Academic Language Teaching Ideas for English Language Learners
Academic language is the language of school. Tier 2 vocabulary words that are found across different subject areas are components of academic language. For English language Learners it is particularly important to develop their academic language. For English Language Learners that are new to the country, it can take from seven to ten years for them to learn academic language. Johnson (2012) stats that “for ELL’s Academic language is a third language that they must learn.” For a student learning English the casual English they use in everyday communication functions almost as a separate language from the Academic Language they will need to succeed in school.
ELLs need specific instruction in academic language in order to succeed. This is most beneficial when it is done consistently and in small chunks. Here are some ideas for building your students academic language.
Expose Student to Academic Language Throughout the School Day and Year
Exposing students to Tier 2 vocabulary is important. For them to remember the words, they need to use them daily in their speaking and writing. Posters, sentence frames, questions and speaking/writing prompts are a great way to naturally give students practice using academic language.
Have Student Use Academic Language while speaking
Oral language development is an important component of language acquisition. As a part of this students should be taught to use Academic vocabulary in their conversations. While students are practicing academic vocabulary through oral language they are also building their background knowledge, critical thinking skills and vocabulary knowledge.
The books Academic Conversations and The K-3 Guide to Academic Conversations provide helpful strategies for setting up academic conversations in your classroom. The K-3 guide in particular has ideas that include visual posters and hand movements when introducing these conversations to students. Both books emphasize having students lead conversions, ask purposeful questions and to elaborate on answers.
Reaview the Meaning of Academic Vocabulary on Tests and Assignments
Students, especially ELLs may not know the meaning of academic vocabulary. When they come across these words in tests or on assignments some may simply skip over them. Sometimes they will be able to complete the assignment but they may also misunderstand the directions. Highlight these words when review directions. Tell students that they will see terms like Identify, Compare, Describe in different subject areas. Bringing these words to students attention helps them to focus on them in the future.
Learn Text Structures
There are four (or seven depending on how you look at them) types of text structures. When students are familiar with the way information is presented in each structure and common key words for each structure they will be able to more easily understand and analyze the information that they read in each category. Learning about text structures is an authentic way to use academic language in the context of reading and writing. The main text structures are:
- Cause and Effect or Problem/Solution
- Description or Explanation
- Sequencing or Time-Order
I have a set of posters, graphic organizers, and task cards to help students practice structural patterns.
The more that a student reads, the more vocabulary they are exposed to. This increases their ability to use context clues and make inferences about new situations. These skills make learning abstract words and concepts such as academic language much easier. Structured reading instruction is important, but so in independent reading of books that students chose. When students choose their own books they are more likely to be engaged and to read more.