This page provides more detailed information about how to use the Useful Language tool to support English learners in focusing on language and meaning as they read. You can also read a general description of how to use the Useful Language tool for Interpretation, Critique, and Counterargument.
The Useful Language tool can be a focus of discussion and learning about language with your students who are learning English. It offers students language they can use to do the disciplinary work of the investigations in social studies. Each Useful Language chart offers wordings that can help students get started with each component of the disciplinary argument task. Although the Useful Language may appear similar to a set of “sentence starters” that you may already be familiar with using, the items on the Useful Language chart actually function in very different ways. Rather than providing a template for what is to be written, the Useful Language offers a set of choices for introducing each component of the argument. Helping English learners make choices, and not just copy text as a template, reminds them that they can use their own words and phrasing when writing their arguments.
When you introduce the Useful Language, you can take the time to review the choices at each stage with your English learners, asking them to think about what is different in the wording at each stage. For example, in Investigation 6.4, students explore the question Why is access to water unequal in and around Mexico City?
The Useful Language offers some options for answering this question:
1. People in and around Mexico City do not have equal access to water because…
2. Your program should talk about equal access to water in Mexico because…
3. ______ causes water inequality in and around Mexico City because …
Option 1 starts with a statement that answers the question by naming who needs access to water: People.
Option 2 starts by referring to the audience for the argument, the producers of the PBS program that the student is writing about.
Option 3 begins with the cause of water inequality, making that the point of departure for the argument as a whole. These opening statements offer different options, and from a language development perspective, the third option is most challenging, as it call for naming an abstraction (e.g., “poverty” or “discrimination”) and thus may be less accessible to lower proficiency students.
In introducing evidence, the Useful Language suggests these options:
1. One reason access to water is unequal is….
2. For example, (name of document/author) states that “….”
3. The headnote for (name of document/author) tells us that “….”
4. There is also water inequality because….
5. (name of document/author) reports that “…..”
5. (name of document/author) source is evidence for this. It says “…..”
Note that these options also differ in various ways. The first states a reason for the claim, suggesting that there will be more than one reason developed in the essay, and that both reasons will be supported with evidence. Options 2, 3, 5, and 6 offer ways of introducing evidence, prompting students to use quotation marks around parts of the sources that they use as evidence. Option 3 reminds students that the Headnote can also provide evidence for their claims. Option 4 models how to introduce a second reason that will be used to support the claim.
Reasoning is the most challenging move in making an argument, and the Useful Language offers options for introducing reasoning:
1, This means that …..
2. This source will help the viewers understand that…..
3. This shows that …
4. This evidence is reliable because….
Options 1 and 3 model two different verbs used to introduce reasoning, means and shows. Option 2 refers to the audience for the argument, linking it back to the PBS program. Option 4 models a second aspect of reasoning, where the writer discusses the reliability of the source, rather than quoting the source and explaining how the quote relates to the claim. As students grow in their argument writing, discussion of reliability of sources becomes an important part of doing the disciplinary work of social studies.
Discussion and practice with these different options for introducing each argument component can help students expand their repertoires of responses to the prompts to shape their arguments in different ways.
See the pages for using the Mentor Text and the Planning Graphic Organizers with English learners for more ways of using the Useful Language tool.