Nexus: A Journal for Teachers in Development
Extending ESL Training to Content-Area Teachers: Project MORE
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By Boyd Davis and Lisa Russell-Pinson

The influx of English language learners (ELLs) into public school systems across the country, combined with the shortage of support for English as a second language (ESL) classes, has created challenges for U.S. primary and secondary education (Villegas and Lucas, 2002; cf. Rubenstein-Avila, 2003).  Particularly in school systems across the Southeastern U.S., the enrollment of large numbers of language-minority populations over the past decade continues to overwhelm content-area teachers and administrators.  Foundations and federal agencies are well aware of the challenge. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Education funded Project MORE, an initiative at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNC-Charlotte). Project MORE is designed to help content-area teachers better understand and address the language, educational and cultural needs of ESL students mainstreamed into their classes.  The project ran from 2001-2005; it created a web-based resource to support a multi-pronged approach for training and outreach. Training initiatives included:

  • Providing sustained mentoring to practicing ESL teachers to support their delivery of training to content-area colleagues;
  • Conducting case studies of content-area teachers’ attitudes towards, and instructional practices with, their ESL students;
  • Partnering with university-level instructors in several disciplines in order to infuse their teacher-preparation courses with a range of materials and techniques for supporting instruction of ESL students; 
  • Sponsoring content-area and ESL teachers in the creation of classroom materials for use with ELLs;
  • Delivering ESL-based professional development in-services for teachers from a variety of content areas.

This article focuses on a year’s delivery of in-services keyed to Project MORE resources.  

Rationale for Designing ESL In-Services for Content-Area Teachers

North Carolina licensure for content-area public school teachers does not require any coursework or practical experience in understanding the needs of ELLs, despite exponential growth in the numbers of school-aged ELLs in the state. Consequently, content-area teachers find their frustration mounting along with the increasing numbers of ELL students in their classes. Many ELLs are unprepared for the language demands of content-area instruction.  In order to help content-area teachers better understand and assist their ELL students, we designed a year of in-services to aid teachers in further developing their technology skills while they were learning ways to recognize and address the needs of their ELL students. Using technology to present materials on linguistic, educational and cultural diversity, with a 1-hour license-renewal technology credit upon successful completion of the in-service, became one way that we attracted a range of teachers across disciplines and grade-levels.

The Training: Participants, Aims, Approaches

The training was primarily implemented by three faculty at UNC-Charlotte.  Boyd Davis, Principal Investigator of Project MORE, is a professor in Applied Linguistics with long experience in teacher training; John Gretes, Professor in the College of Education, served as the Design and Technology Consultant for the project; Lisa Russell-Pinson, postdoctoral fellow in Applied Linguistics and instructor in the TESL Program, was Project Manager for the grant. Others at the university and in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) gave valuable input on how ESL in-services could best attract and offer opportunities for professional growth to content-area teachers.  We designed a day-long in-service as a series of technology-supported activities related to discipline-specific content and language. Our technology emphasis allowed us to target content-area teachers needing technology credits, while remaining available to all teachers and administrators throughout CMS.   

The day-long training was offered twice at UNC-Charlotte, a semester apart, to 24 teachers each time.  Training incorporated a range of technology-related skills.  Teachers began by reviewing and discussing online materials on the most frequent cultural backgrounds of ESL students enrolled in CMS. Next, teachers practiced with computer-based tools such as concordancers and corpora to examine vocabulary and grammatical structures prominent in the teachers’ disciplines, and identified new ways to instruct this language-based material to their students. The post-workshop culminating activity, which the teachers had one month to complete, was to develop an original instructional activity linked to the state-mandated curriculum for their content area. The activity had to draw upon the techniques and resources covered during the in-service, including a corpus of spoken language material, the Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection (CNCC) hosted by New South Voices.  The corpus includes more than 500 oral narratives, interviews and conversations and represents first- and second-language speakers from greater Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.  We chose to use the CNCC narratives as resource materials for ELLs for these reasons:  Not only can oral language be used to promote cultural understanding, student retention and literacy for new language learners and low-achieving students (Fenner, 2003; Fine, 1987; Heath, 1982; Piper, 2003; Saracho, 1993) but also, mastery of speech is seen as crucial to language development and can affect literacy (Hadaway, Vardell and Young, 2002).  In addition, the instructional effectiveness of using materials designed to draw on students’ cultures, languages and experiences has been well noted (cf. Freeman and Freeman, 2003; Gambrell, Morrow and Pennington, 2002).


