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Key Issues

  1. The language of school is a distinct and multifaceted type of English used in school settings.
  2. The language of school includes both social and academic languages.
  3. Social language is the language used mostly in everyday, casual interactions.
  4. Specific linguistic features associated with different content areas characterize academic language.
  5. The basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) distinction highlights some of the differences between social and academic language.

Figure 1.1 Illustration by Arthur Slavit.


History class: Before reading this chapter, think about what the cartoon above implies about language learning and language learners.
Even before children begin their formal schooling, they have experienced sounds, languages, concepts, people, places, and ways of being, thinking, and doing. For some children, going to school for the first time means learning to follow directions, take turns, clean up their space, form a line, and share the attention of one adult with about 20 other children. For other students, particularly English language learners (ELLs)[1], the learning curve is steeper, because they have to learn content and ways of doing school in a language that they have not yet mastered, all within the context of an unfamiliar culture. As the chapter-opening cartoon illustrates, an idiomatic expression used by a history teacher can leave an English learner confused not only about the meaning of a particular term or phrase but also about the gist of the entire narrative.
However, words and phrases are only one aspect of what ELLs have to learn. As the list below illustrates, students need to acquire many other pieces of knowledge in order to navigate the schooling process successfully. For example, during the first days of school, students need to learn about each of the following:

  • The school bus: When and where to get on and off, how long the ride is, what rules apply while riding, meeting unknown students of many ages, leaving home.
  • School supplies: Getting a backpack or bag, bringing supplies to school.
  • New routines: Carrying papers back and forth to school, what to do if parents do not meet the bus, completing homework by a deadline.
  • School bells: Recess, fire drills, schedules.
  • The people and the school: The names and titles of people, rules for hallways, location of their homeroom or classroom and other places, for example, the library, music room, gymnasium, cafeteria, and nurse’s room among others.
  • Classroom rules and procedures: When and where to talk, sharpen pencils, ask for help, offer an answer, turn in homework, etc.
  • Lunch procedures: “Hot” or “cold” lunch, where to obtain codes or tickets for hot lunches.
  • Recess routines: Rules, length of time for recess, equipment (balls, slide, swings).
  • Academic content: Life cycle of a frog (science), addition (mathematics), the founding of the United States (social studies), poetry (English language arts).

As most readers will realize, this is an extensive but not exhaustive list because there are many other aspects of schooling that students need to learn in order to fully participate in and benefit from their educational experiences. To ELLs with prior or interrupted education in their countries of origin, these extra and often unfamiliar aspects of schooling can add layers of anxiety and confusion to their load of what to learn—sources of concern not experienced by children familiar with the U.S. school system and culture.


What students need to learn: What else do students need to learn the first few days of school? Add your own ideas to the list above.

The Language of School

The language of school is a “distinct, multifaceted type of English” primarily used in school settings (Gottlieb, Katz, & Ernst-Slavit, 2009, p. 10). It is characterized by a broad range of language competencies that English learners must gain in order to fully participate in classroom activities and function as accepted and valued members of content-centered communities (Gottlieb & Ernst-Slavit, 2014; also see Chapter 2 in this text for further discussion of these competencies). As students develop competence in using everyday, social English to interact, they must also acquire the academic language associated with each specific content area (see Chapters 8–11 for examples). As Figure 1.2 depicts, the language of school is comprised of both social and academic language proficiencies.

Figure 1.2 The language of school
In addition to having many other functions, such as social networking and socializing students into classroom norms and societal expectations, school is one location where children learn language. According to Halliday (1993), students learn the use of language, through language, and about language. These three aspects and pertinent examples are presented in Figure 1.3.

Language Learning General Examples School-based Example(s)
1. The use of language How to:

  • listen
  • speak
  • read
  • write

in order to reach goals

  • registers or specialized varieties of language
Ways of interacting: “Mrs. Pérez, I need help with my biology assignment.”
Different registers:
“Adopt one of the two sides and prepare a statement to support your decision”
2. Through language Learning all about the world inside and outside the classroom Expectations:

  • Academic: “When answering the math story problem, show all of your work, not just the final answer.”
  • Behavioral: “Do not run in the hallways,” “No talking during a test,” “Eyes on your own paper.”
3. About language
  • What are the differences among languages
  • Historical aspects of language
  • Cultural influences on language
Genres of printed materials: autobiographies, diaries, dictionaries, encyclopedias, fantasy, letters, textbooks
Parts of speech: subject, verb, object, noun, adjective, adverb

Figure 1.3 Types of language learning in school.
To fully participate in school, English language learners need to develop a variety of registers[2] to benefit from every aspect of schooling. For example, the language you use with your friends during a ballgame might be very different from that you use during a job interview or that used by an auctioneer at an estate sale. There are also different written registers of English. The following three samples have been taken from different sections of a local newspaper.

