Strategy: Code-switching

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Code-switching is the practice of shifting between two languages or varieties of language in verbal or written communication. Students may speak in two languages (e.g., English and Spanish), dialects (e.g., Standard English, African American English Vernacular, Appalachian Dialect) or alternate between formal and informal communication styles within one conversation. Historically, dialects of marginalized groups have been devalued; however, embracing and celebrating code-switching allows all students to feel comfortable and accepted in the classroom. Teachers who value code-switching do not correct students when they use informal language or slang and do not penalize students for written language that does not comply with the rules of Standard English. Instead, teachers use different methods to ensure that students understand both formal and informal language and know the settings and circumstances in which informal communication is more productive.
It is important for students to be able to use the language or dialect spoken at home or in their community and to be able to use Standard English in professional settings. It is equally important for teachers to understand and value students’ abilities to alternate between or mix “home speech” with Standard English and to acknowledge that the “standard” was created by members of the dominant culture. Teachers can foster the development of necessary Standard English while also valuing and allowing students to code-switch in the classroom.
How Code-switching Connects to CARES
Effective communication is not just related to the words that we say, but also our tone of voice and body language. While reflecting on our own communications with students is key, it is also imperative to recognize the distinct interactive styles of students from diverse backgrounds and respond to these differences with civility, respect, and high expectations. When students code-switch, teachers who plan in advance about how to effectively communicate that they value code-switching and that there are appropriate contexts for different communication styles, will be prepared for these sometimes difficult conversations. Students may also open up more and respond positively when they feel their home language or dialect and culture are valued at school, thus deepening authentic teacher-student relationships. If students are constantly asked to only use the dialect of the dominant culture in their school and classroom rather than encouraged to use their unique and personal dialects used at home and in their communities, they may infer that what they bring with them as a deep part of their personal identity is not good enough. If students constantly feel that their authentic self is not good enough, they will become less engaged and disassociated from the school and classroom community.
Here are some key elements to effectively understanding code-switching:
1) Anyone who speaks a language speaks a dialect of that language (Wheeler, 2019). A South Philadelphian saying “yous” or a Southerner saying “y’all” instead of “you all” are both examples of consistently followed speaking patterns in different regions of the United States. Just as “yous” and “y’all” are acceptable in some contexts, non-Standard English from historically marginalized groups is acceptable and appropriate in many contexts.
2) Just like English, or any other language, dialects also follow consistent linguistic patterns. Understanding these patterns can help you teach students patterns of Standard English so that they have a “home language” toolbox and toolbox of Standard English skills to use when necessary.
3) When students are explicitly taught to understand the concept of code-switching and to begin comparing and contrasting language patterns in their own writing and in the work of others, academic achievement increases significantly (Fogel & Ehri, 2000; Taylor, 1991; Wheeler & Swords, 2004 & 2010).

How To

How to Incorporate Code-switching Into the Classroom
  • Reflect on your own personal beliefs and experiences related to the use of Standard English, other languages, and dialects. Determine if you need to discuss your thoughts or any biases with a trusted colleague or your Double Check coach.
  • Notice when students are code-switching in your classroom. Make note of some of the most common phrases that you hear them use.
  • If it is authentic to you and appropriate, consider using code-switching during informal conversations with students to build rapport. For example, some students might say, “My bad,” instead of, “I’m sorry,” or, “You being extra,” instead of, “You are being dramatic,” and a teacher might choose to use these phrases as well.
  • Correcting students when they code-switch can damage the student-teacher relationship. It can be more effective to talk to students about when language is more productive and in what contexts (Wheeler & Swords, 2010).
  • When grading students, consider not penalizing them when they use do not use Standard English, but instead using a contrastive analysis approach to help students compare their “home language” to Standard English. Strategy Tool #1 will help you understand how to use contrastive analysis in your classroom.
  • You can plan lessons using a literary text that incorporates different varieties of language. It may be easier or more comfortable for you to use examples from the book to illustrate code-switching before using specific examples from students in your classroom. See below for a list of texts that you could use.

Brown, M., & Palacios, S. (2011). Marisol McDonald doesn’t match/Marisol McDonald no combina. New York, NY: Children’s Book Press.

Cisneros, S. (1984). The house on Mango Street. New York, NY: Bloomsbury. Compton, J., & Compton, L. (1994).

Ashpet: An Appalachian tale. New York, NY: Holiday House. Flournoy, V., & Pinkney, J. (1985). The Patchwork Quilt. New York, NY: Dial.

Greenfield, E., & Gilchrist, J. S. (1993). William and the good old days. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Herron, C., & Cepeda, J. (1998). Nappy hair. New York, NY: Dragonfly Books.

