Using Computational Thinking in a Modern Language Classroom

Isabelle Wolfe
Language Teacher, International School Aberdeen

Using Computational Thinking in a Modern Language Classroom


Computational Thinking describes the thought process of formulating problems and their solutions in a way that can be carried out by a computer. More than just a classroom strategy, it is also a life skill that our students can learn to solve any problems inside or outside the classroom. In this article, I will endeavour to explain the four stages in this process as well as giving a specific example to illustrate how I implement this process in my modern language classroom


At the International School of Aberdeen, where I teach French, as a way to develop integration of Computational Thinking across the K-12 curriculum in different subjects, we have started a monthly podcast featuring teachers called “CT Pod”. Feel free to listen in


Computational thinking involves four steps, the first one being decomposition which is often regarded as the most difficult one. This step consists in breaking down the problem into manageable parts. The problem is presented as a task that will be extremely difficult to overcome. Actually, the most daunting this task is presented, the better the thought process led by the students will be rewarding. When a lesson plan uses the Understanding by Design Framework, this “problem” that is presented is the outcome of a unit or a couple of lessons.  The final assessment will essentially be this language focus introduced in this problem in this stage.  As an example, in a modern language classroom, it could be a skill or a concept such as “I am learning to use the past tense, J’apprends le passé composé”. For most Middle Schoolers who are just familiar with the present tense, this learning objective is presented as a problem that they have no idea of how to tackle it and more importantly to solve it. With guidance, students will then break this problem with the teacher by leading the discussion by asking questions such as “what is a tense?” “what is a verb?” “how many groups of verbs do you know?” “what is the past?” what is a regular verb?” “why is the past tense called compound past in French” “what do you think it means?” etc. Little by little, the students feel less anxious and more comfortable solving the problem.


The second step is pattern recognition which implies looking at similarities and differences. Students are presented with various sentences or paragraphs including the learning outcome and without much guidance from the teacher will be able to define a rule or an appropriate process that needs to be followed in order to achieve the outcome. It’s always very useful to colour code the similarities. Going back to the example of the past tense, in this lesson, students will be presented with sentences in the present tense and in the past with the same verbs and a variety of verbs (regular and irregular). Students will then highlight the similarities in one colour and in another the differences. Colour coding is an example of implementing pattern recognition but other methods such as the use of Venn diagrams can also be very effective.


The third step is abstraction and is probably the most important one. Abstraction consists in generalising the model, which is essentially extracting the general rule without focusing on the details. Here in the example of the past tense, abstraction will consist in giving the general rule of an auxiliary followed by the verb. However, we would not go into the details of regular and irregular past participles for example.


Finally, the last stage is the algorithm which is writing a set of instructions that needs to be followed in order to solve our problem, similar to a recipe. In the example of the past tense, the students will probably first write that it is important to look at the verb we need to conjugate so that we know if it is regular or not, then secondly to conjugate the auxiliary, and so on… This algorithm can be referred to by the students as a go-to resource when they are in doubt. As it is quite succinct with only a few steps written in short bullet points, it is very quick and easy to check the algorithm when in doubt.


It is very important to note that all these steps are student-led so that the students take ownership of the whole process and make the task meaningful. Computational Thinking can be applied across all subjects and grades. It is vital that the students are familiar with the terminology so that there is consistency throughout the process with any learning outcome to be achieved and in any settings. In order to achieve this, computational thinking could be included in the curriculum as a school-based strategy. Use of icons and visual displays throughout the school could also reinforce this wide-spread implementation and familiarisation of that thought process.


Computational Thinking has had many positive impacts in my modern language classroom. Firstly, it reinforced the student-led process and therefore the ownership by the students of their learnings. Secondly, it has definitely had a positive consequence on the time taken to achieve the learning outcomes. Computational thinking has also had benefits in the time taken to grasp new concepts. I have found that the students also have adopted a different mindset and look forward to embark on difficult concepts. With the process of computational thinking, teachers offer a safe and secure environment as students know that the algorithm they have designed can be referred to if needed.


At the International School of Aberdeen, where I teach French,as a way to develop integration of Computational Thinking across the K-12 curriculum in different subjects, we have started a monthly podcast featuring teachers called “CT Pod”. Feel free to listen in

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



My name is Isabelle Wolfe. I am the language subject leader at the International School of Aberdeen. I teach French in Middle and High school as well as the French Mother Tongue programme to our French native students. Prior to teaching at ISA, I have been teaching in England, Australia, and Egypt.


