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English as a Second Language

Category 1 - Contextual Language and Functional Language

Children are focused on what this new language can actually be used for here and now.
H. Douglas Brown


In the Cycle One program, contextual language refers to students’ personal language repertoire of words, strings of words and short expressions that they build and use at their own pace to help them develop the competencies To act on understanding of texts and To communicate orally in English.

In the Cycles Two and Three program, functional language allows students to interact in English by producing stretches of speech starting in Cycle Two. Useful expressions (routine formulas and patterns learned as ready-made, whole chunks) and vocabulary (meaningful units of language) make up Functional Language. Useful expressions and vocabulary contribute to developing the competency To interact orally in English. Vocabulary also supports the development of the competencies To reinvest understanding of oral and written texts and To write texts.

Learning context is a feature found in the ESL Progression of Learning chart that describes the conditions under which students progressively construct knowledge throughout the cycles. It highlights the differences in the learning environments as defined in the Cycle One and the Cycles Two and Three programs.

Elementary Cycle One Learning Context

Elementary Cycles Two and Three Learning Context

Cycle One
Mostly natural emergence of the English language through the use of authentic songs, rhymes and stories, and participation in classroom routines

Cycle Two
Creation of a personal repertoire of functional language by participating in classroom routines and through tasks mostly pertaining to familiar environments (e.g. school, home, neighbourhood, family)

Cycle Three
Development of a personal repertoire of functional language by participating in classroom routines and through tasks often pertaining to topics with a broader scope (e.g. ecology, heroes, children from other countries)

Student constructs knowledge with teacher guidance.

Student applies knowledge by the end of the school year.


Student reinvests knowledge.

  Cycle One   Cycle Two Cycle Three
1 2 3 4 5 6
  A—Useful Expressions
Routines Classroom routines
  • Uses common inquiries and statements
    (e.g. Finished? Red pencil? That’s correct.)