  1. “Standard on every 2010 MKT is Lincoln’s signature design—complete with a split waterfall grille, a beveled chamfer along the vehicle’s shoulder line, a flowing cantrail that frames the greenhouse and full-width horizontal taillamps that span the subtly curved weight-saving magnesium liftgate that adds visual character while protecting generous rear cargo space.”
  2. “Pinch-hitter Mike Sweeney kept the ninth inning alive with a two-out double to deep right-center field. Ichiro then jumped on the first pitch from Rivera for his 10th homer of the season and second straight day with a game-winning hit.”
  3. “Plaintiff alleged that defendant did hit, beat, pummel, cuff, and mutilate plaintiff, and did damage and/or destroy valuable camping equipment belonging to plaintiff.”

Awareness of different registers is important because it allows us to predict what type of language is expected according to the context or social situation. In schools and classrooms, this awareness allows students to participate appropriately in conversations with others whether they take place in the gym, the science lab, or during a high-stakes standardized test. Registers include social language, which is used to interact in the classroom and school settings, and academic language, which is needed to obtain, process, and construct meaning, and to provide content-area information. The following pages reveal that social and academic languages are very distinct; however, both types of language are very much needed in the context of school.


Before reading further, try to predict what the important differences between social language and academic language might be, based on your experiences and current understanding of language.

Social Language

Social language is the language used in everyday, casual interactions. It is the language used at the grocery store, when ordering a pizza by phone, or when chatting with family and friends. It is generally accepted that English language learners can reach a functional (but not necessarily fluent) level of social language competence in approximately two years (Cummins, 2005).
While social language is the speech used most often during recess, in the hallway, and outside school, it is also relied on heavily in the classroom. Simply stated, social language provides a foundation on which academic language and literacy can flourish.


Brainstorm a list of ways students might use social language in a day. Include as many examples as you can.
Figure 1.4 depicts three important aspects of social language that deserve attention: everyday, intercultural, and instructional.

Figure 1.4 Social language.
While distinctions among these three aspects of social language are not precise, a description of each aspect of social language is discussed below. Figure 1.5 contains pertinent examples.

Everyday Aspects of Social Language

The kind of language used in the cafeteria, at recess, or with friends at home is very much needed in the classroom. For ELLs to participate successfully in classroom activities, they must learn how to ask where to find the cafeteria, how to check out a book, and where to wait for the bus.

Intercultural Aspects of Social Language

As U.S. school populations become increasingly diverse, English language learners must also learn how to interact appropriately and effectively in cross-cultural situations. Consider, for example, the common command, “All eyes on me.” This phrase may be linguistically challenging for a newcomer, and it may also be culturally uncomfortable. Students from some cultures are taught to look down out of respect when an adult speaks to them. Expecting or forcing English learners to transgress their families’ cultural norms and values can lead to increased stress and conflict between the home and school.

Instructional Aspects of Social Language

English learners must acquire the nontechnical varieties of English used in classrooms to engage in classroom learning routines. Even ordinary classroom communication, such as listening to directions, requesting clarification, and understanding when it is appropriate to raise one’s hand or sharpen a pencil can present major challenges for students who are not familiar with the culture of the school.

Social Language Examples
Everyday “This is a great book! You should read it.”
“I left my lunch on the bus.”
“Will you teach me how to play kickball?”
Intercultural “Please, sit down criss-cross applesauce.”
“When is your family carving pumpkins?
“What is henna? I thought that was just brown writing on your hands.”
Instructional “Please take out a piece of paper and a pencil.”
“You may sharpen your pencils before school, after recess, and during snack time.”
“You may now use your tablets.”

Figure 1.5 Aspects of social language.
Figure 1.5 shows why the three aspects of social language are imprecise and may appear to be porous or permeable categories. Another way to think of these aspects is to ask the question, “What is the purpose of the language being used?” If language is used in the service of mundane tasks, it is probably everyday social language. If it facilitates successful cross-cultural communication, it can be recognized as intercultural language. If social language is used to accomplish educational tasks, it is instructional in nature.


List the aspects of language that you think comprise academic language. After reading the following section, recheck your list and add anything you may have missed.

