Written by Kelly McCurdy, Atlas Team

In addition to the traditional growth moments that contribute to the energizing nature of education, the years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have and will continue to present new opportunities for novice and veteran teachers alike. Some of these include assessing accelerated learning needs and creating targeted interventions, ongoing demands for safety policies and procedures related to COVID-19, and renewing a sense of urgency in supporting the social emotional health of our students. And of course, all of these priorities are only magnified when we consider the language learners in our classrooms.

The enthusiastic embrace of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) initiatives in individual classrooms and entire school systems has been long awaited and demonstrates a collective commitment to the whole child in each desk in every classroom. The motivation to attend to the comprehensive education of students who have experienced the most unique educational experience in generations is universal among educators. However, as these initiatives roll out in schools around the world, reflection and analysis indicate that we in education still do not fully understand how well SEL programs and strategies are reaching the students who need them most. While we can see the benefits of these initiatives on the horizon, we do not know if the students who have the highest need for intervention, our language learners included, are reached with meaning by school-wide SEL programs. The research is simply still underway (Cipriano et al., 2021). Thus, educators are faced with yet another challenge: How do we support the SEL of students who we know have the greatest need?


The emerging nature of our collective understanding of the reaches of SEL programs should push educators in continuing to pursue these strategies and being reflective of the impact on language learners. We know that intentional, high quality SEL programs applied universally in schools serve many students well, bringing an increased capacity for problem-solving and identifying emotions, reductions in school suspensions, and improvements of academic progress and school culture. But ensuring the efficacy of these programs requires evidence-based practices implemented with confidence and fidelity. Until those practices have undergone rigorous study and analysis, classroom educators have the responsibility and opportunity to provide students with learning experiences that engage them academically, socially, and emotionally, with proven efficacy.

Considering our language learners in particular, we know that SEL can be reached through engagement in language acquisition strategies that emphasize authentic communication alongside their content-area specific work. Strategies that seek to this authentic communication are rooted in the idea that “To truly reach–and exceed–new standards, students need to learn how to use language to clearly communicate, in real time, to build up whole ideas,” which extends beyond the mastery of content standards and connects to the development of the whole child (Zwiers, 2014).

In the world of teaching language acquisition, consideration of the four language domains has been a foundational aspect. When considering opportunities for authentic communication among and with our students as a strategy to meet the academic, language, and SEL needs of our students, lessons that address these domains are a must. Critically reviewing each learning experience and actively constructing scaffolded opportunities for reading, writing, speaking, and listening is an evidence-based strategy that not only supports language acquisition embedded in content area lessons, but also supports the goals of an SEL curriculum by allowing students to authentically communicate and make connections beyond the scope of the task.

Two strategies that consider the four language domains

  • Roving Paragraph Frames (Foti, 2017)
    Through listening, speaking, reading, writing, and collaboration by the students, and support by the teacher in the form of signalling and sentence frames, students collectively construct a statement that meets the content area learning objectives as well as facilitates language acquisition and authentic communication (Salva, 2017).
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  • Authentic Communication Design and Observation Tool (Zwiers, 2014)
    Through examining learning experiences through three features of communicativeness (purposeful building of ideas, clarifying and supporting, & information gaps), this tool supports ensuring that activities engage learning acquisition and create opportunities for authentic communication.

Practical Pedagogy and Mangagement

Strategies that incorporate authentic communication for language acquisition and SEL are also inherently visible learning strategies. A task that prompts students to engage visibly is a component of a lesson in a rigorous classroom that allows the teacher to consistently formatively assess the progress of students, supporting their learning and their communication (Fisher et al., 2016).

Lessons that address these components and accelerate learning are also key for supporting targeted intervention goals. When lessons prioritize high-level skills, including authentic communication and language acquisition, they also facilitate a culture of safety and engagement: key components of supporting students’ whole selves.


The importance of the social and emotional health of students will remain a priority in education for the foreseeable future. With such a prevalent need but such a developmental understanding of the reach of current SEL initiatives in the classroom, particularly for our language learners, utilization of strategies that engage students in authentic communication and in accelerated learning to support the development of the whole student are key for rising to the unique challenges of the contemporary classroom.

As you think about incorporating SEL and language acquisition strategies, Atlas is here to support you! Contact us and we can help you get started.

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Cipriano, C., Horowitz, S. H., & Rappolt-Schlichtmann, G. (2021, December 6). Education Week. Retrieved December 17, 2021.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Hattie, J. (2016). Visible learning for literacy, grades K-12: Implementing the practices that work best to accelerate student learning. Corwin Literacy.

Foti, K. (2017, September 16). Roving Paragraph Frames [web log]. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from http://crazyladyteacher.blogspot.com/2017/09/roving-paragraph-frames.html.

Salva, C., & Matis, A. (2017). Boosting achievement: Reaching students with interrupted or minimal education. Seidlitz Education.

Zwiers, J. (2014). Authentic Speaking & Listening. Speaking & listening. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://jeffzwiers.org/speaking-listening

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