  • Joins in during playful choral responses
    (e.g. Hurry up. No problem.)
  • Participates in classroom routines
    (e.g. Teacher: “What’s the date?” Student: “It’s April second.”
    Teacher: “What is the weather today?” Student: “It’s sunny.”
    Teacher: “Open your binder.” Student: “I forgot my binder.”)
Routines Instructions
  • Responds to instructions (e.g. I’m ready.)
  • Gives instructions (e.g. Roll the dice. Pick a card.)
  Delay speaking
  • Stalls for time (e.g. Wait a minute. I’m not ready. Let me think.)
  Asking for help or clarification
  • Asks for help (e.g. Can you help me? I have a problem. How do you say…?)
  • Asks for clarification (e.g. I don’t understand. Can you repeat? What do you mean?)
  • Identifies people, animals, objects, places (e.g. I’m a hockey player. This is my sister. It’s a polar bear.)
  • Asks for identification (e.g. What’s this? What’s your name? Where does he live?)
Repertoire of words and short expressions
  • Describes basic characteristics of people, animals, objects, places (e.g. She is tall. It is round. It’s a big house.)
  • Describes people/characters, objects (e.g. Big, Big monster. Blue pants. Delicious apples.)
  • Inquires about basic characteristics of people, animals, objects, places (e.g. Does he wear glasses? Is it round? What colour is it?)
  • States own capabilities (e.g. I can play the guitar. I’m good at juggling.)
  • States others’ capabilities (e.g. He can’t sing. She’s good at drawing. They can run fast.)
  • Inquires about others’ capabilities (e.g. Can you stand on your head? Are you good at math?)
  Requests for information
  • Asks W-questions (e.g. What page is it on? When is recess? Who’s your partner?)
  • Asks yes/no questions (e.g. Do you have a pencil? Is this your book? Does he play hockey?)
  Agreement, disagreement
  • Expresses agreement/disagreement (e.g. That’s right. I agree. I don’t agree.)
  • Inquires about agreement/disagreement (e.g. Do you agree? Is this okay? Does she disagree?)
  • Gives opinions (e.g. I think that…, I believe that…)
  • Inquires about others’ opinions (e.g. What do you think? What’s your opinion? What does he think?)
  • Asks for permission (e.g. May I go to the washroom? Can I borrow a pencil?)
  Offers of assistance
  • Offers assistance (e.g. Can I help you? Let me help.)
  • Accepts or declines offers of assistance (e.g. Sure. I’m okay.)
Repertoire of words and short expressions Needs
    • Expresses personal and immediate needs (e.g. Problem, no pencil. Pass sharpener? Drink please.)
  • Expresses personal needs and wants (e.g. I need a pencil. I want a new skateboard.)
  • Expresses others’ needs and wants (e.g. He needs a ruler. She wants a new bike.)
  • Inquires about others’ needs and wants (e.g. What does he need? What do you want?)
  • Gives warnings (e.g. Careful! Watch out! Stop!)
Repertoire of words and short expressions Feelings, interests, tastes, preferences
    • Expresses ideas (e.g. Happy, today. I like red. Sing “Reach for the Sky.” No, sing “Old MacDonald.”)
  • Expresses own feelings, interests, tastes, preferences (e.g. I’m happy. I like baseball. My favourite flavour is chocolate.)
  • Expresses others’ feelings, interests, tastes, preferences (e.g. He’s excited. My sister doesn’t like rock music. They prefer pizza.)
  • Inquires about others’ feelings, interests, tastes, preferences (e.g. Are you okay? Who’s your favourite singer? What do you prefer?)
Repertoire of words and short expressions Expressions of courtesy and social conventions
  • Uses basic expressions of courtesy (e.g. Hi. Hello. Please. Thank-you. Excuse me.)
  • Uses basic expressions of courtesy (e.g. How are you? You’re welcome.)
  • Greets (e.g. Good morning. Good afternoon.)
  • Takes leave (e.g. Good bye. See you later. Have a nice weekend.)
  • Thanks (e.g. Thanks. Thank-you very much.)
  • Apologizes (e.g. Sorry. I’m sorry.)
  Suggestions, invitations
  • Makes suggestions (e.g. Let’s be partners. How about making a poster?)
  • Invites (e.g. Do you want to play with us at recess? Would you like to work with me?)
  Expressions to make rejoinders
  • Maintains exchanges (e.g. It’s your turn. What about you? Is that right?)
Routines Expressions promoting harmonious exchanges and teamwork
  • Uses cheers (e.g. Hooray! Good job! Beautiful!)
  • Contributes in creating harmonious exchanges (e.g. That’s a good idea. Let’s listen to Sophie. What a team. )
Repertoire of words and short expressions
  • Contributes to teamwork (e.g. Each our turn. Do you have all your things? Five minutes left.)
  • Uses expressions during pair work (e.g. My turn/your turn. Good idea. Wait a minute.)
Repertoire of words and short expressions Action words frequently used in class
  • Uses expressions containing action words (e.g. Clap your hands. Turn around. Come here.)
  • Uses action words (e.g. look, play, bring, draw)
Repertoire of words and short expressions Immediate environment
  • Uses vocabulary related to objects (e.g. mittens, desk, flashcards)
  • Uses vocabulary related to people (e.g. friends, mom/dad, girl/boy)
  • Uses vocabulary related to school (e.g. pencils, classroom, schoolyard, teacher)
  • Uses vocabulary related to other familiar environments (e.g. living room, grocery store, park)
Language related to songs, rhymes and stories Theme-related (e.g. family, sports, pastimes, food, animals, clothing, special events)
  • Builds personal repertoire of words and short expressions when joining in to perform songs and say rhymes
  • Builds personal repertoire by joining in recurrent passages of stories
  • Uses targeted vocabulary to carry out tasks
  Personal pronouns and possessive forms
  • Uses personal pronouns and possessive forms in context to talk about self (e.g. I have my book. The pencil is mine.)
  • Uses personal pronouns and possessive forms in context to talk about others (e.g. Your book is on the desk. It’s his pencil.)
  • Uses the alphabet to spell words in context
  • Uses cardinal and ordinal numbers frequently encountered in class
  Colours and shapes
  • Uses the names of colours and shapes frequently encountered in class
  Prepositions and location words
  • Uses prepositions and location words required for tasks (e.g. at, beside, right)
  Expressions of time
  • Uses expressions of time frequently encountered in class (e.g. five minutes, in September, next summer)
  Question words
  • Responds to question words used in context (e.g. who, what, how)
  • Uses question words in context
1 The Cycle One student constructs new knowledge by gradually becoming aware of new language, strategies, language conventions, text components and cultural elements.

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