Anne Smith, Ed.D.

In this era of high stakes testing and school accountability grades, there is increased pressure on teachers to ensure lessons can be directly connected to standards. Problem-Based Enhanced Language Learning (PBELL) begins with an authentic problem. That problem can come from a topic that is relevant to you and your students, or from your instructional standards. Starting with standards is beneficial to ensure students acquire academic skills to the level of mastery over the course of the school year.

There are several benefits when you begin with standards to develop PBELL lessons. One benefit is planning authentic conversations surrounding the content. Students are expected to practice the use of academic language to find solutions to meaningful problems. You are also able to focus on intentionally teaching the discourse or academic language to acquire knowledge. Starting with standards gives you flexibility to develop a meaningful problem aligned with the standards you would like to specifically address.

Where do I begin?

When planning for a standard’s-driven PBELL experience, you have the opportunity to incorporate multiple standards in a PBELL lesson or unit. To begin, look for standards you would typically address in the upcoming lesson or unit from a pacing or curriculum guide. Consider standards that you required to meet by the end of the year but may have struggled to incorporate so far. When I plan this way, I list all standards that might apply to a topic like weather and either add or subtract the standards that best apply the experience I am pondering. For example, if I am pondering a unit on Climate change I might list the standards below:

Climate Change-7-8 Grade Science

  • MS-ESS3-2 Earth and Human Activity Students who demonstrate understanding can: Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.
  • Integrated Language Standard(s) (reading, writing, speaking, listening):
  • 7.SL.4 - Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • 6.SL.1, 7.SL.1, 8.SL.1 - Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one‐on‐one, in groups, and teacher‐led) with diverse partners on grade topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly

These standards are applied to the topic of Climate Change and effectively address student interests, encourage students to develop questions on a meaningful topic, foster academic and authentic conversations, and provide opportunities for formative and summative assessment. By selecting standards prior to planning the PBELL, you meet two goals.

  1. Addressing standards necessary to the curriculum design
  2. Planning ahead for formative and summative assessments to determine if students meet the standards throughout the lesson.

As you plan and develop the PBELL lesson, you might add or subtract standards based on your specific experience or areas of interest. The beauty of starting with standards is that you are able to address multiple standards from potentially multiple content areas. Remember to consider listening, speaking, reading and writing in the PBELL experience.

If you choose to start with the standards, you will ensure you are addressing the needs of your students and preparing them to gain knowledge in a variety of content areas. Creating a standards-driven PBELL experience can be every bit as rewarding as starting with an interesting or relevant topic. With a little experience and practice, your standards-based PBELL lessons will be engaging and relevant and ensure students are prepared for any and all assessments.

For more information on planning a PBELL, connect with Anne Smith, iTeachELLs Instructional Coach at

For more information about Problem-Based Enhanced Language Learning please visit the iTeachELLs Resources page.