Guide Questions for 4X4 Thematic Planning

This module serves as a guide for planning integrated thematic units using the 4X4 Model (Mora, 2006),

Purpose of 4X4 Thematic Planning

The purpose of the 4X4 thematic planning is to provide teachers with the steps and procedures for designing and teaching an integrated thematic unit based on content-area standards and English Language Development standards required in California schools. Teachers may use a state-adopted textbook for social studies or science or a children’s literature book as the basis for the theme. Also see the Common Core Standards for reading/language arts. Biliteracy teachers who are planning language arts instruction in Spanish can consult the Common Core en Español for planning instruction in Spanish literacy in dual language programs.

The 4X4 planning model provides a framework that accommodates the needs and abilities of students with various levels of language proficiency. This unit design and lesson planning process is a systematic way of planning for English Language Development (ELD) or Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) for English language learners.

In designing a 4X4 ELD/SDAIE thematic unit, teachers may use the questions, guidelines and structure presented below. These are provided to stimulate your thinking and planning. In other words, they are a form of guided practice to help teachers synthesize and tailor to meet the needs of your unit planning process.

Theme selection and goals

1.    Who are the students for whom the thematic unit is planned in terms of language and cultural characteristics?

2.    Why have I chosen this theme? How does the theme fit into the grade level state curriculum framework?

3.    What important principles and concepts will my students retain from this unit?

4.    How will I structure my classroom to carry out the activities?

Staging the concepts

1.    How will the students’ interest and motivation to learn the topic be awakened?

2.    What do the students already know about the topic?

3.    What are the students interested in learning about the topic?

4.    How does what the students know and want to learn, match with what is covered in the textbook or storybook?

5.    What kind of graphic organizers, films or visuals will I use to discover what students know and want to learn? Examples are KWL procedures, a film and discussion, graphic organizers, etc.

6.    What few concepts do I as a teacher believe are the most useful and important for my students to learn from this unit of the text or literature book in terms of: a) their ability to continue on in the text or language arts sequence with a good foundation? b) ELL students’ general knowledge of the content area (i.e. in history: How development occurs; how society changes; how the economics of a region shape history, etc.)?


1.    How will I have students at different levels of language proficiency practice using this vocabulary with the appropriate oral or written focus in a meaningful way? How do I teach this vocabulary in context without merely assigning them dictionary work to look up isolated definitions?

2.    What level of linguistic and conceptual complexity can my students handle successfully, with a challenge but without becoming frustrated?

3.    What vocabulary will I teach because it is most important to understanding the content and/or useful for enriching students’ conceptual level?

Reading Selection

1.    What elements of the content-area or literature text will be easy for my limited English proficient students to understand?  What elements will be difficult?

2.    What paragraph from the content-area lessons in the textbook or from the storybook can I select to simplify by paraphrasing to focus on vocabulary and concept learning without “overloading” my students with difficulty in reading?

3.    What types of reading activities will I use to reduce the difficulty of the reading text and ensure comprehension of the language and content? (For example, Read-A-Rounds, cooperative groups with comprehension questions, schematic mapping.)

Guided Practice

1.    How will I organize the new concepts I have selected to teach and guide students step by step through this organizational schema?

2.    What configuration of individual or group activities will I use to have them practice the concepts and manipulate the language of the lesson?

3.    What reading and writing activities will the students participate in, with the teacher, with each other, and/or on their own?


1.    What product or display will demonstrate to me that students have learned the concepts and vocabulary to the best of their ability?

2.    How will I determine what I need to re-teach or review with some students and which students can go on to more complex levels of understanding of the concepts or vocabulary? (Examples:  tests, pre- and post- writing samples, reports, etc.)

3.    How will I reward or recognize students’ efforts to learn and their progress in the unit in a way that will build their confidence and self-esteem?

4.    Has the teacher applied specific criteria for language use and/or literacy skills such as a checklist for academic language use and/or a writing rubric such as the CELDT rubric to samples of students’ work?

Daily Lesson Plans (ELD & SDAIE)

1.    What will the teacher do and what will the students do during each day of the time span allotted to cover the theme in a logically related sequence of lessons?

2.    Have I utilized a variety of L2 teaching strategies geared toward students’ level of language proficiency to ensure mastery of linguistic structures and vocabulary?

3.    What pace is of presentation, activities and concept development is reasonable to expect from LEP students?

4.    How can I best organize a logical, coherent and motivating sequence of content and activities culminating in students being prepared for the next stage of learning of the theme and the text or book I have selected?

5.    Have I included activities that address all the diversity of learning styles and cultures in my classroom through different sensory modalities?


Mora, J.K. (2006). Differentiating instruction for English Learners: The four-by-four model. In T.A. Young & N. L. Hadaway (Eds.). Supporting the literacy development of English Learners: Increasing success in all classrooms (pp. 24-40). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.