Skip to main content Skip to main content

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Expanding Academic Language

View Transcript

Lili Velo explains the importance of learning and practicing academic language to help students interpret historical texts, especially in a classroom that consists predominantly of English language learners.

Teacher: Miroslaba “Lili” Velo

School: Tennyson High School, Hayward, CA

Grade: 11

Discipline: History (U.S. History)

Lesson Topic: Native American removal

Lesson Month: January/February

Number of Students: 25

Other: Sheltered class (for English language learners)

Full Details

Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:

  • Content objectives – Understand the argument of Indian removal versus civilization; formulate an answer to the question: Why did Andrew Jackson and Elias Boudinot support Indian removal in the 1830s?
  • Literacy/language objectives – Read two primary source documents and analyze them by sourcing, contextualizing, and corroborating them; practice writing a paragraph that contains a topic sentence, concrete details (evidence), commentary, and concluding sentence
  • Engagement/interaction objectives – Share opinions and practice speaking academic English in a think-pair-share

Standards Addressed:

California History-Social Science Content Standards

  • CA.11.1
    Continuity and Change in the Twentieth Century: Students analyze the significant events in the founding of the nation and its attempts to realize the philosophy of government described in the Declaration of Independence.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts 

    Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
    Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
    Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
    Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
    Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
    Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
    Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Instruction Details:

The Unit
This eight-day unit was focused on westward expansion and was taught near the beginning of the second semester. The goal was for students to understand the ways in which the United States expanded west and what justifications were used by the American government. The lesson on Native American removal occurred in the middle of the unit.

Before the Video
Prior to this unit, students read A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. For each chapter, students would “talk to the text” or annotate, specifically looking for evidence that would support a focus question. Students answered the focus question with a two-chunk paragraph (with a topic sentence, two to four pieces of evidence with analysis, and a concluding sentence).

During the Video
Ms. Velo began the lesson on Native American removal with a “kick-off” question as a “hook” to pull students in and to set the stage for what was to come. Connecting the lesson content to the ELL students’ identities as immigrants, Ms. Velo asked students to imagine their families had lived in their current location for over 300 years and had been asked by an armed group of people to become like them. If they refused, they would be taken over. Students had to decide if they would take on a new language, religion, and traditions, or move away. After coming up with answers, students partnered up to share ideas.

Next, Ms. Velo reviewed the agenda and goals for the day and introduced a packet of handouts (which included two primary source documents, a timeline, and a writing tool providing examples of transition words). Using a PowerPoint, Ms. Velo reviewed the history of Indian removal using the Cherokee Indian Removal Timeline (cross-referenced with Robert Lindneux’s Trail of Tears image from 1942 and a map of the Trail of Tears). Her goal was to help students see the bigger picture of what America was going through at the time. After asking students for their interpretations, she introduced the task of the day: write a paragraph using evidence that answers the question, Why did Andrew Jackson and Elias Boudinot support Indian removal in the 1830s? In order to do this, students needed to source the documents (determine reliability by noting who wrote it, when it was written, and why it was written), contextualize them (using the timeline, determine what else was happening during this time), and identify supporting evidence for their answers (using close reading techniques). (Note: Corroborating the answer by cross-checking information is a fourth step in this process that was not part of this lesson.) Ms. Velo led students through the process together using Document A (Andrew Jackson’s letter). She intended to have students work independently through the same process for Document B, and then share their answers with partners, but time did not permit. Students wrote a paragraph about Document A.

After the Video
On the following day, students finished the previous day’s lesson by working independently to source, contextualize, and find evidence in Document B and then shared their answers with partners. As a class, Ms. Velo and her students talked about how it was both similar to and different from Jackson’s letter. Students then wrote a paragraph answering the question: Why did Andrew Jackson and Elias Boudinot support Indian removal in the 1830s? Following this unit was a unit on the Civil War.

Teacher Prep
When preparing lessons, Ms. Velo thinks broadly about her long-term goals for students (to be better English speakers and writers, so that by the end of the year they can write a full research paper) and plans backward.

To prepare for this lesson, Ms. Velo thought about how to make the content relevant to her students and anticipated the areas in which she would likely need to offer more support.

Prior Knowledge
To participate in this lesson, students needed to know the historical background of Native American removal/relocation. They needed to be able to understand the question being posed and to identify evidence.

Differentiated Instruction
Ms. Velo used a hook to draw students into the lesson and make it relatable to them. As she modeled the process of gathering sources, contextualizing, and gathering evidence, she defined key vocabulary words and made sure students comprehended what they read. She had students “think-pair-share” with partners to build confidence in their ideas and offered a transition-starter handout for writing support. Students used their school-wide organization system, the “Organized Binder,” to keep track of this class work (and all classwork throughout the year).

Group Interaction
Students paired up with a partner in a “think-pair-share” to discuss their responses to the opening question (to help with comprehension and build confidence). In an effort to keep students engaged in the task, Ms. Velo called on pairs at random to share their ideas (but always prepared the class ahead of time with a warning so that students did not feel as though they were put on the spot). Ms. Velo felt this helped students practice public speaking and that hearing other peers helped ease anxiety.

Resources and Tools

  • Indian Removal Lesson Plan from Stanford History Education Group: Reading Like a Historian
  • PowerPoint: Image of Robert Lindneux’s Trail of Tears (1942); image of the Trail of Tears (routes)
  • Jane Schaffer’s Guide to Writing selected and edited by Deborah E. Louis, Louis Educational Concepts, LLC
  • Jane Schaeffer Paragraph Rubric created by Louis Educational Concepts, LLC
  • Transition starters for writing


Formative Assessment
As students worked in pairs, Ms. Velo walked around the room to assess understanding, listening to peer conversations and making herself available to students for one-on-one questions, clarifications, and to offer any kind of support needed.

Student Self-Assessment
As part of the Organized Binder system, students ended the lesson by reflecting on what they learned and rating themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 (from “I didn’t understand at all” to “I understood everything”). Ms. Velo collected and reviewed these learning logs weekly. Through this organizational system, students also kept track of all of their assignments and scores throughout the year.

Summative Assessment
The written paragraph answering the question of the day, incorporating two pieces of evidence and analysis, served as this lesson’s summative assessment. Ms. Velo used a rubric to grade it. The summative assessment for the unit was an essay on westward expansion.

Impact of Assessment
Ms. Velo noticed that her students were having difficulties with idioms and other nuances in English. She realized that they were taking Andrew Jackson’s speech about helping the Native Americans at face value and not factoring in possible political motives or “reading between the lines,” which was critical to understanding these historical events. She revisited this with students by teaching about bias to make sure they fully understood the motives and relevance of the speech.

Series Directory

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4