RESOURCES

Developing Educator Expertise to Work with Adolescent English Learners

Module 5 – Teaching and Learning Disciplinary Literacies at the Secondary Level: A Meaning-Making Perspective

By Meg Gebhard & Chalais Carter

OVERVIEW    |    INTRODUCTION    |    PART 1    |     PART 2    |    PART 3    |    REFERENCES

Part 3: Genres, Registers, and the Teaching and Learning Cycle

 

Part 3 builds on the topics addressed in Part 2, including Halliday’s theory of SFL and a meaning-making perspective of language. The focus of Part 3 is on the characteristics of high-frequency disciplinary genres and registers, the teaching and learning cycle (TLC), and translating the ideas of SFL, disciplinary discourse, and TLC into classroom practice.

As you work through Part 3, keep the following guiding questions in mind:

  • What main genre is essential to the curriculum you teach or will teach (e.g., narratives in English language arts)?
     

  • What are the expected stages of this genre (e.g., orientation, complication with a sequence of events, and resolution)?
     

  • What are some of the register features of this genre (e.g., packed nouns and circumstances to add details, emotional language to construct characters’ feelings, time markers to support the flow of events)?
     

  • How have teachers used the TLC to support their English Learners in reading, writing, and critically engaging with texts representative of this genre?
     

  • How can you use the TLC in the context in which you work or are completing your practicum?
     

To explore these questions, you will watch and discuss a video regarding a meaning-making perspective of language and the TLC, explore the genres and registers of schooling, and consolidate your understanding of SFL and the TLC by outlining some ideas for a curricular unit you will teach. Part 3 concludes with you sharing an outline of this unit with a partner. You will facilitate your individual and group work by using talking-to-learn practices and recording key ideas in note catchers.

 

Activity 3.1: Develop an understanding of a meaning-making perspective of language and the TLC

Participants will engage in: watching a video, taking notes, and reflection (outside of class)

Duration: 1 hour

Webinar video: A Meaning-Oriented Model of Language for the Classroom

​Directions

  • Individually, watch the second half (23:30–58:00) of Aída Walqui’s conversation with Beverly Derewianka.
     

  • After you have watched the video once, watch it again. This time stop and take notes regarding the following topics using the Activity 3.1 note catcher:

    • Begin with the content of the general curriculum (e.g., state and national frameworks and standards).

    • Focus on a specific genre.

      • What does genre mean to you?

      • What are some of the main genres your students need to be able to read, write, and discuss critically in order to meet, for example, the Common Core or World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) standards (e.g., recounts, narratives, descriptions, reports, explanations, arguments)?

      • How are these genres typically organized or structured? (Genre was addressed in the readings in Part 2, so review your notes as needed.)

    • Use Hammond’s idea of high challenge and high support to connect reading, writing, and discussion.

    • Consider the five stages of the TLC:

      • building the field, or background knowledge, and language;

      • supported reading;

      • learning about the genre;

      • supporting writing; and

      • using the genre independently.

    • The example Derewianka provides comes from an elementary classroom. How might you adapt what she describes for a secondary context?

Activity 3.1 Note Catcher

Prompt

Notes

Begin with the content of the general curriculum (e.g., state and national frameworks and standards).

Focus on a specific genre.

  • What does genre mean to you?

  • What are some of the main genres your students need to be able to read, write, and discuss critically in order to meet, for example, the Common Core or World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) standards (e.g., recounts, narratives, descriptions, reports, explanations, arguments)?

  • How are these genres typically organized or structured? (Genre was addressed in the readings in Part 2, so review your notes as needed.)

Use Hammond’s idea of high challenge and high support to connect reading, writing, and discussion.

Consider the five stages of the TLC:

  • building the field, or background knowledge, and language;

  • supported reading;

  • learning about the genre;

  • supporting writing; and

  • using the genre independently.

The example Derewianka provides comes from an elementary classroom. How might you adapt what she describes for a secondary context?

After the group discussion in Activity 3.2, add any new topics and ideas you would like to keep track of.

