Unit 3: Academic Language

NAVIGATE TO: Arr.GIF About the Author | Arr.GIF ETAP 623 Fall 2017 Section 7619 | Arr.GIF Academic Language Building for ELLs in Content Classrooms

Unit 3 Objectives: By the end of unit 3, the participants will:

  • Define academic language.
  • Define and recall the different demands of academic language.
  • Familiarize with distinct features of academic language in different disciplines.
  • Examine and identify language demands present in a text.
  • Reflect on knowledge and instructional practices for supporting ELLs develop academic language.

Section 1: Pre-lesson Reflection:

Academic Language as a Secret Language [1]

Activity 1: Warm Up

  1. What do you know about academic language?
  2. Why do you think Maya described academic language as "a secret language"?

Section 2: What is Academic Language

Activity 2: Define Academic Language

  1. Read the following 4 definitions of academic language.
  2. Identify keywords in each definition.
  3. Then, write your own definition of academic language.
Key Words in the definitions: __________________________________________________________________________
My Definition of Academic Language: 

  • Definition 1:
Academic language is the language of school and it is used in textbooks, essays, assignments, class presentations, and assessments.
Academic language is used at all grade levels, although its frequency increases as students get older. It is also the language of the
workplace — for example, the language used to write a business letter as opposed to a casual e-mail to a co-worker. (www.colorincolorado.org) [2]

  • Definition 2:
Oral and written language used for academic purposes. Academic language is the means by which students develop and express content :understandings. Academic language represents the language of the discipline that students need to learn and use to participate and engage :in the content area in meaningful ways. (edTPA Handbook) [1]

  • Definition 3:
Academic language is the set of words, grammar, and organizational strategies used to describe complex ideas, higher order thinking
processes, and abstract concepts. From J. Zwiers, Building Academic Language (2008). p. 20 [1]

  • Definition 4:
Academic Language refers to the words, phrases and ways of structuring texts commonly found in academic texts, speech and writing. This
language is used by academic writers because it is useful for conveying information precisely and concisely. Academic writers are
communicating with an audience that is not present, and so clear and accurate communication is particularly valued. [3]

Section 3: Academic Language Demands

There are 4 language demands of academic language identified and defined in the edTPA Handbook:[1]

  • Vocabulary
  • Syntax
  • Discourse
  • Language Functions

Activity 3: Define the 4 Language Demands
Read the definitions and examples below to get to know the 4 language demands.
Definitions and Examples from the edTPA Handbook for English Language Arts [4]:
For more definitions of terms, go to "Terms Defined" in section 6 More Resources.

Activity 4: Three Levels of Academic Language: Vocabulary, Syntax and Discourse

Three Levels of Academic Language Watch

1. Watch the video presentation by Dr. Susan Ranney from Universaity of Minnesota about the three levels of academic language: vocabulary, syntax & discourse (Definition, Features & Examples). Three Levels of Academic Language [5]

Activity 5: Focus on Language Functions Browse through the list of language functions.

Academic Language Functions [6]

Useful Resources:


Section 4: Academic Language Features in Different Disciplines

Activity 6:
Read the Power Point slides presented by Dr. Laura Hill-Bonnet, Stanford University & Dr. Ann Lippincott, UC-Santa Barbarafor for academic features salient in the content area of social studies, science and math.[7]
Download the File

Go Beyond
CCSS (page 59) Standards for Literacy in History/ Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects [6]: http://www.corestandards.org/wp-content/uploads/ELA_Standards1.pdf

Section 5: Application & Reflection

Guided Questions for Application:
1. What are the 4 language demands of academic language?
2. Refer back to the regents exam question you have identified in unit 1.

Reread the question and identify the academic language demands present in the test question.
Think about how to address the the language needs of ELLs.
  • What are some academic vocabulary that need to be taught?
  • What sentence structures in the text that can cause confusion?
  • How is the text structure distinct in your content area?
  • What is the test taker asked to do? What language function is involved?

Reflection on Application:

  1. What was easy?
  2. What was difficult?
  3. What do I want to know more about academic language?

Section 6: Other Resources

[ Terms Defined ]

  • Academic Vocabulary:
Includes words and phrases that are used within disciplines including: (1) words and phrases with subject-specific meanings that differ from meanings used in everyday life (e.g., table); (2) general academic vocabulary used across disciplines (e.g., compare, analyze, evaluate); and (3) subject-specific words defined for use in the discipline.:
  • Syntax:
The set of conventions for organizing symbols, words, and phrases together into structures (e.g., sentences, graphs, tables).:
  • Discourse:
Discourse includes the structures of written and oral language, as well as how members of the discipline talk, write, and participate in knowledge construction. Discipline-specific discourse has distinctive features or ways of structuring oral or written language (text structures) that provide useful ways for the content to be communicated.:
  • Language function:
The content and language focus of the learning task, represented by the active verbs within the learning outcomes.:
  • Language Demands:
Specific ways that academic language (vocabulary, functions, discourse, syntax) is used by students to participate in learning task through reading, writing, listening, and/or speaking to demonstrate their understanding.:
  • edTPA (TPA-Teacher Performance Assessment):
edTPA is a performance-based, subject-specific assessment and support system used by more than 600 teacher preparation programs in some 40 states to emphasize, measure and support the skills and knowledge that all teachers need from Day 1 in the classroom.[2] It is intended to be used as a summative assessment given at the end of an educator preparation program for teacher licensure or certification and to support state and national program accreditation. Essentially, it is designed to answer the question, “Is a new teacher ready for the job?” [3]:

[ Videos ]
Video 1: Academic Language & ELLs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmlBTwI-wDw

Dr. Scarcella, Director of the Program in Academic English and ESL at the University of California, explains the importance of academic language for all students -- especially ELLs -- and offers strategies for developing this critical vocabulary.:

Video 2: Classroom Applications of Academic English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdCwGOBQ8NY

Dr. Scarcella, the developer of a framework for understanding multiple dimensions of academic language, defines and discusses the importance of academic English.:

[KNILT Mini-course ]
Academic Vocabulary across Subjects: [[Alicia_Fernandez_Mini-Course

[ Research ]
Visit the NYCDOE website to read research briefs related to supporting ELLs' Literacy Development: ELL Literacy-- Research Briefs

[Definitions, Examples & Strategies] to teach Academic Language:
Academic Language: http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/66A8A9A4-56F4-4A1E-9AC5-EB485164445B/0/AcademicLanguagePhillipsGallowayBrief_73015.pdf

Getting Around

Back to Main Page: Academic Language Building for ELLs in Content Classrooms

Unit 1: Why Teach Academic Language in Content Classrooms?

Unit 2: How to Serve ELLs? The Basics

Unit 3: Academic Language

Unit 4: Language Objectives

Mini-course Summary

Connect with Others

Additional ELL Resources


Unit 1: Why Teach Academic Language in Content Classrooms- References
Unit 2: How to Serve ELL? The Basics- References
Unit 3: Academic Language- References
Unit 4: Language Objective- References