December 18, 2020

Non-linguistic Methods Foster Student Success in English

Author: Stephen Brock, PhD (Dr). English Literature and Language Teacher; English IB A and B Teacher; CAS Coordinator.

Throughout the school day, students have many opportunities to use language: they can respond to a teacher prompt in class; they can listen to the teacher (or other classmates) discuss content; they can read or write about subject matter. Furthermore, most of the contacts students have with each other occur primarily through words. But in addition to language, teachers would be wise to consider non-linguistic forms to occasion student learning. Studies have shown that students can succeed best by processing information non-linguistically as well (Marzano, 2010). This blog will showcase recent student work in a variety of classes at the beginning, middle, and end of different units—all using non-linguistic approaches to supplement written expression in English.

No doubt, you have all been in meetings where you have been asked to “brainstorm.” Connecting with prior knowledge provides a good avenue for finding possible solutions. But that communication need not only rely on words.

In IB English B 11, students frequently use non-linguistic approaches as they prepare for a new unit by creating their own “concept pattern organizer.” Beginning of a unit on “Lifestyles,” students in small groups create a poster to highlight three conceptual elements they consider critical to the theme. In addition, students must illuminate “relationships” between the three different aspects. Through working with peers, students then “elaborate” their learning and extend their own thinking. Teacher modelling plays a key part here, too: In this example, like the others below, students view successful examples of similar past projects before creating their own.

Pre-Unit Analysis of “Lifestyles”

For this task, one group of juniors employs the “metaphor of a tree” to connect the seemingly disparate elements of media, culture, and environment. Moreover, under a tree limb, they give thoughtful examples to connect all three, like apps, which can alert them to the possible spread of COVID-19. You may recognize several non-linguistics images here in social media giants, like Facebook or the Twitter mountain bluebird. Upon closer examination, you might also identify national flags, a cross, and the world. As assessment can transcend the teacher, students evaluate other groups informally as they stroll about the classroom in a “gallery walk”; during this physical activity, they attach circular, golden adhesive tabs to posters they like. As you can see from the lower-left hand corner, many classmates give this group’s poster a “thumbs up.”

Appearance & Reality in “Twelfth Night”

Tenth grade Literature and Language students employ non-linguistic approaches in the middle of their unit to depict possible themes in the Shakespearean comedy “Twelfth Night.” One of the drama’s major motifs centers upon “Appearance and Reality.” In the best example from the play, the shipwrecked maiden Viola transforms into a boy to better gain the confidence of Duke Orsino. At the climax of the play, other characters mistake Viola for her recently arrived brother Sebastian; later in the same scene, she reveals her “true” identity and gains a husband in Orsino! This poster (above) highlights several disguises or “personae” from the drama. After their drawing, students from this same group then communicated their written observations through Post-it notes.

Predicting the Ending of “Persepolis”

This last example of non-linguistic projects showcases several drawings in IB English A 11. Nearing the conclusion of the graphic novel “Persepolis,” students predict what becomes of the main character after her many adventures. Instead of replying as they might usually through a written journal response, students fashion a cartoon about their guesses in the style of the Iranian author. This task also considers their knowledge of the respective elements of graphic novels, which they had studied already. You can see from this task (as well as others) we have many budding artists at AISVN. ? In these drawings, you can guess the actions of the protagonist Marji without reading the texts. Like with the previous example, students engage in a gallery walk, but this time they leave specific feedback using Post-it notes.

Other research-based non-linguistic approaches can include the following: graphic organizers, physical models, and mental pictures. Frayer Model vocabulary also relies on photos, memes, and clip art to illuminate examples. Next time your student comes up to you at home with a request, ask her to draw her desires for greater clarification. Brock out.


Marzano, R. (2010). Representing Knowledge Non-Linguistically, Educational Leadership; May, 2010; pp. 84-86.

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