Standards-based teaching

Hello colleagues and Happy New Year! At the start of a new year, it can be useful to reflect on our practice to consider how effective we've been. An aspect of my instruction that I have strived to improve in recent years is to allow standards to inform and guide my teaching. 

A set of 10 standards that many teachers have been using is the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS), which you can find in and download from the LINCS Resource Collection. (Personally, I appreciate that there are only 10 standards, which makes drawing from them more feasible.) 

How familiar are you with the ELPS? If you are familiar with these standards, have you found them useful? Are there other standards that have been adopted in your context?

I'd love to hear from members about what they think about standards-based teaching.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


Susan, One thing that should be added to the discussion on standards-based teaching is the fact that the use of online resources has effectively changed our understanding of expectations, standards and outcomes. I believe that certain materials and methods used can speed up or improve learning a lot. We've come a long way from "Dick and Jane" date myself!!!

One question continues to be front and center with the ELPS.  How do programs using volunteers as teachers/tutors incorporate and explain the standards?  Those teachers in our program understand standards and appreciate them, but our tutors outside the realm of education are a bit stumped.  Curriculum is standards-based, but what do others in volunteer based programs do to support volunteers in understanding and using the ELPS?  Always looking to improve!


Happy New Year!

Hi, Cindy!  Good to see you on the list!

You are familiar with Literacy New York's Intake to Outcomes (I2O) tutor training, of course!  We consulted the ELP standards when updating the Language Basics I2O volunteer training, and offer tutors strategies designed to teach specific standards-based skills, such as the use of Vocabulary Journals to help learners determine the meaning of words and phrases in texts and speaking, the use of Dialogues to engage learners in participating in exchanges of information appropriately, and the Language Experience Approach as a first step in writing about familiar topics.  Connecting strategies to standards kind of demystifies them, offering plain language actions that connect back to the (sometimes confusing) standards.  As a best practice, programs should lay out expectations for their volunteer tutors from the very beginning of their volunteer experience-- talking about standards and their importance could be part of this.  Programs should offer tutor training that equips tutors with specific strategies to help learners meet desired outcomes-- give tutors the tools they need to teach the skills learners need to move forward. 

Happy New Year! 

Thanks Kathy!

Making that connection certainly makes sense.  I recently sat in on a Literacy Minnesota volunteer tutor training and liked how they incorporated standards into their presentation (among many things!).  It got me thinking that we (Lit Del) need to be more explicit to volunteers during our training.  Connecting to ELPS to strategies will also get them thinking more deliberately about creating lessons that are standards-based.  Feel like an "aha - Duh" moment.

BTW -  Language Basics 2.0 of I2O is terrific!

Thanks for the great question, Cindy. I think we sometimes don't pay enough attention to the wonderful volunteers who play such a critical role in our programs. Thankfully, we have Kathy Houghton to remind us of effective ideas for supporting volunteers. The Literacy New York's Intake to Outcomes (I2O) tutor training is stellar. I appreciate your sharing some practical strategies with us, Kathy.

Cindy, you mentioned Minnesota's training, and, personally, I think that anything done in Minnesota is worth emulating! I learned from Betsy Parrish, a Hamline University professor in St. Paul, that we can enhance the rigor of our teaching by integrating specific enhancement activities to our typical lessons. 

In fact, we have drawn on Betsy's framework for our own year-long ELPS training here in PA. We have aligned specific ELPS standards to various enhancement activities such as Anticipation Guide, Student Presentations, Conversation Grid, 4 Corners, Questions Worth Asking, and Sorting/Categorizing Tasks among others. I think all teachers, including volunteers, resonate with and appreciate learning about practical instructional activities. During our training, we discuss which of the ELP standards might align with particular enhancement activities. Then participants get the opportunity to choose an enhancement activity to try out in their classroom. When they return to the training, they discuss with one another how the enhancement worked with learners. 

(By the way, for those who might be interested, the free LINCS ESL Pro online module on enhancing the rigor of our teaching --including at the lowest levels-- was developed by Betsy, and it is excellent.)

