Stephanie Lund, Ed.D.

One of the most common questions we get about Problem-Based Enhanced Language Learning (PBELL) lessons is how long should they be?  There is no right answer to this question.  A PBELL can be as short as a single 60-minute lesson during a teacher’s math block or as long as a multi-week unit during a teacher’s 120-minute ELA and writing block.  It comes down to the language and content standards you want to cover.  The more standards you incorporate into your PBELL, the longer the experience.  Let’s look at an example break-down for a week-long PBELL broken into 60-minute lessons.

Monday: Introduce the Problem

Today is all about introducing the meaningful problem and getting students excited!  Introductory activities might include a book or video that gives an overview of the problem, a letter of concern from the principal, or even an on-sight field trip where students observe the problem live.  Students can start to ask questions about the problem and share some things they already know. PBELLs are an excellent opportunity embed speaking and listening skills.  Students will have the opportunity to have collaborative conversations throughout the experience.

Tuesday: Inquiry Part 1

Now it’s time to learn more about the problem!  Inquiry can take many forms but one of the most common is research.  The teacher can set up research stations around the room (i.e. book, movie, article, hands-on, and website).  Before the students start research, they may practice a skill like summarizing together as a class to prepare them for success in finding the key points.  In a PBELL, language skills should be explicitly taught and modeled to ensure all students experience success. During the stations, the teacher can then use a formative checklist to observe and evaluate student’s summarizing skills. Students can share their new learning with their peers and teacher. 

Wednesday: Inquiry Part 2

Inquiry often takes multiple days.  It is one of the most important parts of a PBELL because it allows students to become the experts and equips them with the knowledge they need to develop and share a solution.  On day 2 of inquiry you might see a group of students interview an expert, go on a field trip, or conduct a survey on campus.  By offering a real-world inquiry experience, students are more invested, have a better grasp of the problem, and are now better prepared to develop solutions.

Thursday: Solution Development

Now it’s time to develop a solution.  There’s no right answer in a PBELL, teachers encourage students to use what they have learned from their inquiry to develop a solution to the problem.  This is a great time for students to work collaboratively together.  The teacher might model or teach a lesson on how to elaborate on one another’s ideas and disagree appropriately. Students will then work in small groups to develop a solution to the problem and organize the facts they learned that led to this solution. 

Friday: Solution Sharing

On the final day of your PBELL, you bring it all together. The teacher will want to model and explicitly teach skills related to the solution sharing strategy, whether students share their solution through a PowerPoint, brochure, video, or formal letter.  For example, the teacher may teach students how to make eye contact and use short notes to orally share a PowerPoint to an audience.  Students will work with their group to share their solution, applying the new skills they have learned.  Whether your PBELL is a two-day experience or a two-week experience it should include a meaningful problem, opportunities for students to work together, inquiry into the problem, the development and sharing of a solution, and evaluation of content and language.

Connect with Stephanie Lund, iTeachELLs Instructional Coach at

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