Activity 3.2: Discuss Derewianka’s explanation of the TLC

Participants will: engage in small group discussion

Duration: 30 minutes

​Directions

  • In groups of 3–4, share and discuss the notes you took in Activity 3.1 regarding the TLC.
     

  • Use the add/agree/disagree/pass participation structure to guide your discussion and to practice using Hammond’s talking-to-learn principles.
     

  • As new topics are discussed, add them to your .
     

Additional reading

Derewianka, B., & Jones, P. (2016). Teaching language in context. Oxford University Press.

Activity 3.3: Explore the genres of schooling

Participants will: engage in individual reading and taking notes (outside of class)

Duration: 30 minutes

Reading: Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacies, Table 4.2, “High Frequency Genres Used to Construct Disciplinary Knowledge in School,” pages 89–91

As Derewianka discussed in the video you watched in Activity 3.1 and as presented in readings assigned in Part 1 and Part 2, SFL scholars (e.g., Rose & Martin, 2012) define genres as staged, goal-oriented social practices. Genres are staged in that they have recognizable parts that perform different functions, are goal-oriented because they have a purpose and an audience, and are social practices because they have evolved and will change over time as cultural practices shift. Therefore, they are not fixed templates, and variations are to be expected.

For example, when we hear the phrase “once upon a time,” based on our previous experiences many of us can predict that we are about to hear a narrative and that this narrative will be a fairy tale that will have the following stages:

  • an orientation that locates us in a time and place, most likely a magical place that existed a long time ago in a land far, far away;
     

  • a main problem with a series of complications that typically involves the forces of good and evil, princesses and princes, and magic; and
     

  • a resolution in which the main problem is resolved (although sometimes not) in a way that teaches a lesson, either directly or indirectly.
     

Narratives of different kinds, such as fairy tales, situational comedies, action and adventure stories, and personal narratives, form a genre we encounter out of school when we tell and listen to stories with our families and engage with books, films, and television.

In contrast, genres central to the general curriculum are encountered only in school. These genres include different types of recounts, narratives, explanations, and arguments, such a science laboratory reports, math explanations, and arguments regarding historical events (see the Common Core standards and the 2010 and 2021 WIDA standards). Therefore, as part of an equity agenda, SFL scholars suggest that teachers explicitly and critically apprentice all students to learning how to read, write, and critically analyze the high-frequency and high-stakes genres they encounter in school. 

Directions

  • Review Table 4.2, “High Frequency Genres Used to Construct Disciplinary Knowledge in School,” in Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacies (Gebhard, 2019, pp. 89–91), provided in the following box.
     

  • Identify a genre that is central to the content area you teach or will teach.
     

  • Identify the likely stages of the genre you identified. (Note that variations are expected depending on the context, the purpose, and the audience.)

Table 4.2. High Frequency Genres Used to Construct Disciplinary Knowledge in School
(Derewianka & Jones, 2016; Rose & Martin, 2012; Schleppegrell, 2004)

Genre

Purpose in different disciplines

Likely genre stages

Likely register features

Recounts

  • Personal recounts

  • Historical recounts

  • Scientific recounts

  • Procedural recounts

To tell what happened step by step in a personal event, a historical event, a science experiment, or an approach to solving a math problem

  • Orientation that introduces the topic

  • Record of events sequenced in time

  • Commentary that provides a reaction or evaluation (optional)

  • Verbs and nouns related to the topic

  • Circumstances of time, manner, and place to support the discipline-specific nature of the recount (e.g., first, second, last)

Narratives

  • Personal narratives

  • Narrative poetry

  • Ballads

  • Fables, myths, & folk tales

  • Science fiction

  • Fantasy

  • Romance

  • Horror

  • Mystery

  • Comic books & graphic novels

  • Films

To entertain and engage others in interesting series of events; tends to have a message that is sometimes stated but not always. Narratives can be fictional or nonfictional.