Cheers, Susan 

Hi All,

Cindy, you posed such a great question!  I just want to second what Kathy and Susan shared here (and thanks for the shout-out about ESL Pro, Susan!). As Susan said, how we IMPLEMENT a curriculum can really affect how much we are addressing the ELPS. What tasks and enhancements can we use that prompt learners to exchange ideas and communicate for meaningful purposes, analyze information, or develop a range of language forms and functions? Here's an example I just included in a workshop. See how using one-question survey, presentations to class colleagues, along with providing language supports (language and paragraph frames) all align with these standards:

ELP Standard 4 Construct level appropriate oral and written claims and support them with reasoning and evidence.

ELP Standard 5 Conduct research and evaluate and communicate findings to answer questions or solve problems.


ELP Standard 10 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English to communicate in level appropriate speech and writing.

Sample lesson: Writing a report about our environmental awareness

Level: Low-intermediate (CCR Level B) 

NOTE that everything can be adjusted for working with lower proficiency or higher proficiency level learners. 

Start with one-question survey about environmental awareness and habits. Assign the same question to 3-4 students in class. They mingle and collect responses. This can be done in breakout rooms or using chat in an online class. 

  1. Do you use plastic straws when you go to restaurants?

All of the time        Some of the time         Never         I don’t think about it.

 I                            IIII I                            I                                II

  1. Do you bring your own bags to the supermarket?

All of the time        Some of the time         Never         I don’t think about it.

  1. Do you take advantage of your city’s recycling program?

All of the time        Some of the time         Never         I don’t think about it.

  1. Do you choose paper over plastic bags when given the option?

All of the time        Some of the time         Never         I don’t think about it.


After collecting data from class colleagues, learners with the same question analyze data and create a graph. Model with data from one question first. Students are provided with useful language to talk about the data. Consider learners' numeracy skills when determining what language frames you provide!

  • Most people..
  • A few people..
  • Some people…
  • The majority of the class…
  • Half the class…
  • Three-quarters of the class…

 Next, learners present their bar graphs to others in class. Give learners useful language frames for presenting results such as:

  • We found that…
  • Our data show that…
  • Our data indicate that…

Final step:  Write a report about class results

Reporting Results using a Paragraph Frame

            Our class has many environmentally-friendly practices.  We ___________ that ________________ recycles paper and plastic ________________.  ________ people __________________________.  The data show that more _____________________________ than _________________________. This shows that _______________________________________.


See how these same steps could be used with any content and any curriculum! Concentrate on instructional practices like these when working with volunteers. 




This shows us a great, practical way to connect standards with teaching. Teachers and tutors will benefit from the step by step support modeled here. (And I always like the use of writing frames, as they allow us to scale up or scale down based upon the levels of our learners-- helpful teaching strategy.)

Thanks for sharing! 


Betsy, Thank you for sharing the enhancement you call One Question Survey. This is one of my all time favorite activities to do in class, and it is another one of the enhancements we share with teachers in our ELPS training.

I've used One Question Survey with beginners as well as learners who are quite advanced. Here are links to some examples of the bar graphs beginners collaborated to create after collecting their data. This was in a face-to-face classroom, and learners used chart paper and markers to make their graphs. 

Since we all are eager to support learners to enhance their digital skills, here's a link to a user-friendly site students can use to create their graphs.

Cheers, Susan



Thanks, all, for this important topic!

We are all trying to find methods and materials for taking the "stuffy and sticky" out of standards and make them more easy to implement while still raising the rigor in our classrooms.  And this goes for traditional teachers as well as volunteers.

I think Bety's model lesson is a WONDERFUL way to simply and effectively do this work by using topics that matter, simple and multiple student interactions that lead to important ways for students to show what they know with adequate scaffolding.  Thank you, Betsy!  And Susan, I appreciate the link to the digital graph supports!

One of my newer, favorite activities that engages students in standards-based rigor is the rating, ranking, and/or categorizing of vocabulary or other concepts.  It is a high leverage activity that can engage all 10 standards if set up that way as students interact, negotiate meaning, make and support claims, think critically, listen/speak/read/write, present and engage in both social and academic language across traditional or digital platforms. 

Examples go from simple to sophisticated and include such tasks as categorizing clothing vocabulary for seasons to ranking and rating possible classroom/team norms for successful project management.