. He knows that all students are expected to be taught with grade level instruction, standards, text, and expectations. He firmly believes that grade level instruction and access to grade level content is key for growth and success. Since he has a new classroom and part of the professional learning he attended dealt with classroom environments, he is also cognizant of the learning environment and has read numerous articles about how “the ‘teaching and learning space’ is designed and organized determines the learners’ ability to process information, acquire knowledge, and execute” (Leos, 2019). His own personal sensibility is one of “less is more” and when he read recently that yes, student work should be on walls to help show and give ownership of learning, he also was intrigued that perhaps ‘too much of a good thing may be bad” resulting in sensory and cognitive overload (Fisher, Godwin, & Seltman, 2014, p. 1362 and Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, & Kobbacy, 2013).

With thoughts of these classroom dynamics in mind, and other research regarding how physical and tactile learning helps with decoding, language, and literacy acquisition, he set out to recreate the learning spaces while facilitating content and literacy mastery. Eschewing the typical desks in rows, Mr. Hayashi set up his room in teams that he refers to as families but makes sure his students know that these groups are flexible and fluid. Additionally, he has “standing only” tables and “lay down to learn” areas that have cushy chairs and pillows. (For more thoughts on designing a learning environment, see Kathleen Leos’ Inspiring Learning Environments for Dual Language Learners.)

The professional learning session Mr. Hayashi most recently attended provided strategies for second language acquisition via previewing and practicing vocabulary before reading, partner summarizing while reading, in depth word study and writing using the target vocabulary. While the session was devoted to strategies and supports for mastery of content and literacy acquisition for emergent bilinguals, success for all learners is the goal in any classroom. Mr. Hayshi wants to focus on differentiation strategies and supports to help his students meet their grade level expectations. He wants these supports to be fun, colorful, and flexible. Hands-on resources that are easy to distribute, collect, and have different levels of support for different groups.

Photo for: How to Infuse Environmental and Hands-On Supports for Language and Literacy

Mr. Hayashi settled on sets of table tents which focus on or model:

  • Asking for Help
  • Sophisticated Vocabulary
  • Summarizing Starters for partner discussions
  • Classroom & Cooperative Learning Respectful Discourse
  • Writing Transitions, Summaries, and Checklists
Photo for: How to Infuse Environmental and Hands-On Supports for Language and Literacy

Other hands-on materials are quick and easy reminders for regular classroom activities like Comprehension Partners. With the Comprehension Partners Bookmarks reading pairs have a visual reminder that each partner reads a sentence aloud while the other partner listens and follows along, then the partners switch. At the end of the paragraph the pair of Comprehension Partners summarize what they both just read. The partners might even use the Summarization Starter table tent or the Respectful Discourse tent in these discussions.

Photo for: How to Infuse Environmental and Hands-On Supports for Language and Literacy Photo for: How to Infuse Environmental and Hands-On Supports for Language and Literacy

Mr. Hayashi is working on and considering other interactive materials such as Response Cards and purchasing Response Boards. He wants to share these supports with colleagues who teach English including items that are easily duplicated for Spanish and other dual language classes.

Mr. Hayashi will augment and revise the table tents and activity supports as needed for the specific levels of students. His goal is to distribute and collect them easily, make them readily available and workable in multiple settings across all content areas while ensuring they are not cumbersome or distracting. Students will have the option to use them. Mr. Hayashi is eager to work with colleagues and the students to revise and craft other supports as needed. Eventually, he hopes that the information on the supports will be internalized by each learner. He wants to use these bright, colorful, informative support materials in conjunction with flexible grouping in engaging learning spaces to optimize learning and literacy for all his students. If his students are successful, he will feel successful.

The Table Tents, Response Cards (also available in Spanish), and Bookmarks are free pdfs and available for download at Amano, Baxter, Clarke, Dunne, Sinclair and Slakk Consulting website. The Response Boards are easily found with a quick google search. More infographics and resources can be found at English Learners from Valentina Gonzalez. Please give credit where credit is due.

Contact Shawn at shawn@abcd2sco.com, through the Amano, Baxter, Clarke, Dunne, Sinclair and Slakk Consulting website and follow him on Twitter @abcd2sco.com.


Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016

Fisher, A. V., Godwin, K. E., & Seltman, H. (2014). Visual environment, attention allocaion, and learning in young children: When too much of a good thing may be bad. Psychological Science, 25, 1362-1370. doi:10.1177/0956797614533801

Leos, K. (2019, October). Inspiring Learning Environments for Dual Language Learners. Retrieved from Dual Language Schools.org: https://duallanguageschools.org/school-talk/inspiring-learning-environments-for-dual-language-learners/