  • Orientation or setting

  • Series of complications related to the development of the plot that leads to the climax of the narrative

  • Series of resolutions or falling actions resulting in the conclusion or denouement

  • Commentary on the meaning or the theme but not always explicitly stated

  • Doing verbs to construct actions that move the plot along

  • Sensing verbs to capture character’s internal world, thoughts, and feelings

  • Saying verbs to construct dialogue and character’s disposition and emotions

  • Specific proper nouns (e.g., Harry Potter, Hogwarts, 4 Privet Drive)

  • Packed noun groups to describe and add detail (e.g., the long, sharp blade dripping with blood)

  • Attitudinal language to express feelings, judge character’s behavior, and evaluate events

  • Circumstances to construct time and place in the orientation (e.g., one day), support the arc of the narrative (e.g., suddenly, in the end, even now), and add detail to sentences regarding when, where, how, and for what purposes something happened

  • Illustrations in children’s books, comics, and graphic novels

  • Images and sound in films

Arguments

  • Political speeches

  • Letters to the editor

  • Research papers that take a position on a scientific debate

  • Critical responses to literature, film, or artwork

  • Critical responses to a historical event

To persuade people to do or think something (e.g., arguing for an interpretation of theme in a novel, arguing for or against a particular interpretation of a historical event, weighing evidence regarding a scientific discovery, using statistics to make an argument for or against something)

  • Statements of the issue that provides background, states a position, and previews the main argument points

  • Argument 1: Makes point, provides elaboration, including sometimes a rebuttal or statement of opposing positions

  • Argument 3: Makes point, provides elaboration, including sometimes a rebuttal or statement of opposing positions

  • Reiteration of the position and calls for action or recommendations

  • Specialized verbs and nouns related to the topic

  • Use of statements, questions, and commands depending on the purpose and audience

  • Repetition of key words, synonyms, and pronouns to build new information and still stay on the main topic

  • Use of a more personal or detached voice varies based on the purpose and audience

  • Saying verbs to report what others have said or think (e.g., states, claims, argues, suggests, points out, maintains, concludes)

  • Use of modality to open up possibilities or strengthen claims (e.g., may, could, should, must)

  • Attitudinal language to focus or adjust attitudes (e.g., extremely, utterly, entirely, absolutely, somewhat, possibly)

  • Carefully selected cohesive devices to connect ideas in particular ways (e.g., adding information, marking time, indicating cause and effect, making concessions)

Explanations

  • Causal explanations

  • Factorial explanations

  • Systems explanations

To explain how things work and why things happen (e.g., explanation of immigration patterns, causes of global warning, proving a mathematical statement)

  • Identification of the topic or phenomenon

  • Sequencing of cause factors, sequence of events, or parts of a system

  • Generalization

  • Specialized verbs and nouns related to the topic

  • Being/relating verbs (e.g., is, has, appears, seems, consists of, comprises, is defined as, symbolizes, represents, is called)

  • Packed noun groups to describe and add detail (e.g., a single-celled organism)

  • Abstract nouns (e.g., photosynthesis, identity construction)

  • Generalizable nouns or categories rather than proper names (e.g., governments, green plants, Native American authors)

  • Repetition of key words, synonyms, and pronouns to build new information but still stay on the main topic

  • Cohesive devices to clarify (e.g., for example, in other words, namely, specifically)

  • Declarative sentences and modality to construct degrees of possibility or uncertainty (e.g., may, could, should, must)

  • A more impersonal or detached voice to construct authority

  • Graphics (e.g., graphs, pie charts, flow diagrams, Venn diagrams, classification system)

Source: Gebhard, M. (2019). Teaching and researching ELLs’ disciplinary literacies: Systemic functional linguistics in action in the context of U.S. school reform. Routledge.

Additional reading

  • Christie, F., & Derewianka, B. (2008). School discourse: Learning to write across the years of schooling: Continuum.
     

  • de Oliveira, L., & Schleppegrell, M. (2015). Focus on grammar and meaning. Oxford University Press.
     

  • Gebhard, M. (2019). Teaching and researching ELLs’ disciplinary literacies: Systemic functional linguistics in action in the context of U.S. school reform. Routledge. See Chapters 4, 5, and 9.