Participants completed anonymous evaluations of resources and of training both during and after the in-services. A few teachers commented that they were initially somewhat overwhelmed with the amount and kind of technology applications presented in the in-service; this was unsurprising, given that a number of the participants reported having no regular access to computers.  However, most feedback centered on how useful the in-services were for practicing web-based materials and applications, as well as generating ideas that teachers could implement in their classroom; for example, when asked about the best parts of the in-service, the teachers’ remarks included:

  • “practical, interesting and hands-on” 
  • “I enjoyed learning new ways to use applications”
  • “using concordances and corpora…these are tools that I will be able to use in a myriad of ways”
  • “[Materials are] authentic”
  • “hands-on activities, we actually went to websites and accessed information”
  • “effective teaching strategies, activities and web communication”
  • “The [corpus] materials provide a different perspective of events.”

In addition, participants uniformly remarked how the workshop activities helped them to better recognize and respond to the needs of their students by creating subject-specific classroom materials and activities of their own. The teacher-created activities and materials included: constructing a classroom “word wall” keyed to collocations in science; using materials from corpora with multicultural speakers to deepen students’ understanding of world events; developing social studies PowerPoint “booklets” on different countries; and creating cartoons depicting new understandings of language arts vocabulary and collocates (Davis and Russell-Pinson, 2004; 2007).


We feel that our technology-based ESL in-services succeeded.  Teacher-created activities such as Tarra Ellis’s “Open Sesame” (see slide 16) soon became showcased at conferences and good additions to our collection of exemplar activities for content-area teacher training. Teachers tell us that they continue to use our online oral sampler of different varieties of (international/national) English, and our thematic galleries; in 2007, a new group of teachers began adapting selected resources for mainstream learners with reading or writing problems. Since all the materials and resources are web-hosted and web-deliverable, they continue to have impact, and we hope readers will devise new uses.


Davis, B. and Russell-Pinson, L. (2007).  One corpus, two contexts: Intersections of content-area teacher training and medical education.  In E. Fitzpatrick (Ed.), Corpus Linguistics Beyond the Word: Corpus research from phrase to discourse.  Amsterdam:  Rodopi.

Davis, B. and Russell-Pinson, L. (2004).  Corpora and concordancing for K-12 Teachers:  Project MORE.  In U. Connor and T. Upton (Eds.), Applied corpus linguistics: A multidimensional perspective.  Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Fenner, D.S.  (2003).  Making English literacy instruction meaningful for English language learners.  ERIC/CLL News Bulletin, 26 (3): 6-8.

Fine, M.  (1987).  Silencing in public schools.  In B.M. Power and R.S. Hubbard (Eds.), Language Development: A reader for teachers.  (2002).  Upper Saddle River, N.J.:  Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Freeman, Y. and Freeman, D.  (2003).  Struggling English language learners: Keys for academic success.  TESOL Journal, 12 (3): 5-10.

Gambrell, L.B., Morrow, L.M. and Pennington, C. (2002).  Early childhood and elementary literature-based instruction: current perspectives.  Reading Online (2). Available at

Hadaway, N.L., Vardell, S.M. and Young, T.A.  (2002).  Literature-based instruction with English language learners K-12.  Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Heath, S.B.  (1982).  A lot of talk about nothing.  In B.M. Power and R.S. Hubbard (Eds.), Language development: A reader for teachers.  (2002).  Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Piper, T.  (2003).  Language and learning: The home and school years, Third Edition.  Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Rubinstein-Avila, E.  (2003).  Conversing with Miguel: An adolescent English language learner struggling with later literacy development. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47: 290-302.

Saracho, O.  (1993).  Literacy development: The whole language approach.  In O.N. Saracho and B. Spodek (Eds.), Language and Literacy in Early Childhood Education.  New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press.

Villegas, A.M. and Lucas, T.  (2002).  Educating culturally responsive teachers: A coherent approach.  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Biographical Statements

Boyd Davis studies language use in socio-historical contexts; she develops digital corpora and portals to conversation and narrative, which support projects on training and materials, most recently in medical and nursing English.  <>

Since completing her postdoctoral fellowship at UNC-Charlotte, Lisa Russell-Pinson has founded Linguistica Consulting, located at, which provides expertise in ESL/EFL materials preparation, curriculum development, assessment and teacher training.

Volume 10, Issue 1, November 2007

                                            NEXUS   ISSN 1521-1894
                                            Copyright 2007