A Guide to using Academic Language Mini-Lessons and Exam Preparation to Elevate Instruction for Multilingual Learners in Secondary Career and Technical Education

Part 4 of ​​​​​Supporting Multilingual Learners’ Participation in Secondary Career and Technical Education Programs Series

Part one of this series outlined the urgency around supporting Multilingual Learners (MLs) enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. You may be familiar with the terms English Language Learner (ELL) or English Learner (EL). ML is a more inclusive, assets-based term to represent all students whose parents or guardians report speaking one or more language(s) other than or in addition to English at home¹. Part two of the series included an overview of embedding scaffolds into CTE curriculum and instruction. And in part three, I introduced our first three strategy recommendations for embedding targeted scaffolds into CTE curricula and instruction. These strategy recommendations included peer learning opportunities, explicit vocabulary instruction, and writing support. In this final article, I will introduce our final two strategy recommendations, accompanied by authentic CTE program examples.

Include Academic Language Mini-Lessons When Appropriate

Some MLs may need support producing and processing English language structures that are unfamiliar to them. Language mini-lessons provide an opportunity to teach unfamiliar language structures or functions, such as the language of analyzing, comparing, or justifying, as needed throughout a unit.

A language mini-lesson is a brief lesson that can take place with the whole class or a small group. The teacher identifies topics for a language mini-lesson based on the language demands of a CTE lesson or unit, as well as through the use of formative assessments and classroom observations. The lesson should be brief, connecting the language to be taught to the content of the course. In other words, the students should use the language in context and not in isolation. Teachers can begin the mini-lesson by introducing the language structure or function and modeling its use in context. When modeling, the teacher should consider providing visual supports as needed to support comprehension. Students can also be given the opportunity to analyze language and determine patterns they notice in a text.

An example of a language mini-lesson is to have students practice using new language structures in non-academic ways before asking to use them in more academic ways connected to the content of the classroom. For instance, in a cosmetology course, prior to writing an explanatory essay on scalp care, students could practice writing an explanation of one of their daily activities. In both activities, students are using language to explain. After practicing using language to explain their daily activities, students use similar language structures to explain scalp care in their essays. Another example of a language mini-lesson would be for students to collaboratively read a model essay and deconstruct the essay to identify patterns in the language and structure of the essay prior to composing an essay themselves.  

Construction Example

In a Construction course, the teacher analyzed the language demands of an upcoming unit by asking himself, “What are students expected to do with language?” Throughout the unit, students would need to use cause-and-effect language to describe various construction safety procedures. In order to prepare MLs to engage with the safety content, the teacher determined that some students would need additional support producing the language of cause-and-effect (e.g., if…, then…; as a result, …). To provide this support, the teacher decided to pull a targeted small group of MLs to teach a mini-lesson using the language of cause-and-effect. First, the teacher introduces various cause-and-effect language structures using everyday examples (e.g., As a result of staying up late playing video games, I ….).  Then, students practice using the structures in non-academic ways in both speaking and writing. Next, the teacher provides examples of cause-and-effect structures related to construction safety issues (Figure 1). Finally, students applied their learning to construction safety content by viewing images of construction safety issues and working in pairs to produce cause-and-effect sentences related to the images.

Figure 1. Construction Safety Academic Language Mini-Lesson

CTE for MLs-English Learners

Prepare for Certification Exams Using Multiple Modalities

For many CTE programs, students must take and pass industry certification exams in order to work in their field of study upon graduation. While requirements vary by industry and state, it is important to support MLs in preparing for industry certification exams by providing students with time to practice and engage with the language embedded in the exam as well as the exam structure. To do this, the CTE and English Language Development (ELD) teachers can review exam materials to analyze the language demands of the test and ask themselves these questions:

•  What technical language must students know to be successful on the exam?

•  Which language structures must students be familiar with to be successful on the exam?