 


Activity 3.4: Discuss school genres and registers

Participants will: engage in small group discussion

Duration: 30 minutes

​Directions

  • Form a small group of 2–3 participants based on the content and grade level you teach or will teach.
     

  • Share your thoughts about a high-frequency genre your students typically are required to read, write, and discuss based on state and national standards (e.g., Common Core or WIDA standards):

    • recount,

    • narrative,

    • explanation, or

    • argument.
       

  • Remember, follow the general curriculum. Even if you are an ESL or bilingual teacher, you can teach content to very beginning English Learners.
     

  • If you are a content specialist, remember to focus on language that constructs content knowledge. This focus encompasses more than vocabulary, spelling, and mechanics. It also includes attention to the expected organizational stages of specific genres.
     

  • Share your thoughts on how this genre is typically organized or structured.
     

  • Use functional language to label the main stages. This language gives students information about the purpose, or “job,” of a specific stage. This metalanguage, or language about language, is much more helpful to students than “beginning,” “middle,” and “end,” which do not give students much information about the purpose of a specific stage. For example, a cause-and-effect explanation might have the following stages:

    • Identify the topic.

    • State and explain cause 1.

    • State and explain cause 2.

    • State and explain cause 3.

    • Provide a summary generalization as a conclusion.

Exploring registers: Noticing field, tenor, and mode resources

In the video A Meaning-Oriented Model of Language for the Classroom, Derewianka states that teachers typically find beginning with genre to be a relatively easy starting point. She adds that working at the register level of a clause or a sentence is more challenging, but teachers can “have a go” by picking one or two aspects of field, tenor, and mode to explore.

In what follows, you will read about field, tenor, and mode resources. As you read, think about the main genre you require students to read, write, and discuss, and pick 1–3 aspects of register you might incorporate into your lesson planning, keeping in mind Derewianka’s advice that you do not have to know all about Halliday’s theory to get started.

Field

Field resources construct who did what to whom under what circumstances by using the following meaning-making resources:

  • Nouns and noun groups (participants)

  • Verbs and verbal groups (processes)

  • Adverbs and prepositional phrases that provide information about time, manner, and place (circumstances)

 

Here are two examples:

  • We chewed gum.

  • Trident chewing gum produced the largest bubbles in this experiment.

 

Disciplinary texts tend to pack a lot of information into long noun groups through the use of circumstances of time, manner, and place. Students can be guided to notice how field resources work in assigned readings and to appropriate these patterns in writing for their purposes and audiences. In addition, disciplinary texts often use language in ways that make it difficult to explicitly name who did what to whom, primarily through the use of passive constructions. Students can be guided to notice when authors use the passive voice and why. Students can also be guided to explore why authors make specific word choices and not others. Having this kind of discussion supports students in reading for literal, inferential, and critical meanings.

Here are two examples of guiding questions that can be used to explore field resources:

  • The flask was heated to 100 degrees Celsius.

    • Who heated it?

    • Why is this not stated?

    • Why Celsius and not Fahrenheit?

  • Native Americans were taken from their families and forced to attend boarding school.

    • Who took them and forced them?

    • Why is the “doer,” or agent, not made clear?

    • Why might the author choose to use “Native American” instead of “Indian” or “indigenous people” or the exact name of a group of people (e.g., Apache, Navajo, Iroquois)?

    • What does the word force mean, and what does it imply?

 

Tenor

Tenor refers to linguistic resources for enacting the voice of a text and interpersonal dynamics. Tenor resources are used for the following purposes:

  • to negotiate propositions with others by making declarative statements, asking questions, and giving commands (mood choices)

    • Recycling is a very important component of addressing climate change. (declarative statement)

    • Is recycling really an effective way to address climate change? (question)

    • Recycle now! (command)
       

  • to construct degrees of possibility and certainty (modality)

    • We (won’t, might, can, should, must) recycle.

    • We (never, maybe, probably, absolutely) will recycle.
       

  • to express feelings, evaluate things, and judge people (appraisal)

    • I love to recycle.

    • Recycling is a very complex issue with no simple answers.

    • People who don’t recycle are irresponsible.
       

