Academic Language Teaching Ideas for ELLs

Academic Language Teaching Ideas for ELLs

Academic Language Teaching Ideas for ELLs

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 who 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 students 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 student’s academic language.

Expose Students to Academic Vocabulary 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.

Academic vocabulary posters


Use Academic Vocabulary when 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.

Academic vocab task cards

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 elaborate on answers.

Review 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 skip over them. Sometimes, they can complete the assignment, but they may also misunderstand the directions. Highlight these words when reviewing directions. Tell students that they will see terms like Identify, Compare, and 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
  • Compare/Contrast
  • Description or Explanation
  • Sequencing or Time-Order

I have a set of posters, graphic organizers, and task cards to help students practice structural patterns.








Encourage students to read.  This will expose them to new vocabulary. 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 choose. Allow students to choose their independent reading books. This will help them to stay engaged in reading.


2 thoughts on “Academic Language Teaching Ideas for ELLs

  1. Where can I find those posters in the first picture that describe “match” “select” “identify” “list” and have simple little cliparts? Those are a great starting point for first ones because language objectives all have those words and often they don’t really know what they mean. I looked at your TpT products (wonderful) but couldn’t find those in particular. Can you please help me?

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