WIDA Can Do Descriptors for Grades 9-12

Instructor: Bill Sands
The WIDA Can Do Descriptors for grades 9-12 contain several different reading, writing, listening, and speaking tasks that ELL students should be capable of handling. Keep reading for specific examples of these activities.

WIDA Can Do Descriptors: Grades 9-12

WIDA Can Do Descriptors set forth what is to be expected of English language learners. The descriptors accomplish this goal by providing a detailed list of classroom tasks and activities that students should be able to complete at each level. Rather than having descriptors for each grade, students are sorted into clusters, and students in high school fall into one single group.

To ensure accuracy and chart specific progress, the descriptors are organized into six proficiency levels. WIDA also provides examples of activities that focus on various domains of the English language: reading, speaking, writing, and listening.

Key Uses

The WIDA employs four unique Key Uses to help organize the descriptors. Each Key Use focuses on a specific facet of interpersonal communication, which are as follows:

  • Recount: This area measures a student's ability to relay content that has been learned in a lesson. Examples of this Key Use include providing a summary of a story or retelling an experience.
  • Explain: This Key Use requires students to demonstrate their grasp of the workings of a concept by explaining the 'how' and 'why' of a given topic. This can include describing what has occurred in an experiment and detailing a cause-and-effect relationship.
  • Argue: Students will need to express their own beliefs and provide evidence to support these claims.
  • Discuss: In addition to expressing their own beliefs, students will also need to compare these thoughts with those of their peers. This Key Use focuses on tasks such as group assignments and discussions.

WIDA Proficiency Levels for Grades 9-12

The Can Do Descriptors break down into six proficiency levels, ranging from Level 1 (Entering) to Level 6 (Reaching).


Students at the entry level are capable of completing simple tasks but little else. These students can answer simple yes-no questions about general knowledge topics, but they may need to use nonverbal gestures because they do not possess sufficient writing and speaking skills.


Students at this level can identify basic elements of a text, such as the who, when, where, etc. of a story and whether the story is fact or fiction. They can also use oral descriptions to identify images and are able to explain steps in a process.


At this stage, students should be able to start making connections between related topics and ideas. They can sort phrases and words into clusters based on common or unique traits, and they should also possess the speaking skills required to detail links between different objects.


Once students reach the expanding level, they have developed the ability to process complicated oral descriptions and use them to identify corresponding graphics such as images or charts. These students can also take in large blocks of information, condense it, and then provide a paraphrased description. They also know how to use evidence to support individual thoughts and opinions.


Students at the bridging level are capable of recognizing important literary devices in a story such as plot and theme. When completing math and science tasks, these students can comprehend complicated directions and multi-step processes.


At the most advanced level, students can expertly analyze a text and pinpoint causes for events in a story. They can also understand different literary devices used in writing, such as hyperboles and satire. In discussions and conversations, these students can use persuasive language to defend their arguments.

Resources for Teachers with ELL Students

If you're a teacher with ELL students, has a number of resources that can help you improve your classroom experience. This Resources for Teaching English Language Learners course contains plenty of unique and interesting ideas and use engaging tools such as video lessons to present the information in a convenient and entertaining format.

You can also use this Grammar Resources for ELL Students course to help your students brush up on their grammar skills, and this Teaching Reading to English Language Learners course is a great way to focus on your students' reading skills.

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