Lowell, S., & Manning, J. (2001). Cindy Ellen: A wild Western Cinderella. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

McKissack, P., & Isadora, R. (1986). Flossie and the fox. New York, NY: Scholastic.

McKissack, P., & Pinkney, J. (1988). Mirandy and Brother Wind. New York, NY: Knopf.

McKissack, P., & Pinkney, J. (1989). Nettie Jo’s friends. New York, NY: Knopf.

Polacco, P. (1994). Pink and Say. New York, NY: Philomel.

Rawls, W. (1961). Where the red fern grows. New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books.

Schachner, J. (2005). Skippyjon Jones. New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books.

Swados, E. & Cepeda, J. (2002). Hey you! C’mere! A poetry slam. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine.

Williams, S. A., & Byard, C. (1992). Working cotton. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.


Retrieved from:

Strategy Tool
Code-switching - Strategy Tool
Use the Contrastive Analysis strategy tool to learn how to teach students about code-switching.


Code-switching - Reflection
Take a moment to make sure your plan is going to work.

Goal Setting

Code-switching - Goal Setting
Use the following form to set your code-switching goals.

References to Other Relevant Resources:

Wheeler, R. S. (2019). Attitude change is not enough: Disrupting deficit grading practices to disrupt dialect prejudice. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America4(1), 10-1.


Concentration Areas: Connection to the Curriculum; Authentic Relationships; Reflective Thinking About Cultural, Racial/Ethnic, and Class Differences; Effective Communication; Sensitivity to Students’ Culture

What is CARES?

CARES is an acronym for the five domains that research has found to be successful in engaging students of culturally diverse backgrounds at school. Each letter refers to a significant element of interaction within the classroom. Applying all five domains of CARES works because it promotes a better understanding of students and ourselves by using strategies that deepen those relationships every day.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All five CARES domains, together with the Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, support one another and need to be applied in the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

Research has shown that each of the five CARES domains has a significant impact on students and their behavior when used regularly and over time. Students who are known and understood by their teachers as individuals in the classroom report deeper connections academically and to their school. When teachers understand their own cultural heritage, they better understand the differences between themselves and their students and report higher levels of mutual respect with students. This also helps teachers to recognize the similarities they share with their students as well as recognize ways in which they are different. Students are more connected and engaged in classrooms where teachers welcome exploration; invite, acknowledge, and celebrate cultural differences; make relevant connections to the curriculum; listen attentively to understand how each student is approaching the concepts; and use humor and other effective communication tools.

CARES Overview

Greeting Students at the Door

Using Journals to Build Relationships

Identifying Reinforcers for the Classroom

Using Social and Emotional Coaching

Using Behavior-specific Praise

Using Active Supervision

Using Group Contingencies

Using Precorrection

Teaching Behavior Expectations

Providing Academic Feedback

Increasing Opportunities to Respond

Developing and Using Clear Academic Objectives

Posting and Using a Schedule

Coaching Process – Menu of Options

Coaching Process – Providing Feedback

Coaching Process – Introduction and Overview

Observation Practice 4

Observation Practice 3

Observation Practice 2

Observation Practice 1

Using an Attention Signal

Teaching Classroom Routines

Physical Classroom Structure

Values Card Sort – Example

Card Sort Introduction

Coaching – Interview Guide

Opening the Meeting

Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules

Mrs. James

Miss Faber

Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate

Concentration Areas: Smooth Transitions, Pacing of Instruction, Student Engagement, Clear Expectations, Use of Praise, Use of Reprimands, Level of Disruptive Behavior

What is Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate?

Positive Behavior Supports refers to the proactive ways that teachers work with their students, as well as the ways that teachers respond to challenging situations with students. The focus is on recognizing and affirming student strengths rather than punishing them or taking something away from them. A positive approach to the classroom will promote a classroom climate that is welcoming to all students and is a place where students want to engage with the teacher, each other, and the curriculum. All individuals, students and teachers, and the interactions between and amongst all classroom members play a role in the climate.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, together with the CARES domains, support one another and need to be applied to the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

In a classroom climate that is positive and welcoming to all members, the classroom becomes a safe place where culture and diversity can be openly discussed. A supportive climate is one that promotes student engagement and success. Students feel supported and motivated to be an active member of the classroom community. The teacher taking a positive and proactive approach creates a climate of care and respect and promotes desired student behaviors. This classroom is also a place that provides consistency to students, which is especially important for students who may experience stress and uncertainty outside of the school building. Teachers who have positive and proactive classrooms report fewer disruptive behaviors from their students, an increase in student achievement, and better overall perceptions of school climate.

Double Check Classroom Check-Up Overview