Planning for Language Development

Planning for Language Development

Beth Skelton
Presenter | Coach | Consultant


Much of my work with teachers this past school year has focused on the power of lesson planning for language development. In this blog post, I will explain how to use a simple tool to add a language focus to any lesson plan and provide the necessary scaffolds and supports to ensure that all students can be successful with the expected language outcomes of the lesson. The questions on the lesson planning tool I will be describing can be found at the bottom of this post.

Language Objectives

The SIOP model, the WIDA framework, Kate Kinsella and Tonya Ward, Jeff Zwiers, and Confianza have long advocated for adding language objectives to lessons, and they have created useful tools for how to do this. Despite this strong support for language objectives, writing and teaching them often remains a difficult challenge for many general educators and content specialists. During the past school year, I have drawn on the work of those mentioned above and worked with many educators to create and refine the following tool as a simple, practical way for deciding what might be included in a language objective for one lesson and planning ways to support students in meeting the language demands of a content lesson. This tool uses a backwards design to get at the language students need to be successful in a lesson.

Backwards Design: The Unit Assessment and Content Objectives

Like any lesson plan using the Understanding by Design Framework, this tool also starts with the end in mind. Since most districts and international schools already require teachers to plan units starting with the final assessment in mind, the information for the first row of the form should come directly from the teachers’ prepared unit plans. Once teachers review their final assessment (performance, project, or traditional test) and jot down what students should know and be able to do by the end of the unit, they think about one upcoming lesson within that unit. The second row of the form asks teachers to record what students should know or be able to do by the end of one lesson. In teams or individually, teachers should explain how those specific daily objectives help students to achieve the content objectives for the entire unit.

Planning for Language Development: The Prompt

The third row of the tool adds a focus on the language students will need to express their learning at the end of one lesson. Teachers should think about one Turn and Talk question or an Exit Ticket prompt they might ask students to talk about or write about near the end of the lesson to gather formative assessment on their learning for that day. This question or prompt should directly link to the daily content objective listed in the second row. Some of the elementary teachers that I worked with during recent planning sessions created the following prompts. These examples require students to synthesize their learning from the lesson using extended discourse of more than one sentence:

Explain how to create equivalent fractions using shapes.

What is the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources?

Describe the main character in the story and what he dreams of using details from the text.

Describe how the native Americans lived in the river valley in the 1750s.

Notice how each of these prompts starts with a specific language function such as describe or explain or asks students to contrast or compare. These language functions dictate the type of language students will need to use in order to effectively address the prompt. Students will need to use appropriate grade-level content vocabulary, sentence structures, and discourse markers in order to effectively and academically respond to each of those prompts.

Planning for Language Development:  The Response

Although general educators are usually able to quickly write a prompt that would require an extended response, they rarely write or think through what they expect as an answer before asking the question. Since every content area standard has different expectations for how students should respond to these prompts, I ask the teachers to write out an ‘ideal response’ to their own prompt. I began writing my own responses to prompts about 10 years ago when I was teaching at an international school in Germany. I would write every response with my students and share my papers with them as well. This process gave me insight into the complexity of the language and often led me to refine my prompts or teach short language-focused lessons to support their answers. Although this is a practice I have used for many years, I credit the WIDA Consortium for the term ‘ideal response’.

When two or more teachers from the same team come to a planning session together, I ask them to individually write their ideal response before sharing out with the entire team. This response should reflect what a top student at that grade level should sound like when using appropriate academic language in their response. The teachers should write what they would love to hear or read as a response to the prompt. When I script their responses, the teachers immediately understand how much language is embedded in their responses, which academic vocabulary words they should directly teach, and which linguistic structures they may have to intentionally model during the lesson.

For example, as an ideal response to the prompt, “Explain how to create equivalent fractions by using shapes,” teachers wrote several different possible answers. Then, they created differentiated sentence frames and sentence starters to support the language necessary for a clear response. They also realized that these sentence frames and starters supported the thinking necessary to successfully complete the hands-on task. One possible frame for Level 1-2 students was:


I can trade _______ ___________ for _________ _______. 

       (number) (shape)               (number)     (shape)

And for students at higher language acquisition levels, they created the sentence starter: I can create an equivalent shape by using ________________.

For the prompt asking students to describe the main character in the story, both teachers used a noun clause in the first sentence of their response and realized they would have to provide a mini-lesson on how to start a clause using who as in their ideal response: Leroy is a__________, who dreams of __________.  Teaching students how to embed a noun clause will not only increase the complexity of their writing but also help them understand more complex texts that frequently use noun clauses (like this sentence just did!)

Analyze the Language in the Response

Once teachers have written an ideal response, they can analyze the language in the response at the word level, sentence level, and discourse level. As a team of grade level or content area teachers, they can use the form to plan strategies for directly teaching the vocabulary students will need in order to respond successfully to the prompt. The teachers may also determine that some words do not need as much explicit instruction because students will not be expected to use the words in a written or oral response and only have to comprehend the vocabulary in context.

For example, when a team of fifth-grade teachers wrote their ideal response for the prompt, “Describe how the native Americans lived in the river valley in the 1750s,” they realized that they did not need to spend as much time on some of the new vocabulary words in the text as they had originally thought. Although words like quenched and knelt did come up in the text and needed some defining for comprehension, the students would not need to use these words in their responses to the end of the lesson prompt. When the teachers realized this, they changed their vocabulary focus in the lesson and spent more time on the general academic terms the students needed to clearly describe the native Americans’ life along the river.

Fourth-grade teachers wrote an ideal response to the prompt “What is the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources?” When they analyzed their answers, they realized that students would know the key terms renewable and non-renewable by the end of the lesson, but would need additional support with discourse markers such as however and whereas. The teachers on this team decided to explicitly teach students how to contrast ideas, so that they would have the language necessary to contrast renewable and non-renewable resources.

Often teachers discover that the words and sentence structures students need to successfully respond to the prompt are not part of the written curriculum. For example, in order to describe the main character, students would need to use the word spontaneous or a synonym. Although the text provided plenty of details that illustrated this character trait, this word, and its synonyms do not come up in the text. Teachers who wrote out their ideal response realized they should teach words that are not necessarily in the text, but necessary for talking about the text.

Using the Planning for Language Development Tool

After analyzing the language in their ideal response, teachers will have developed a list of words and linguistic structures they will need to teach in the lesson in addition to their content. They should also make note of any strategies, scaffolds, and supports they will use to teach this academic language. After just one experience using this tool, one third-grade teacher with no other background in language acquisition exclaimed, “It’s easy to add a focus on language to our lesson plans! We already have the prompt, so we just have to figure out what we want as a response. This helps us frame our teaching and the students’ thinking.” I hope you find the tool just as useful.

Prompts from the Planning for Language Development Tool

  1. What should students know and be able to do by the end of the unit? What is the end of unit assessment?
  2. What should students know and be able to do by the end of one upcoming lesson?
  3. Write a prompt for an oral discussion or a written response during the lesson.
  4. Write out an “Ideal Response” to the prompt.
  5. List the key content and general academic vocabulary students should ideally use in their response to the end of lesson prompt. How will you teach each of those words during the lesson? (include details on the strategies you will use like gestures, visuals, realia, questions, etc.)
  6. What grammatical or linguistic structures in the ideal response might be challenging? (clauses, verb tenses, word order, etc.) What organizational features of the response might be challenging? How will you teach these structures?
  7. What supports will you offer language learners as they respond to the prompt?  (labeled graphic organizer, labeled pictures, sentence frames, discussion starters, native language support, oral language practice before writing, etc.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Beth earned her Master’s Degree in Multicultural Teacher Education from the University of New Mexico and taught English learners at many levels. She has coached, consulted, and presented in a variety of school settings across the US and around the world. From 2010 to 2013, she served as the program coordinator for English as an Additional Language (EAL) at the Bavarian International School in Munich, Germany. Her expertise includes Harvard Project Zero; the International Baccalaureate English B course; instructional coaching; the WIDA standards, Marzano’s Strategies that Work for English Language Learners, Kagan Cooperative Learning, Total Physical Response, and the Common Core for English Language Learners. She has also published student and teacher materials for adult English Learners entitled Putting it Together, which have been translated into Spanish, Dutch, and sign language.

Learn more about how Beth can support you and your students.

Multilingualism in schools. Yes or No?

Multilingualism in schools. Yes or No?

Valentina Spyropoulou, Teacher of English / EAL / Dyslexia Specialist
Optimist International School


Many people believe that when you move to a different country, you should try to exclusively practice the host country’s language in order to learn that language faster. This notion has also been adopted in many schools across the world. However, is this really the best approach?

