Flow charts to support oral language development in diverse classrooms

One of the primary challenges of teaching in a multilingual classroom is ensuring that every student is working within their ‘zone of proximal development’ (Vygotsky in Dufficy, 2005 p. 34). Designing for a multilingual class in a way that challenges all students, while supporting their learning and development, involves consideration in the way tasks are set and sequenced and the way content is introduced. Some design considerations include:

Ways of working

  • Grouping native English speakers and bilingual students. Pairings that provide appropriate assistance to students, and that are either collaborative or expert/novice relationships are the most effective (Storch in Dufficy, 2005, p. 60).
  • Grouping students that require reading assistance with those who do not, ensuring the pairing is appropriate (i.e. partners who won’t dominate or rush ahead).
  • Pairing recent arrivals with students that speak their native language, where possible, to help them participate from the outset.

Ways of introducing content and activities

  • The lead-in and orientation to tasks should be appropriately sequenced. Scaffolding small group work through facilitated class discussions emphasises the joint creation of knowledge and allows talk roles to be handed over to students (Dufficy, 2005, p. 32). Background knowledge should be activated through class discussion.
  • Modelling of activities in advance ensures students understand the tasks.
  • Assisted support such as visuals can assist when new material is being introduced (ACARA, 2014).

The types of tasks students undertake

  • Tasks should allow for varying participation (Dufficy, 2005, p. 34).
  • Talk-rich activities allow students to learn new content collaboratively, such as through predictive activities like ranking and sequencing tasks.
  • Tasks that have a high-level of constraint and require deep interaction will improve oral language, such as information-gap tasks (Dufficy, 2005).
  • Students should be given opportunities to repeat new vocabulary or phrases. Flow-charts helps students to practice questioning and answering.

Example task: flowchart activity for oral language development

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.44.05 pmClassification Task – “Name that Explorer” Flow chart

I developed this task as flowcharts can provide students with opportunities to participate in talk and engage in meaningful reading practice in a supported way. The strength of an interactive task such as a flow chart is that talking roles are clearly defined, and as the questions are repetitive, students are able to practice the interaction (Dufficy, 2005, p. 57). This task also requires use and practice of the past tense, through question framing such as “did he…?” or “was he…?”

As all of the information required for the task is included in the activity, it is a good way to introduce students to interactive tasks, collaborative work and new content. Students will encounter content-specific words such as expeditions, circumnavigate, and significant that can be explained in advance. Being equipped with the vocabulary allows a handover for students to undertake the task, while the assistive nature of the task design guides through new content (Dufficy, 2005, p. 79).

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.44.45 pm

See more upcoming posts with examples of information gap tasks, sequencing tasks, prediction tasks, clines and other activities in support of oral language and literacy development in multilingual classrooms.


ACARA. (2014). English as an Additional Language or Dialect Teacher Resource. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. Sydney: ACARA. Retrieved from http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/EALD_Overview_and_Advice_revised_February_2014.pdf

Board of Studies NSW (2012). History K-10: Syllabus. Sydney: Board of Studies.

Dufficy, P. (2005). Designing Learning for Diverse Classrooms. Newtown PETAA.


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