Teaching Academic Language

Successful educators of English-language learners, including those with learning difficulties, understand that demonstrating language proficiency depends heavily on contextual factors. This distinction is a critical one for classroom teachers working with English-language learners with learning difficulties.

Basic interpersonal communication skills are often called conversational language. The formal language used in academic dialog is referred to as academic language. Basic interpersonal communication can be thought of as the language of the playground, or the language for talking to friends. It is heavily dependent on clues, on visual gestures, conversational responses, and short, partially grammatical phrases.

Moreover, it is very different from the formal language used in academic contexts such as explaining scientific concepts and articulating themes in novels. Many have found these distinctions important in understanding why students who seem to speak English fairly well in their conversations with peers still struggle with reading textbooks or sophisticated novels in English.

Increasingly, many argue that academic language development in English should be a crucial instructional objective of schooling for English-language learners, beginning in kindergarten. In fact, for English-language learners, success in school will depend on their ability to learn successfully the types of language skills involved in academic language development.

There is an emerging knowledge base on how to reach this instructional goal. One way to help develop academic language is by reinforcing verbal exchanges with written words. Having words available to read and re-read and use as a basis of stories generated by English-language learners with learning difficulties is a critically important technique.

Graphic organizers such as story maps build knowledge of academic language while enhancing comprehension. Reading stories in English and filling in the story maps (either individually with teacher support or working with a peer) is an effective way for English-language learners with learning difficulties to learn English. The permanence of maps and other visual organizers reduces the need to memorize and gives students an opportunity to understand and reflect on the structure of the new language, as well as see the connections between concepts.

Excerpted from Teaching English-Language Learners with Learning Difficulties

More resources on Teaching English-Language Learners with Learning Difficulties

Council for Exceptional Children

Provided in partnership with The Council for Exceptional Children.

If you need to teach it, we have it covered.

Start your free trial to gain instant access to thousands of expertly curated worksheets, activities, and lessons created by educational publishers and teachers.

Start Your Free Trial

Follow us on:

Follow TeacherVision on Facebook
Follow TeacherVision on Google Plus


Happy Halloween! Students love this fall holiday; take advantage of it! You'll find everything from costume patterns and printable Halloween masks to counting activities and vocabulary lessons.

2016 Presidential Elections
Election season is here! Help your students understand the process of our national elections (held on Tuesday, November 8), from the President down to local representatives, with our election activities. Read short biographies of presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R), explore mock election ideas, create presidential trading cards, learn election vocabulary, play election bingo and more!

October Calendar of Events
October is full of events that you can incorporate into your standard curriculum! Our Educators' Calendar outlines activities for each event, including: Black Tuesday (10/29/1929) and Halloween (10/31). Plus, celebrate Bullying Prevention Month, Computer Learning Month, Diversity Awareness Month, Family History Month, Fire Prevention Month, International Dinosaur Month, Learning Disabilities Month, and School Safety Month all October long!