Building Academic Language: Meeting Common Core Standards Across Disciplines, Grades 5-12

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  • Edition: 2nd
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 4/21/2014
  • Publisher: Wiley

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The introductory pages of the Common Core State Standards call for the following distributions of text: 50% literary/50% information (4th grade); 45% literary/55% information (8th grade); 30% literary/70% information (12th grade).  This is a major shift in encouraging teachers to get students understanding and using more academic language as they progress through middle and high school.  Many students today, whether they are native English speakers or recent immigrants, need help in understanding and using the language of academic learning. An essential resource for teaching all students, this book explains what every teacher needs to know about language for supporting reading, writing, and academic learning. Based on theory, research and practice, it includes activities, exercises, and practical strategies for building vocabulary, grammar, and language learning approaches routinely into math, science, history, and language arts lessons.

This second edition includes new strategies to address specific standards and answers key questions about reading across content areas, including:

--What is academic language and how does it differ by content area?

--How can language-building activities support content understanding?

--How can students be assisted in using language more effectively?

--How can academic language usage be modeled routinely in the classroom?

--How can lesson planning and assessment support academic language development?


Table of Contents


1 Understanding How Students Use Language

Chapter 1 introduces foundational social and cultural perspectives of complex uses of languages in and out of school. It introduces readers to ways in which the Common Core State Standards provide new opportunities and challenges with respect to building academic language. The Common Core State Standards present new cognitive and literacy targets that can only be reached with heightened cultivation of academic language.

2 Language Skills Needed to Exceed Common Core State Standards

Chapter 2 clarifies the functions and features of academic language with direct references to the Common Core Standards. This includes academic grammar and “whole message” discourse levels of language use. Science, math, and history teachers must teach use of language beyond vocabulary knowledge, given that each discipline emphasizes different ways of thinking and communicating in complex ways. When students learn these ways of using language, they gain access to the “codes” and strategies that accelerate their disciplinary abilities and knowledge.

3 Cultivating Academic Language Learning

Chapter 3 provides an overview of how students acquire language, along with key teacher habits and strategies for modeling and scaffolding its development across content areas. Examples of activities in lessons based on Common Core State Standards are provided. This chapter also helps us improve our own language use in classroom settings.

4 Content Area Variations of Academic Language

Given that not all disciplines are alike in their content, thinking, and ways of communicating, Chapter 4 describes variations of language that correspond to the main content areas taught in schools: math, language arts, history, and science. This chapter addresses some of the “shifts” in instruction that have emerged in response to the Common Core State Standards.

5 Facilitating Whole Class Discussions for Content and Language Development

This chapter focuses on making whole class discussions more effective for building academic language, content knowledge, and thinking skills. The chapter starts with a rationale for using classroom talk in a variety of settings and offers tips for leading discussions in ways that deepen and extend student thinking, as opposed to just promoting the accumulation of facts. The chapter offers more effective alternatives to common questioning strategies and teacher-controlled formats such as initiation-response-feedback (IRF). The latter half of the chapter focuses on improving academic listening, engaging all students in whole-class communication activities, and building language through simulations and role plays. Examples of Common Core State Standards are used in the activities.

6 Academic Listening and Speaking in Small Groups and Pairs

This chapter focuses on building oral academic language, content knowledge, and thinking skills in pairs and small groups. The chapter offers ideas for supporting small group and pair discussions in ways that deepen and extend student thinking, as well as create ideas, as opposed to just regurgitating someone else’s knowledge. Examples of Common Core State Standards are used in the activities.

7 Language for Reading Complex Texts

Chapter 7 looks at the language of reading, emphasizing the learning of language skills beyond vocabulary to help in comprehending difficult texts, as outlined by the Common Core State Standards. It also includes a section on teaching content area and general academic vocabulary—in context. 

8 Language for Creating Complex Texts

Chapter 8 provides ways to develop language for the types of academic writing addressed in the Common Core State Standards. It emphasizes a deep analysis of the complex ways in which students must think, organize, fortify, negotiate, and communicate knowledge in a discipline as experts might do. It provides ideas for modeling, scaffolding, and analyzing texts that students will be asked to write.

9 Building Language Development into Lessons and Assessments

Chapter 9 introduces ways to formatively and summatively assess ways of using academic language to show learning of Common Core State Standards, as well as hints for planning for instruction based on assessments. It emphasizes the importance of identifying the thinking and language that we want students to learn before we leap into instruction.

10 Concluding Thoughts

Chapter 10 offers some final thoughts and next steps for weaving the previous chapters’ ideas into daily practice.

Appendix A Highly Recommended Resources on Academic Language

Appendix B Frequently-Used Academic Words

Appendix C Suggestions for Before, During, & After Mini-lectures


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