Academic Language

When many educators think about the term academic language, the vocabulary specific to certain content areas immediately comes to mind. Unquestionably, vocabulary is one component, but as Figure 1.6 illustrates, academic language is comprised of more than words or short phrases.

Figure 1.6 Academic language
While the language education community does not have an agreed-upon definition of the construct of academic language, there is agreement among researchers and practitioners about its centrality in the education of all students. In this volume we use the term “academic language” to refer to the language used in school to acquire new or deeper understanding of the content and to communicate that understanding to others (e.g., Bailey & Heritage, 2008; Gottlieb & Ernst-Slavit, 2014; Zwiers, 2008). Since academic language conveys the kind of abstract, technical, and complex ideas, processes, and phenomena of the disciplines, it allows users to think and act, for example, like mathematicians, scientists, and historians (Gottlieb & Ernst-Slavit, 2014).
Academic language is the language of textbooks and materials, most classroom talk, tests, and the tasks given to students. This unique register includes multiple, dynamic, and interrelated competences (Scarcella, 2003) that require the use of a wide range of specific word/phrase level items, sentence level structures, and discourse level features. Figure 1.7 presents descriptions and examples of the dimensions of academic language. The ensuing discussion of the dimensions of academic language—vocabulary, grammar, and discourse—includes examples organized by content area.

Aspects of Academic Language Description Examples
Word/Phrase Level Individual words or short phrases Constitution, essay, microscope, symmetry
Sentence Level Syntax, mechanics, sentence and paragraph structure Punctuation, cause and effect, topic sentence
Discourse Level Cohesion and coherence in texts and across genres Lab reports, development of theme, ellipsis, word problems

Figure 1.7 Dimensions of academic language.


Lists of general academic vocabulary can be found in publications and on websites from school districts, learning centers, and publishing companies. See, for example, http://www.u-46.org/roadmap/dyncat.cfm?catid=246Fo, http://esl.fis.edu/vocab/index-a.htm, and, http://simple.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Academic_word_list. If you are interested in a particular topic, search for specific pertinent academic vocabulary.

Word/Phrase Level

This level consists of words and phrases, including (1) general academic vocabulary that students may encounter in a variety of content areas, (2) specialized academic vocabulary that is specific to a content area, and (3) technical academic vocabulary necessary for discussing particular topics within a content area. Figure 1.8 displays examples of these vocabulary types categorized by content area.

General Academic Vocabulary Specialized Academic Vocabulary Technical Academic Vocabulary
Language arts Ideas, punctuation, sentence, title Alliteration, antagonist, prologue, setting Assonance, onomatopoeia, paradox, synecdoche
Mathematics Addition, bar, line, table Angle, divisor, equivalent, three-dimensional figures Bivariate, data, quotient, visual fraction model, zero property of multiplication
Science Cause, mind, sun, wall Habitat, hypothesis, nucleus, ribosomes Endoplasmic, heteronormative, rarefaction, telophase
Social studies Fact, land, pact, race Adapt, bias, scale, theocracy Divine right of kings, Magna Carta, Trojan horse, Parliament

Figure 1.8 Types and examples of words/phrases by content area.

Sentence Level Features

In addition to words and phrases, each content area has unique ways of organizing and presenting language at the sentence level. The complexity of these language structures may be recognized more easily in written form, such as those found in school content-area textbooks. Figure 1.9 provides examples of particular syntactic (grammatical) features that have unique uses in particular disciplines.

Content Area Examples of Academic Language at the Sentence Level
Language arts Allusions, hyperbole, prepositional phrases, relative clause, sensory imagery
Mathematics Formulas, significance of prepositions (e.g., divided by versus divided into), logical connectors, comparative structures
Science Complex noun phrases, grammatical metaphor, passive voice, syntactic ambiguity
Social studies Causative signals, historical present, multiple forms of past tense, sequence words

Figure 1.9 Examples of academic language at the sentence level by content area.

Discourse Level Features

Oral or written language is also organized in larger forms, such as paragraphs, thesis papers, or speeches. Discourse refers to these larger bodies of language and how they are both coherent and cohesive. Forms of discourse are categorized into genres, such as those displayed in Figure 1.10. Readers may look at the lists in Figure 1.10 and wonder why an item such as “speeches” was included in social studies but not in language arts. The lists in the figure are not exhaustive nor are the content-area categories exclusive.