Math and science texts tend to construct authority and a more detached voice, using statements and more neutral language. In contrast, literary texts tend to exploit tenor resources to construct characters’ emotions, evaluations, and judgements. Students can be guided to analyze these meaning-making resources in learning to “read between the lines,” in shifting from literal to inferential interpretations of texts, and in providing textual evidence for their interpretations. They can also reflect on the tenor choices they make when they write more strategically for specific purposes and audiences.

Mode

Mode refers to the linguistic resources for managing the flow of information. Mode resources are used to weave ideas together to make a text cohesive. These resources include the following:

  • repeating a word, pronoun, or synonym to stay on topic and build ideas

    • A right isosceles triangle has a 90-degree angle.

    • It has two legs of equal length.
       

  • using a zigzag pattern to stay on topic and build ideas

    • Boston was the site of the American Revolution.

    • This revolution began in 1776 because the King of England was overtaxing the colonies.

    • These colonies included...
       

  • using words and phrases to connect ideas and create specific kinds of relationships between clauses and sentences

    • sequence relationships (e.g., first, second, third);

    • cause-and-effect relationships (e.g., therefore, as a result, consequently);

    • additive relationships (e.g., in addition, furthermore, moreover);

    • time markers (e.g., first, then, next, suddenly, since then, in the end, even now); and

    • ways of clarifying (e.g., in other words, for example, that is).
       

  • using nominalizations (i.e., turning a verb into an abstract noun that can be modified) to pack more meaning into a clause or sentence

    • Henry Ford invented the Model T and used an assembly-line approach to mass producing this automobile. This groundbreaking invention...
       

Disciplinary texts tend to use nominalizations to create abstraction and technicality and to pack information into a sentence. Depending on the genre, discipline-specific texts also use cohesive devices in expected ways. Students can be taught to notice how expert language users weave ideas together to support both their reading comprehension and their ability to produce more coherent and cohesive texts.

Activity 3.5: Outline a unit of TLC instruction

Participants will: engage in outlining a TLC unit of instruction (outside of class)

Duration: 1–2 hours

​Directions

Individually, using what you have learned during Parts 1, 2, and 3, outline a 4–6-week unit of instruction that incorporates the TLC. If possible, collaborate with others who teach the same grade level and share the same content. Use the Activity 3.5 note catcher to capture your emerging thoughts and ideas.

  • Set the objectives for the unit. Following Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) understanding of essential questions, make sure you do not have too many.

    • Establish the unit’s essential content objectives based on both students’ linguistic and cultural resources and state and national standards.

    • Establish the unit’s essential language objectives:

      • What genre will your students be able to read and write with greater expertise by the end of the unit?

      • What is the purpose? Who is the audience?

      • What are the expected stages you will guide students to notice in order to scaffold their ability to read challenging texts critically and write more expertly by the end of the unit?

      • What specific register features will you guide students to notice in order to scaffold their ability to read challenging texts critically and write more expertly by the end of the unit?

      • Pick 1–3 aspects of field, tenor, and mode resources you think will be most useful to your students based on your knowledge of their literacy development. Don’t forget, you can set high expectations when you provide high levels of support.

      • What mechanical aspects of language do you want to focus on in a mini-lesson or two before students submit their final projects? Focus on 1–3 issues based on your knowledge of their writing development.

    • Establish equity objectives for talking to learn based on problems you have noticed regarding student participation or respect for diversity in your class.
       

  • Design an assessment by using a backwards design approach (see Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

    • Prepare a model text (or texts) to provide students with an example of what you expect them to produce by the end of the unit.

    • Annotate the genre and register features of this text to make visible what your content and language objectives actually look like in a final project.

    • Design an aligned rubric that targets content knowledge, genre knowledge, and key aspects of register. This rubric makes expectations and assessment practices very visible and guides the planning of specific lessons within the TLC.

    • Develop a way of acknowledging and rewarding students’ efforts toward maintaining classroom norms related to equity goals.
       

  • Brainstorm lesson ideas for each stage of the TLC:

    • building the field, or background knowledge, and language;

    • supporting reading;

    • learning about the genre;

    • supporting writing; and

    • using the genre independently.
       