For instance, some multiple-choice exam questions have a negative construction, which can be challenging for MLs to understand without explicit instruction. Figure 2 provides an example of an exam question with a negative construction. After determining the language demands of the exam, the teachers should provide students with instruction on key vocabulary and language structures as well as practice with the types of questions they will encounter on the exam. Question types often include practical scenarios and multiple-choice questions. The questions and review materials for exam preparation should mirror areas covered by the certification exam, go beyond the scope of multiple-choice review, and also ask students to apply their content knowledge in multiple modalities (i.e., listening, speaking, reading, and writing). An effective way for educators to help students practice applying their knowledge is to develop collaborative group activities in which students work together to discuss and analyze complex concepts. Students may be confused if they see content presented in an unfamiliar way or if synonyms are used, so these types of review activities can help them explore a topic from different viewpoints.

Exam Question Example

Figure 2. Example of an exam question with a negative construction (all except).²

CTE for MLs exam prep example-English Learners
Early Childhood Example

To prepare for the state licensing exam, students in an Early Childhood Education class engage in various exam preparation activities. One activity is called Word Pairs (Figure 2). In this activity, students work in pairs to look at two technical vocabulary words and discuss the definitions, how the terms are used in practice, and any additional information they know about them. Then, students evaluate the two words to determine if they are synonyms, antonyms, related, or unrelated. Sentence frames and stems are provided as a support for MLs. This activity pushes students’ past memorization of key terms and instead asks them to think deeply about the meaning and application of the words. As an additional support, students are provided with an answer key to check their responses.

Figure 3. Early Childhood Word Pairs Activity

Culinary Arts Example

In a Culinary Arts course, students use another activity called Task Cards (Figure 3) to prepare for their licensing exam. For this activity, students work in pairs or groups of 3 with a stack of task cards and a recording sheet. The task cards include various industry exam question types, including multiple-choice, open-ended, and matching exercises. Cards also include visuals and bolded words as additional scaffolds for MLs. One student selects a card from the pile and reads it aloud. The group discusses potential responses, describing why they believe their answer is correct. After achieving consensus on the response, students record the team’s final answer on the recording sheet. The students are provided with an answer sheet as additional support. Students continue working through as many cards as possible in the time allotted. 

Figure 4: Culinary Arts Task Card Activity³

Final Thoughts

The April 2022 Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) infographic ⁴ on preparing MLs for postsecondary education and careers through CTE highlights the importance of supporting schools and teachers in meeting the needs of MLs enrolled in CTE courses. Providing appropriate scaffolds and supports for students is essential for leveraging the benefits of CTE programs for MLs. I’ve recommended embedding targeted scaffolds into CTE curricula and instruction through peer learning, vocabulary development, writing support, academic language mini-lessons, and exam preparation. Please let us know how you’re supporting MLs within the CTE programs in your districts. I’d love to hear from you on this important topic! 

Links to additional resources for supporting MLs in CTE programs are on our Supporting MLs in Secondary CTE Programs Padlet.


¹ Snyder, S., Staehr Fenner, D., Smith, S., & Singh, J. (2023, March). Terminology to describe multilingual learners: labels and their implications. SupportEd.

² ASE A4 Certification Practice Test. ASE A4 Steering and Suspension Test 12 – (n.d.).

³ NOTCI Culinary Prep Cook Sample Study Guide

⁴ Office of the English Language Acquisition, U.S. Department of Education. (2022). Career and Technical Education: Preparing K-12 Multilingual Learners for Postsecondary Education and Careers.

About SupportEd

SupportEd is a woman-owned business based in Fairfax, Virginia providing Multilingual Learner (ML) professional development, personalized coaching, technical assistance, and resources for educators across the United States and Canada. Founded in 2011 by Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, four-time best-selling author and ML expert, SupportEd builds authentic partner relationships and meticulously crafts customized solutions to fit every partner’s strengths and goals. SupportEd equips teachers and administrators with the practical tools and strategies necessary to champion MLs’ success within and beyond the classroom. Visit or call (202) 660-1444 to learn more.

Leave A Comment