One of the most engaging ways the Master Teacher taught was by modeling. We don’t always call it that, but that’s what it was. We say that He led by example or had an incarnational leadership style, but essentially, much like many of us do with our students, He modeled for us what we were to do so that we would imitate Him and, in turn, learn.
As a teacher educator who works with both current teachers and those aspiring to teach multilingual learners one day, I model a lot. As current and future language educators, my students don’t just need to know about the second language acquisition theory behind a teaching strategy or read about methodology in a book. They need to see, experience, and live it from the student’s perspective. So, in my classroom (both in-person and virtual), I aim to model organization, structure, classroom procedures, and ways to create a safe, welcoming environment for learning. In my relationships with students, I hope to model the balance of several teacher roles like facilitator, confidante, authority, resource, and guide. In my teaching, I attempt to model the application of various theories, best practices, and techniques to execute well-planned units and lessons with engaging communicative tasks. And when those well-planned tasks don’t play out quite as I expected, I try to model humility and flexibility.
One of the ways that I have most effectively engaged students in this modeling process is through books, stories, and engaging texts. A former professor, Brian Tomlinson, introduced me to his text-driven approach to language learning. This approach is not to be confused with a text-based approach, as Tomlinson’s approach uses an affectively and cognitively engaging text to drive communicative tasks for language practice. Tomlinson explains that readiness activities invite students to connect personal experiences to the experience they will then have with language through text. The response tasks then allow students to process what has been experienced and respond using relevant language. Extension tasks may focus on important linguistic, pragmatic, or cultural aspects of the text and then revising, expanding, or further personalizing the first response task to incorporate what has been learned. Modeling this process with my students allows me to demonstrate this meaningful instructional approach of engaging learners with texts and communicative tasks, but also utilize a variety of classroom procedures and incorporate relevant and diverse classroom materials, all within a welcoming and inclusive classroom environment.
There are three children’s books with which I commonly model the text-driven approach. I will detail one example here, and the other two can be found here: Example of the Text-Driven Approach. I have used these books with various ages over the years, and I’ve never found an age group that didn’t enjoy being read to, even when it’s a book written for young learners.
The Name Jar
I usually introduce the text-driven approach to my students through The Name Jar. In it, Yangsook Choi tells the story of a young Korean student who, afraid that classmates won’t be able to say her Korean name, decides to choose an English name instead. As her classmates make suggestions and put them in a jar on her desk, she goes on a journey of self-discovery to remember that her name and culture are essential parts of who she is.
Readiness Activity: Before reading The Name Jar, I ask students to recall a time that their name was forgotten, misspelled, mispronounced, or mistaken by someone. They can also recall a time when someone remembered their name that may have been surprising or meaningful. They write down words or draw pictures of that experience and their associated feelings. Then, as a class, we make a list of those feelings.
Experiential Activity: As I read the story aloud to the students, I encourage them to note anytime the main character uses those words or expresses those same feelings.
Intake Response Activity: After the story is finished, students compare the feelings and words they heard. And, as a class, we share out what we heard, read, and experienced, and add any new feeling, words, or emotions to our list.
Developmental Activity: We then revisit the part of the story in which the main character, Unhei, received a letter from her grandmother. I read the letter aloud to the students again and ask them to write a letter to Unhei to tell her about their own experiences with their names being remembered, forgotten, or mistaken.
Input Response Activity: Students then read their letters aloud to a partner. As a class, we review the parts of a letter. We look for those parts in the letter from the story and identify the features that should be included in their own letters.
Developmental Activity 2: Students then revise their letters to include the important parts discussed as a class. Students are encouraged to include an appropriate greeting, an introductory paragraph or sentence, a paragraph explaining their experiences with their own name, a paragraph or sentence to encourage Unhei or thank her for her example, and lastly, a salutation and signature. Extensions may include reading the letter for a small group or class, displaying the letters in the classroom, or writing additional letters to parents or guardians to thank them for the name they received.
In this example, the instructional approach is clearly modeled, but the value of the tasks does not end there. Students are given opportunities to connect to classmates on a personal level, engage with language and text on an emotional level, and develop empathy and understanding for others as they take on the role of language learner. Much like the Master Teacher connected, engaged, and gained understanding about us in his incarnational experience, He is our example as a teacher but also as one who was willing to humble Himself to take on our role. We learn from models because they show us what we’re supposed to do, but these experiences also allow current and future educators to humble themselves as learners, just like the Master Teacher did.
 Brian Tomlinson, “Developing Principled Frameworks for Materials Development,” in Developing Materials for Language Teaching (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 88-106.
 Brian Tomlinson, “Text-Driven Approaches to Task-Based Language Teaching,” Folio 18, no. 2 (2018): 5-7.
 Tomlinson, “Developing Principled Frameworks for Materials Development.”
 Yangsook Choi, The Name Jar (New York: Dragonfly Books, 2001).
- Locate multicultural children’s books that could provide additional perspective and representation while also providing engaging texts that could be used with language learners or to model instructional practices for current and future educators.
- Explore the text-driven approach from Brian Tomlinson and apply it to a story, poem, or song lyrics in a future lesson.
- Choose one of the gospels to read, paying special attention to the Master Teacher’s modeling. Identify aspects of your own teaching that could be supplemented or adapted by modeling.
What’s your perspective?
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
- In what ways do you currently model or provide an example for your students? What instructional value do you find in modeling?
- What are some non-instructional items (values, character traits, fruits of the Spirit, etc.) that you intentionally model for students? What does that modeling look like?
- How do you currently use texts or stories to engage your students in language learning?
Shoshannah Hernandez serves as the Institute for TESOL Studies Director and Assistant Professor of Education at Huntington University in Huntington, IN. While preparing to be a math teacher, Shoshannah found herself spending a summer in China training English teachers, and her life was forever changed. After living and teaching in China for several years, she has traveled to and taught in various places around the globe. Teacher education and development is her passion, and she’s able to focus on that in her current role at HU while living in Huntington with her husband, Mauricio.