  • Collect students’ final projects and reflect on the impact of your instruction on student learning in relation to the unit’s objectives (i.e., content, language, and equity). Based on students’ gains, set new content goals, but revisit aspects of genre, register, and equity as needed.

Activity 3.5 Note Catcher

Prompt

Notes

Set the objectives for the unit.

Following Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) understanding of essential questions, make sure you do not have too many.

Establish the unit’s essential content objectives based on both students’ linguistic and cultural resources and state and national standards.

Content objectives:

Establish the unit’s essential language objectives:

  • What genre will your students be able to read and write with greater expertise by the end of the unit?

    • What is the purpose? Who is the audience?

    • What are the expected stages you will guide students to notice in order to scaffold their ability to read challenging texts critically and write more expertly by the end of the unit?

  • What specific register features will you guide students to notice in order to scaffold their ability to read challenging texts critically and write more expertly by the end of the unit?

    • Pick 1–3 aspects of field, tenor, and mode resources you think will be most useful to your students based on your knowledge of their literacy development. Don’t forget, you can set high expectations when you provide high levels of support.

  • What mechanical aspects of language do you want to focus on in a mini-lesson or two before students submit their final projects? Focus on 1–3 issues based on your knowledge of their writing development.

Language objectives:

  • Genre
    • Purpose/audience

    • Genre stages

  • Register features

    • Field

    • Tenor

    • Mode

  • Mechanical aspects

Establish equity objectives for talking to learn based on problems you have noticed regarding student participation or respect for diversity in your class.

Design an assessment by using a backwards design approach.

See Wiggins & McTighe, 2005.

Prepare a model text (or texts) to provide students with an example of what you expect them to produce by the end of the unit.

Annotate the genre and register features of this text to make visible what your content and language objectives actually look like in a final project.

Design an aligned rubric that targets content knowledge, genre knowledge, and key aspects of register. This rubric makes expectations and assessment practices very visible and guides the planning of specific lessons within the TLC.

Develop a way of acknowledging and rewarding students’ efforts toward maintaining classroom norms related to equity goals.

Brainstorm lesson ideas for each stage of the TLC.

  • Building the field, or background knowledge, and language

  • Supporting reading

  • Learning about the genre

  • Supporting writing

  • Using the genre independently

Activity 3.6: Share your TLC outline

Participants will: engage in sharing in pairs

Duration: 1 hour

​Directions

  • Pair up with another participant based on the content and grade levels you teach or will teach.
     

  • Plan on each person having 20 minutes to share their outline and 10 minutes for feedback.
     

  • Use the Activity 3.6 note catcher to record comments.

Activity 3.6 Note Catcher

Prompt

Notes

Set the objectives for the unit.

Content objectives

  • Genre

    • Purpose/audience

    • Genre stages

  • Register features

    • Field

    • Tenor

    • Mode

  • Mechanical aspects

Equity objectives

Design an assessment by using a backwards design approach.

Model text (or texts)

Annotations for genre and register features

Aligned rubric

Equity goals

Brainstorm lesson ideas for each stage of the TLC.

Lesson ideas

Additional reading

Gebhard, M., Accurso, K., & Harris, G. (2019). Putting It All Together: SFL in Action. In M. Gebhard (Ed.), Teaching and Researching ELLs’ Disciplinary Literacies: Systemic Functional Linguistics in Action in the Context of U.S. School Reform. Routledge.

This chapter illustrates how a secondary teacher, Grace Harris, used an expanded version of the TLC to design and implement disciplinary literacy instruction in an under-resourced urban school. Together with a literacy researcher, Kathryn Accurso, Grace used SFL tools to scaffold the disciplinary literacy development of multilinguals who were labeled as students with limited or interrupted formal education. The chapter documents the literacy development of “Valencia,” a student who had emigrated from Guatemala. Over two years, she learned to read and write autobiographies, poetry, scientific descriptions, mathematical reports, and social studies arguments by analyzing model texts and drawing on a wide variety of multilingual and multimodal resources.