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Strategy 3: Integrating Language Modalities

Language modalities (reading, writing, speaking, listening) should be integrated in curriculum units in a wide variety of genres (Cummins, 2000; Stoller, 2002; Tedick, 1998, 2003). In the CAPRII article, Tedick explains the rationale for integrating language modalities as follows:

Integration of the four modalities is important. Creating classroom activities that require students to use language within two or more of the four modalities helps to reinforce the concepts being emphasized. This approach also lends itself well to a variety of learning styles. For example, writing helps some students improve their listening skills. It has also been shown that reading helps students develop competence in writing. Practice in one modality often results in improved competence in other modalities. In addition, by integrating all modalities in curriculum and instruction, the teacher considers how students can be using language for a variety of purposes. (np)

A useful framework for considering how to integrate language modalities is embedded in the national Standards for Foreign Language Learning (1999). This framework is comprised of the three communicative modes that correspond to the first three standards—the interpersonal mode of communication (“two-way” interaction that typically involves negotiation of meaning), the interpretive mode of communication (“one-way” communication involving reading or listening), and the presentational mode of communication (“one-way” communication involving speaking or writing). [See also the CoBaLTT instructional module on the Standards.]

Cooperative learning techniques lend themselves well to an integration of modalities. When students work together cooperatively, they have to speak and listen to each other and are frequently engaged in synthesizing information from sources (reading), taking notes (writing) and pulling together their ideas (writing) for later presentation (speaking/listening). Jigsaw is an especially effective cooperative learning technique. In a jigsaw activity, the teacher divides the class into “expert” groups (Kagan, 1989), who are assigned a section of a text to read for specific information. Then students “jigsaw”: they form a new “home” group with one person representing each of the original “expert” groups. Each student shares the information from the specific section read by their “expert” group. Roger Johnson, professor at the University of Minnesota , and internationally known for his work in the area of cooperative learning (Cooperative Learning Center), has developed a set of rules for teachers to facilitate jigsaw activities, which we call Roger’s Rules for Jigsaw. The cooperative benefits of the jigsaw activity are maximized when these rules are followed.

Language modalities can be integrated within lessons and assessments more formally, but they might also be integrated informally to scaffold students’ language production. For example, some creative modifications of the common “think – pair – share” activity structure can maximize language use in all the modalities. Think – pair – share, first developed by Professor Frank Lyman and colleagues at the University of Maryland in 1981, is a very common activity structure used particularly in elementary classrooms. Met (2002) has developed an Expanded Think-Pair-Share for scaffolding oral language use by integrating multiple modalities. As Met’s diagram shows, during the think phase, students are encouraged to jot down words, phrases and ideas, or might be asked to complete part of a graphic organizer. They then partner with another student during the pair phase to practice and tell each other their ideas or read each other’s work and expand on the graphic organizer. Then, two pairs can join for “pair squared” where additional exchange and expansion of ideas can occur. During pair and pair squared phases, more writing can occur to prepare for the final sharing phase, where individuals report back on their group or pair work.

These are but a few instructional ideas that can be used to maximize language output and encourage the integration of the language modalities.


Elizabeth Chaigne’s unit—Performance through character development: Lesson 02

Consult Elizabeth’s unit to see how a “think-pair-share” activity can be used to support instruction. During this lesson, Elizabeth uses the think-pair-share strategy as a scaffold to help her class explore how the particular physical trait of a famous French character influences his behavior and language. She uses the strategy to activate students’ background knowledge (strategy 1: Building Background) by asking them to think of some famous iconic characters (fictional or real) from their own culture (examples might be Shakespeare, Mickey Mouse or Superman). Then, the class goes on to explore how these personalities, due to their physical traits or personalities, are sometimes used to describe ordinary people. (i.e. When someone refers to a kid who writes well they might call her a 'real Shakespeare' or someone who wins a race a 'regular superman').


Mary Bartolini's unit—Soy el agua: Summative Assessment

In her unit assessment Mary has her students work in pairs to create a non-fiction book (question and answer book) about a specific representation of water. A multimedia project option using KidPix is also provided. While completing the assessment task, students need to use the four modalities in order to co-create the book. The final presentation requires them to expose their work giving them an additional opportunity to utilize the language they have learned for a meaningful purpose, an authentic task.


Barbara Anderson’s unit—Le Moyen Âge en France: Lesson 2 (During phase)

During this phase of the lesson, Barbara has her students work in groups of four to research a specific topic (e.g., explore pre-selected historical web sites using the interpretive communicative mode) and complete a graphic organizer. Group members are required to cooperate (negotiate meaning and come to agreement using the interpersonal mode) in order to list possible causes and effects for their event on a graphic organizer. The final task requires them to utilize their findings to write a one-paragraph summary in the past tense (using the presentational mode).


Cummins, J. (2000). Immersion Education for the Millennium: What we have learned from 30 years of research on second language immersion. [also online at CoBaLTT website].

Kagan, S. (1989). Cooperative learning: Resources for teachers. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Resources for Teachers.

National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project. (1999). National standards for foreign language learning: Preparing for the 21 st century . Lawrence, KS: Allen Press, Inc.

Stoller, F. (2002, March). Content-Based Instruction: A Shell for Language Teaching or a Framework for Strategic Language and Content Learning? Keynote presented at the annual meeting of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Salt Lake City. [online at CoBaLTT website].

Tedick, D. J. (Ed.) (1998). Proficiency-oriented language instruction and assessment: A curriculum handbook for teachers. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota. [for more information -]

Tedick, D. J. (2003). CAPRII: Key concepts to support standards-based and content-based second language instruction. CoBaLTT Web Resource Center. [online at CoBaLTT website]


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