Content Area Examples of Discourse Level
Language arts Autobiographies, plays, scripts, persuasive writing, editorials, newspaper articles
Mathematics Story problems, graphs, proofs
Science Lab directions, lab reports, writing in classroom science journals and notebooks
Social studies Historical diaries, media reports, speeches, folktales from around the world

Figure 1.10 Examples of discourse across content areas.
It is important to emphasize that academic language involves more than terms, conventions, and genres. In other words, the teaching and learning of academic language requires more than learning a variety of linguistic components. It involves cultural knowledge about ways of being in the world, ways of acting, thinking, interacting, valuing, believing, speaking, and sometimes writing and reading, connected to particular identities and social roles (Gee, 1992, p. 73).
While this book offers compartmentalized information regarding specific aspects of language, it also acknowledges the importance of considering a host of other factors that will enhance, challenge, or override the teaching, learning, and assessment processes of academic discourses (see Chapters 2 and 3). Bartolomé (1998) warns educators of the dangers of not acknowledging that some students from minority cultural, linguistic, and racial groups might have limited access to academic discourses. For these students, school might be the only setting where they have opportunities to encounter and acquire the language of school, which may affect the length of time needed for them to become proficient users of academic language.

The Developmental Nature of Academic Language

Academic language is developmental in nature, with increased complexity and sophistication in language use from grade to grade (Gottlieb & Ernst-Slavit, 2014). In other words, what may be considered academic language for an elementary student becomes part of the everyday language of a high school student. In addition, we must consider academic language and social language as part of a continuum where different skills are involved. Along these lines, social language relies heavily on oral language, namely speaking and listening, while academic language requires more abstract and technical skills in reading and writing. The example below from a Grade 4 classroom studying of the concept of “trading” during 19th Century Westward Migration illustrates how social and academic language can be understood along a continuum (see Ernst-Slavit & Morrison, 2019 for more information about this unit).

Language Mode Text Context
Oral Like, we, I give you something, um, you give me something Student telling partner during Think, Pair, Share.
OK. Let’s say me and Karl are trading. I give him a block of wood and he gives me some molasses or something. Student answering teacher’s prompt.
Written “-Trade was very important during this time.
-The transcontinental railroad increased the trading of goods and services.”
From student-produced PPT.
“The act or process of buying, selling, or exchanging commodities, products, or services, at either wholesale or retail, within a country or between countries.” Definition of trading found online and read by the students.

Figure 1.11 Language, text, and context in social studies.

A Comparison of Social and Academic Languages

While English language learners may become competent social language users in one or two years, it takes a minimum of five to seven years of “sustained institutional support for students to access and gain command of the academic registers needed for success in school” (Cummins, 2005; as referenced in Gottlieb et al., 2009, p. 18). Figure 1.12 illustrates how terms, phrases, and sentences can take different forms when they are used within academic settings.

Social Language Academic Language
The rocket took off late. The launch of Apollo 13 was delayed.
Live Survive
Can I eat this mushroom? Is this mushroom edible?
The country didn’t have any money. Government funds were depleted.
This is right. This answer is correct.
Without purpose. Desultory
The same Equal

Figure 1.12 A comparison of social and academic language.
To achieve academic success, students must also understand and produce academic language. Also referred to as academic English, disciplinary language, or content-specific language, academic language is a variety or register of English that is very different from social language. It varies by content area and often involves difficult vocabulary incorporated into texts densely packed with meaning (Bailey, 2006; Scarcella, 2003; Schleppegrell, 2013; Snow & Uccelli, 2009; also see Chapters 2, 8–11 in this text).
Robin Scarcella and Russell Rumberger (2000) identify five main differences between social and academic language (see Figure 1.13).

Aspect of Proficiency Social Language Academic Language
Language domains Relies on listening and speaking. Relies on reading and writing.
Accuracy Minor errors are acceptable. Requires a high standard o accuracy in grammar and vocabulary.
Language functions Relies primarily on narrative. More complex, such as persuading arguing, interpreting, hypothesizing, etc.
Cognitive demands Often less demanding and highly contextualized. More demanding; must rely on prior knowledge of words, grammar, and conventions.
Range of knowledge Requires smaller vocabulary. Requires knowledge of over 20.000 word forms.

Figure 1.13 Differences between social and academic language.
As suggested by Scarcella and Rumberger (2000), there are many differences between social and academic languages. For students to succeed in the content areas, they need to rely on a broad base of language, content, and background knowledge; access information with fewer contextual clues; produce accurate oral and written texts; utilize higher-order thinking skills; and access and communicate information via oral and written texts. These requirements are challenging for all students, but more so for those learning English as a second language.

The BICS and CALP Distinction

Within the discussion of academic and social languages, we must refer to the influential work of Canadian linguist Jim Cummins who, in 1984, coined two acronyms commonly referred to in second language education: basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) (Cummins, 1984). This model proposes an explanation of why young English learners who are fluent in social English may have difficulties in academic contexts. The distinction Cummins draws between BICS and CALP is akin to the difference between everyday (e.g., playground, hallway) and more formal (e.g., classroom, academic) language.
While BICS refers to the development of conversational language, CALP refers to the academic dimension of language necessary for school success. For example, BICS would be used for talking with a peer during lunch, but CALP would be used to provide a summary of Dostoyevsky’s War and Peace, to write a report on photosynthesis, or to take a content-area test. These academic tasks often have little contextual support or few clues that can help students construct meaning. Cummins argued that students who have not developed CALP in either their native or second language suffer a real academic disadvantage. Figure 1.14 depicts BICS and CALP along two continua, which form a grid.

Figure 1.14 Cummins’s quadrants. Adapted from Cummins (1981).
Activities above the horizontal continuum (quadrants A and C) fall into the category of BICS; that is, they do not involve a high degree of cognitive challenge and they generally take place in highly contextualized environments. On the other hand, activities below the horizontal continuum (quadrants B and D) are more abstract and cognitively demanding.
The left side (quadrants A and B) of the figure includes activities supported by contextual clues that aid understanding. For example, if third-graders are studying objects in space as part of a unit on the solar system, it would be helpful to use planet models or cutouts to visualize the processes and interactions of Earth’s systems and other objects in space.
Activities on the right side (quadrants C and D) are not aided by contextual clues beyond those embedded in the language. Continuing with the example of third-graders studying objects in space, one alternate way for these students to explore objects in space is by reading from a science text with no illustrations.
This framework suggests that, in classrooms where there is a high level of student success, instruction often takes place in quadrant B, where activities challenge students academically and are often scaffolded by the use of supports to enhance understanding. However, it is imperative for educators to prepare students to manipulate language in Quadrant D because most of the standardized and non-standardized assessments currently fall in this quadrant. In other words, most high-stakes tests require students to perform at high levels of cognitive activity and will have little or no additional contextual support beyond linguistic cues.


BICS and CALP: Cummins’s framework has been used to ground both language learning research and teaching. Pause and think critically about this framework. Do you have any questions about its development or use?
Critiques of the BICS and CALP distinction. While Cummins’s BICS and CALP framework has been useful in educational settings by putting forward a construct that brings attention to the development of academic English, it has also received some criticism from researchers and scholars in the field. We offer a brief review of some of the major criticisms regarding the BICS/CALP distinction.
First, some authors believe that “decontextualized language” does not exist. Cummins defines CALP as “decontextualized” language, that is, language that has been stripped of social context. For many (see, for example, Bartolomé, 1998; Gee, 1990), language is always contextualized. No text, oral or written, ever exists independently from a context because words, symbols, and phrases rely chiefly on linguistic and textual cues as well as on cultural understandings. For example, the term quadrilateral comes from the Latin quadri (“four”) and latus (“side”). To understand this term, you need an understanding of Latin terminology or knowledge of mathematical terms, or you must know about the famous four fortresses supporting each other during the Austrian rule of northern Italy. Yet the term itself holds linguistic clues.
Terms from everyday language may have additional clues beyond linguistic aspects. The following example takes place in a high school cafeteria. Arthur asks Leia, “Have you seen Max? Two minutes ago he was sitting at that maroon table in the corner” (he then points to a specific table). In this case, there are a variety of clues that aid understanding including: pointing, verbally signaling a location (e.g., in the corner), indicating a time (two minutes ago), and describing a characteristic of the table where Max was sitting (maroon). Even if Leia does not know the meaning of maroon, other clues will help her understanding.
A second criticism of the BICS/CALP distinction is that it does not provide educators with sufficient information about the diverse aspects of CALP and how to help students acquire it (Scarcella, 2003). In other words, educators can benefit from having explicit information about the diverse aspects of CALP. Without additional information, many educators equate CALP with academic vocabulary alone.
Finally, other critics challenge the notion that students acquire BICS in two years and CALP in seven years (e.g., Scarcella, 2003). On the contrary, many learners who are not exposed to academic English speakers in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods do not acquire academic language within this relatively short time period. For several years, McSwan and Rolstad (2006) and Edelsky (2006) have questioned the BICS/CALP distinction because it promotes deficit thinking: it focuses on the low cognitive/academic skills of students. Instead, or in addition, educators are encouraged to consider the skills, abilities, and funds of knowledge students bring with them from their families, cultures, and native countries.
In sum, while the BICS and CALP distinction has made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the differences between social and academic language in classrooms, it has also received some criticisms. In the following section, we explain how Cummins’s BICS and CALP distinction relates to the language of school approach discussed in this text.


Read a response to these critiques by Jim Cummins, “Putting language proficiency in its place: Responding to critiques of the conversational/academic language discussion” at https://esltaggart.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/research-article_-j-cummins.pdf.

Connections between the BICS/CALP Distinction and the Language of School

Although there are obvious similarities between Cummins’s BICS/CALP distinction and how we discuss the language of school, for example by looking at social and academic language, there are fundamental differences. First, we define academic language as a complex type of discourse that necessitates the use of multiple and interrelated competencies, including a broad range of discrete skills (e.g., reading, understanding vocabulary). Educators need to help English learners learn these competencies and skills beginning in primary school.
Second, we view social language as the foundation on which academic language is built, not as separate but as symbiotic processes in which these different types of languages are always developing and changing. For example, while we have highlighted the intercultural dimension of social language and explicitly identified specific syntactic features of academic language, we acknowledge the intercultural nature of academic language as well as the grammatical rules that govern face-to-face interactions. In other words, social language has specific words and phrases, syntactic features at the sentence level, and discourse characteristics just as academic language does. We focus on academic language in this text because of its crucial link to academic achievement.
Third, social language is not only the language of the playground; it is much needed in the classroom. Take, for example, the daily routines a fifth-grade teacher engages in with his students at the beginning of the day by checking in, going over the calendar, and giving a two-minute Daily Homophone Sprint. Likewise, social language is used by the math teacher who at the end of her math class tries to extend the content of her lesson by making connections to students’ everyday experiences.
Finally, language provides some of its own context. What is often decontextualized from students’ backgrounds and experiences are many of the activities that students are asked to do in a language that they have not yet mastered. These activities may include topics that are completely removed from their past and present lives and possibly irrelevant for their future.


The language of school is a distinct and complex type of English used in classrooms and schools. It involves different kinds of registers. On the one hand, we have social language, that is, the language used in everyday, casual interactions (e.g., playground, neighborhood). Academic language, on the other hand, is the language needed to acquire and demonstrate knowledge of content area material. It includes not only vocabulary but also distinct sentence level structures and discourse features that may be specific to each discipline.
Educators often use simplified texts (both oral and written) with their English learners as a way of making the content accessible for students. This practice, however, might deprive students of opportunities to be exposed to and learn the specific, connected discourse that characterizes content specific language. In addition, simplified texts might not provide students with the necessary information required to understand the material and to successfully demonstrate understanding of the topic at hand. For English learners to succeed in school, they need to become skilled users of social and academic language features for each content area. Chapter 2 discusses the factors that influence how students acquire these language features and how they affect school success for ELLs.


History Class: Look back at the chapter-opening cartoon and your reply to the Stop and Think feature following it. How does your answer about the cartoon’s meaning change as a result of reading this chapter?


For Reflection

  1. Reflect on student opportunities. List all the ways you promote academic language in your classroom (or could, if you are not currently teaching). Do English learners have a variety of opportunities to hear, read, and use academic language?
  2. Reflect on word meanings. List some everyday words, like table, tree, plot, and column, that have additional specific meanings in a content area. What are some activities that can be used in a classroom to allow students to practice and use those terms within an academic context?

For Action

    1. Compare social and academic language. Stop by the playground, or anywhere students are socializing informally, and note the language they use (at the word/phrase, sentence, and discourse levels). Then observe the language used during content area instruction in a classroom with the same children or in another classroom with children of the same age. Describe the differences that you notice and explain what these differences imply for language learning.
    2. List discourses that are required by the standards. Find the standards for your grade level and/or content area. List the different kinds of discourses, texts, and genres that students are required to know and use. Discuss how these differences might be described and presented to students effectively.


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  1. Other labels and acronyms used to describe students who are learning English as a second, third, or additional language include: limited English proficient (LEP) student, English as a second language (ESL) learner, English learner (EL), emergent bilingual (EB), English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) learner, second language learner, non-English speaker (NES), non-native speaker (NNS), and limited English speaker (LES), among others.
  2. In the study of language, a register is a variety of a language used for a specific purpose or in a particular social context.


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Chapter 1: Academic Success: Learning the Language of School by Gisela Ernst-Slavit and Joy Egbert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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