A monolingual approach in schools has been vastly adopted for a long time now and, oftentimes, has resulted in many international parents and their children feeling excluded or even embarrassed to use their home languages. However, over the past years, we have seen a positive shift towards including languages in schools more and there are many good reasons why. Here are some of the most important ones:


Language as cultural identity
Language is an inherent piece of who we are. A valuable part of our identity. The more we explore and develop our languages, the more we develop a sense of belonging and self-value and this is of crucial importance to our children’s wellbeing and success when it comes to their personal and academic development.


Multilingualism and brain
Extensive research on the impact of multilingualism on the brain has proven that multilingual people’s brains do function differently and in a more advantageous way compared to monolingual people in areas such as complex thinking, mental flexibility, communication, and interpersonal skills, and even reduced risk of age-related mental diminishment conditions.


Home languages benefit the learning of more languages
Dr. Jim Cummins, a prominent researcher in bilingual education, has stated that developing language repertoires at the same time, actually accelerates and deepens understanding and acquisition of languages already mastered, but also of more, new ones.


Ready for the global community
Multilingual individuals are more prepared for the global community, as they are able to communicate with an open and flexible mind, having possibly been exposed to various cultures. Is this not a goal worth pursuing?


Language skills and structures, as well as concept knowledge, many times, already exist in the children’s educational toolkit, and the only thing missing is the words in the new language to prove it. I am sure, if you are an international living outside your home country, you probably have experienced a situation in which people are talking about a certain matter that interests you and you know a lot about, but the language spoken is one you have not yet mastered. If you were given the opportunity to talk and write about it in your own language, would you feel more confident and included? Do you think you could have contributed to these conversations? Maybe if you were reading a text translated in your language with the foreign language next to it, you would be able to understand some words? Maybe sentence structures? The answer to all the above questions is yes, and this is exactly how it works for multilingual children as well.


Language Friendly School
Optimist International School, an international primary school, recently became a Language Friendly school. This means that all languages spoken by students are welcome and valued.

In our classes we allow students to use the languages they feel most comfortable with in order to show their understanding and develop their skills, while we try to methodically use their languages to support the development in English, as well. For this purpose, children can read, write and do research in their own language, while teaching staff guide them to create links between their languages for deeper and effective acquisition.

Moreover, we often use the children’s languages in various aspects of school life, such as greeting them in the morning, asking children to translate keywords in their languages for us to learn or even learning to sing ‘happy birthday’ in all the different languages we have in school.

The smile, confidence, and safety that the children feel in our school by feeling included, respected, and valued is what fuels our teaching and learning. The results in children’s academic and personal development are outstanding as they can be themselves, navigate through their cultures and identities, while being respectful and tolerant of others.

Multilingualism is an asset and we, as a school of multilingual and intercultural educators, are committed to promoting and improving our multilingual approaches in order to support happy, respectful, inquisitive global citizens.



Bartolotti, J. and Marian, V. (2012), Language Learning and Control in Monolinguals and Bilinguals. Cognitive Science, 36: 1129-1147.

 Brainscape Academy. 2021. The cognitive benefits of being multilingual. [online] Available at: <

Craik, F., Bialystok, E. and Freedman, M., 2010. ‘Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve’, Neurology, vol. 75, no. 19, pp. 1726-1729.

Cummins, J., 2017. ‘Multilingualism in Classroom Instruction: “I think it’s helping my brain grow”’, Scottish Languages Review, vol. Winter 2017, no. 33, pp. 5-18.

Goossens, F., 2019. Monolingual Practices in Multilingual Classrooms. EAL Journal, [Online]. 10, 16. Available at: [Accessed 19 January 2021].

Keysar, B., Hayakawa, S. L. and An, S. G. (2012) ‘The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases’, Psychological Science, 23(6), pp. 661–668. doi: 10.1177/0956797611432178.

NALDIC. 2021. EAL Journal E-Issue 10 – NALDIC. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 February 2021].


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.






“Ever since I remember myself I wanted to be a teacher. My studies include specialisms in English Language and Literature, SEN, EAL, and SpLD. I have over 12 years of experience in education within various roles of teaching and middle management in Greece, the UK, and the Netherlands. I have always worked within multicultural environments and with students of different ages, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. I am currently working as a Group teacher and EAL Specialist at The Optimist International School in Hoofddorp and I am loving every moment of working with students and colleagues from all around the world. Education is my passion and I always strive to support my students and colleagues to feel welcome and safe to be who they are, explore their identities, and develop their talents. I love reading, cooking, and enjoying the company of my friends, while recently I have taken up painting and discovered that I am actually really enjoying it.”