Listen Up! The Tutorial Video in a Coding Lesson

Who? You!

Many of us would self describe as being a liason, advocate, or my favorite, school mom. There can be an invisible barrier between our language learners and monolingual student body and faculty. This is not an unfamiliar role. It is this very role, which is exciting! EL teachers are uniquely positioned to carve out a door to coding for our students.

I recently had the privilege of meeting such passionate educators in Prince George County in Maryland who are about to launch into a semester long class through Loyola University on integrating coding in English language learning. I’m also thrilled to present soon at the 2023 Virginia English Supervisor’s Association on Coding for ELs. The movement is beginning!

Hi! It’s you! You’re the solution, it’s you!


If you’re reading this and an ESL teacher, you are familiar with language acquisition supports because you regularly utilize them as you craft your lessons. What are some opportunities for language development in a coding lesson?

The list is just a start! What would you add?

Tutorial Videos

Today let’s dig in to tutorial videos. Before I start my students on a coding assignment, they watch an accompanying tutorial video.

I have found that tutorial videos for CS platforms like CS First for Google and do not assume background knowledge. Further, they are unparalleled in their step-by-step, explicit breakdown. They are created for those with no coding experience. This approach is unsurprising– computer scientists are computational thinkers who regularly communicate with machines whose algorithmic needs demand explicit, precise, perfect directions. Their slow, careful explanations are a boon for our students! Boom!

These tutorial videos are listening practice. These platforms often make their videos accessible in an alternative format. CS First for Google, for example, makes its videos downloadable. publishes its videos on YouTube. This provides opportunity for the EL teacher to embed comprehension questions in educational platforms. I link them in Edpuzzle or Nearpod.

The kinds of comprehension questions I embed teach my EL students the importance of context, multiple meanings of words, and difference between general vocabulary and technical vocabulary usage. Check out an example with my commentary HERE!

Some questions read:

The best synonym for “sprite” in computer science is______.

A. drink.

B. character.

Click the code tab and select the “Looks” menu. The word “menu” here means ______.

A. a list of appetizers, lunch, drinks, and dinner options.

B. a list of direction options that can be selected.

Blocks from the event menu tell the computer when to run code. This can be best described as:

A. cause & effect

B. explain & reexplain

Lesson Sequence- Unplugged to Plugged

How do I incorporate coding into my lessons? Is it a replacement? Is it an extension? It can be both- the field of computer science supports integration. Let’s look at this practically. Let’s look at lesson design.

We can take a lesson from the field of computer science with the lesson sequencing approach from unplugged to plugged.

An unplugged activity is just that– unplugged from a digital device. It is a real world application or problem that introduces and practices the concept later to be used in coding.

Stay real!

An unplugged activity is often what we would think of as a traditional EL language activity. For example, write directions to a place in the school or community. “Turn left,” “Move forward,” “Pass the library.”

A plugged activity is the digital application or problem to be solved in coding.

Now plug in!

For example, code a digital sequence that moves your sprite from one location to another. Also, “Move forward,” “Turn left,” etc.

Sound familiar? Maria Montessori talked about a similar instructional sequence for math. “Concrete -> Representational -> Abstract.” She’d have her students manipulate physical items before expecting them to write representations and then work equations.

See this in action!

Unplugged– Write directions to a place in school. In groups of 3, my students had to write specific directions to a place in the school. Their instructions would tell them where they needed to end up and some told them where they could NOT go. For example, “Start at room 207. Go to the clinic. Do NOT pass the library.” They had to write out each physical step. “Move forward.” “Move forward.” etc. Then when complete, they exchanged directions with another group and had to follow them. Upon arrival, they had to take a group selfie in the location. Successful algorithms, directions, would lead the group there, and ones that needed work would, well, need work.

Plugged– Write directions (code) for your robot to reach the finish line. Students select and sequence the appropriate blocks to help their robot reach its destination.

Their unplugged experience gave them vocabulary exposure, problem solving practice, and interaction to be confident as they approached coding! And, it was super fun! Great job guys!


Repeat, Repetition, & Back Again

When I first began teaching EL, I began in early childhood. My mentor EL teacher Ms. Deas, told me this is how you teach letters and sounds, present the same skill in a variety of presentations to create practice opportunities.

Practice. Repetition. Exposure. It is essential to language learning. But it is more than the numbing blur of flashcards.

A review of the research shows that it can take 6-20 exposures to learn a new word, but the question is in what context is the word being learned. Is it meaningful? Is it necessary? Is there a correlation to the L1?

This reminds me of a kind of potato I ate in Bolivia when I was there when I was 19. It was a staple to the people there, and I was eager to learn Spanish and I must have asked 20 times what was the name and I simply could not remember the name of this little, black, crunchy potato that I was served regularly. (It’s chuño!) My brain seemed to put a block on it, it got to the point where I wouldn’t ask because I was frustrated with myself and deeply embarrassed I could not remember this word. Even my shame couldn’t make me remember. But I remembered the potato!! Maybe I needed one more exposure.

Chuños. A freeze-dried potato traditional to the Quechua and Aymara communities of Bolivia and Peru.

Here comes in coding an algorithm.

Follow me here, non CS, language teachers. This is for us!! Coding is rich with repetition and opportunities to recognize repetitive patterns. When you give a robot directions, You have to be explicit and direct. And… repetitive.

Turn right.

Move forward.

Turn left.

Turn left.

Move forward.

Turn right.

Move forward.

Move forward.

Move forward.

Move forward.

Move forward.

Move forward.

Yes, repetitive. It gets annoying! But with this repetition, comes language learning. Our robot has safely arrived at its destination, and the language learner has had repeated meaningful interactions with how many move forwards?

A lot.

It’s purposeful, not a memorized vocabulary list. If your robot doesn’t arrive at its destination, you review the algorithm and add or subtract a directive. And further, the language learner also feels the drudgery of repetition and deduces how there’s gotta be a better way.

Instead of saying move forward move forward move forward move forward move forward move forward, couldn’t I say move forward x 6? Sounds like the language of math, kiddo. You’re becoming a computational thinker. We’ve moved forward.

Play with this “unplugged” listening and speaking, direction-giving activity by Edison. Look at p. 36-37 and then 77 for the game board.


Uchihara, T., Webb, S. & Yanagisawa, A. 2019. The Effects of Repetition on Incidental Vocabulary Learning: A Meta-Analysis of Correlational Studies. Language Learning, 69 (3): 559 – 599) Available online: