Academic Language for All Students

By Irene Fountas

Vocabulary is a critical building block for understanding texts.  Be sure to focus on words that are useful in academic or school learning as students will encounter them in reading or writing. Words like summarize, approach, analyze, circumstance, evaluate, character, and plot aren’t frequently used by our students in everyday talk but they will need to use them as readers and writers.

Be sure to weave these kinds of words into your talk about books and focus on them in texts so your students will build a powerful vocabulary for learning. Remember- they will need multiple encounters with words in order to assimilate them.

Here is a short conversation between a teacher and her students. Notice how the teacher integrates academic vocabulary in her beginning read-alouds.

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman

Teacher– Did the title of the book already get you thinking about Wilma?

Mike– Yes, if she is unlimited it means she could do a lot.

Teacher- Yes that is interesting- “un” meaning not and limited with it. Not limited or unlimited.

Are you already thinking about the genre or type of book?

Sarah– I think it’s a biography.

Luke– It’s a story about what she did in her life.

Teacher– So you are thinking the writer will tell about this woman’s accomplishments. Be thinking about how she was able to accomplish so many things in her lifetime. What were the important decisions she made? How did the setting or the times impact her challenges?

In about two minutes, the students have heard several vocabulary words that the teacher will use multiple times as they talk through the book and in the discussion.

When you are aware of your choice of words, your teaching can be vocabulary-rich and your students will be internalizing new language.

One thought on “Academic Language for All Students

  1. I like this idea for coaching too. Using vocabulary like “workshop,” “conference” and “writing traits” with teachers embeds it in our discussions about students and instruction.


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