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What Are Language Functions?

Language functions refer to the purposes in which we use language to communicate. We use language for a variety of formal and informal purposes, and specific grammatical structures and vocabulary are often used with each language function. Some examples of language functions include:
  • Compare and contrast
  • Persuasion
  • Asking questions
  • Expressing likes and dislikes
  • Cause and effect
  • Summarizing
  • Sequencing
  • Predicting
  • Agreeing/disagreeing
  • Greeting people/introductions
When teaching about language functions, it is important that teachers explicitly teach the vocabulary and phrases associated with each language function. For example, when teaching the language function of compare/contrast teachers may teach the following vocabulary: both, similar, also, different, in contrast, similarly, etc. During the lesson planning and preparation stage, teachers should brainstorm the vocabulary words associated with the language function that will be taught. It is important that as students become familiar with the vocabulary associated with each language function that more advanced functional vocabulary is introduced to students. An excellent resource for teachers to identify advanced vocabulary is thesaurus.com or dictionary.com
In addition to functional vocabulary, students must also be introduced to grammatical structures associated with each language function. For example, when teaching the language function of compare/contrast, teachers might teach comparative adjectives (i.e., smaller than, more expensive than, etc) or superlative adjectives (i.e., smallest, most expensive). A recommended book that will assist teachers with grammatical structures in English is the "ESL/ELL Teacher's Book of Lists", which can be purchased from the ELD Strategies store by clicking here
English learners must be provided with ample opportunities to practice the vocabulary and grammatical structures associated with language functions in both oral and written contexts. When preparing for a lesson, teachers must identify how the vocabulary or grammatical structure will be explicitly introduced to students, as well as how students will practice in a structured way under the guidance of a teacher. Functional vocabulary and grammatical structures can be differentiated for students at varying proficiency levels, with students at the lower levels of English proficiency practicing easier vocabulary and grammatical structures than students at higher levels of English proficiency.
For additional resources on teaching language functions to English learners, please take a moment to view the SIOP resources available to teachers by clicking here.

More language function vocabulary coming soon!!

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