Wouldn’t it be nice if everything had a recipe? Follow this step and mix these ingredients and… voila! Pineapple upside down cake. As all of us know, things are often more complicated than that, especially regarding second language acquisition. There are many different schools of thought on which method is best to help students reach their potential. When developing lesson plans and curriculum, many ESL educators turn to the work of Stephen Krashen, a leading expert in the field of linguistics with over 250 published articles and books contributing to the areas of second-language acquisition, bilingual education, and reading.1 Krashen’s Input Hypothesis, also called the Monitor Model, breaks language learning down into five separate hypotheses, which have become known as the five stages of language acquisition. Rather than focus on endless repetition and drilling, Krashen’s hypotheses state that “comprehensible input” outweighs grammatical accuracy regarding importance to the development of fluency.
Breaking Down Krashen’s Input Hypothesis
Stage I: Silent/receptive
Each student is different, so this stage varies greatly in length with six months considered the norm. At this level, the student has minimal comprehension and is only capable of basic communication like nodding and shaking their head, or drawing and pointing to make themselves understood. While students may understand up to 500 words, their ability to reproduce those words on their own is minimal at this stage. Students parrot at this stage rather than produce true language. And they can respond to visual aids, and duplicate gestures and movements to show comprehension. Using props and TPR (Total Physical Response) works well when teaching students at this level.
Stage II: Early production
This stage entails the “baby steps” part of the process, where students are between six months and a year of learning, typically. Comprehension is limited, and simple replies with one or two words are common along with evidence of the early stages of chunking. Some key phrases may be in use, and a basic grasp of the present tense emerges. Yes and no questions, the five Ws and other rudimentary subject matter are reasonably understood, and students hover around the 1,000-word mark concerning vocabulary. With this increased understanding, educators introduce writing in English through labeling, short sentences, and following. Learning aids like graphic organizers, charts, and graphs are useful at this stage.
Stage III: The emergence of speech
For some learners this stage lasts up to three years, depending on how much time is devoted to active study. Students display improved comprehension and make simple sentences while grammatical and pronunciation errors still occur frequently. Typical vocabulary for students at this level is around 3,000 words making it possible for them to ask and answer simple questions and engage in basic conversation. They can generally understand and answer questions about charts and graphs, match vocabulary words to definitions, write and illustrate riddles and compose brief stories based on personal experience. Pictures and other visual aids are still vital at this level when teaching.
Stage IV: Intermediate fluency
This stage is typical when students have been actively learning for three years and upwards, although no two cases are alike and some students show a better predisposition to second language acquisition than others. Comprehension at this level is high, and students make markedly less grammatical errors. At this stage, students generally have a vocabulary of around 6,000 words. Complex sentences become easier to them, and they are more confident expressing opinions. Many still use their native language to assist in absorbing equivalent words in English.
Students writing at this stage will have many errors as learners try to master grammar and sentence structure. Many students may be translating written assignments from their native language.
Stage V: Advanced Fluency
Like many things in your life, you never stop learning. It takes students typically four years or more to attain academic ability in a second language. They can engage in content area learning like Math, Science, and other subjects. At this point, most students no longer participate in ESL programs and study with native speakers.
Bloom’s Taxonomy and Second Language Acquisition
Like Krashen’s Input Hypothesis, ESL teachers may refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy for guidance when teaching English language learners.
Terry Heick of TeachThought.com says, “In one sentence, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical ordering of cognitive skills that can, among countless other uses, help teachers teach and students learn.”2 Developed by Benjamin Bloom and a committee of educators, the taxonomy is divided into six main categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. “The categories after Knowledge were presented as ‘skills and abilities,’ with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice,” according to Patricia Armstrong, former Assistant Director, Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University.3
Knowledge is the first stage, where learners display the ability to recall data or information. ESL teachers ask students at this level simple questions, which can easily be answered with yes or no or a quick review of the text. Pictures and other visual aids are helpful to students at this level.
The next level, Comprehension, pushes students to delve into the material a bit deeper. Requiring students to compare, contrast or classify information is common at this level. ESL teachers assist their students in accomplishing these tasks by introducing how to use Venn diagrams, charts, and other systems to aid in organizing their thoughts.
Application is a formative moment since students can now apply previously learned facts to new concepts and situations. Though their responses may still be basic in terms of vocabulary, students demonstrate a higher level of understanding. ESL educators empower students at this level by providing scaffolding and continuing to focus on building vocabulary.
At the Analysis stage, English language learners can split concepts into parts and understand structures; however, they may still struggle with putting their thoughts into English. Pictures and other visual aids are still highly important to use at this level along with continued scaffolding.
When ELL’s reach the Synthesis stage, they can produce work from different elements of information, like a report or an alternative end to a story. With that said, this stage is still very difficult for students as they navigate translating more complex ideas into English.
At the Evaluation stage, students can make judgments, justify a solution, and undertake a number of different intellectual pursuits. Whether they are analyzing a story or giving an opinion, students may still struggle with vocabulary.
Judie Haynes, author of EverythingESL.com and an ESL teacher of 28 years, says, “Teachers need to ask questions from all levels of the taxonomy that are age appropriate and at the English language level of the English language learners. Even very young children can work at the Synthesis and Evaluation levels.”4
In short, all learners acquire language at different speeds and with varying levels of ease, so these models should be used more as guidelines than hard-and-fast rules. As well, what works for one particular learner may not be appropriate for all the students in one class.
Regarding the online setting, bearing in mind what works with students at different stages can make online classes that much more successful. At lower levels, implementing more flash cards and images can be a game-changer and lead to significant breakthroughs. Conversely, not taking into account the levels of students can often lead to the improper planning of lessons and methods to achieve goals.
And while technology and online frames and flash technology have certainly revolutionized language learning, it’s important to consider that real students are on the other side of the screen, often in settings where exposure to the English language is minimal. This situation amplifies the challenges faced when compared to a student who moves to an English-speaking country and immerses themselves in the culture.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Maintaining focus and sticking to a solid plan will get students to their intended destination, provided patience and perseverance are in place at every stage of second language acquisition. While no one language is universal, hard work is a concept understood around the world.
1. “Profile.” USC Rossier School of Education. Accessed November 10, 2018. https://rossier.usc.edu/faculty-and-research/directories/a-z/profile/?id=115.
2. Heick, Terry. “What Is Bloom’s Taxonomy? A Definition For Teachers -.” TeachThought. August 22, 2018. Accessed November 10, 2018. https://www.teachthought.com/learning/what-is-blooms-taxonomy-a-definition-for-teachers/.
3. McDaniel, Rhett. “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Vanderbilt University. August 13, 2018. Accessed November 10, 2018. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/.
4 Haynes, Judie. “Bloom’s Taxonomy and English Language Learners.” EverythingESL: The K-12 ESL Resource from Judie Haynes. Accessed November 10, 2018. http://www.everythingesl.net/inservices/blooms_taxonomy_language_learn_16902.php.p
Harry Hodge is a seasoned ESL professional, with experience working with South Korean learners in Seoul as well as Vietnamese students at Kent International College and Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Minh City. He helped co-author nine editions of the Smart Start ESL series by Dai Truong Phat Education, and also has worked as a copy editor for the China Daily in Beijing, Metro News in Canada and other publications. He has a Bachelor’s Degree from Concordia University in Montreal and a TESOL certification from the University of New Brunswick in Eastern Canada.