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

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  • Edition: 2nd
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2014-04-21
  • Publisher: Wiley

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“Of the over one hundred new publications on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), this one truly stands out! In the second edition of Building Academic Language, Jeff Zwiers presents a much-needed, comprehensive roadmap to cultivating academic language development across all disciplines, this time placing the rigor and challenges of the CCSS front and center. A must-have resource!”
—Andrea Honigsfeld, EdD, Molloy College

“Language is critical to the development of content learning as students delve more deeply into specific disciplines. When students possess strong academic language, they are better able to critically analyze and synthesize complex ideas and abstract concepts. In this second edition of Building Academic Language, Jeff Zwiers successfully builds the connections between the Common Core State Standards and academic language. This is the ‘go to’ resource for content teachers as they transition to the expectations for college and career readiness.”
—Katherine S. McKnight, PhD, National Louis University

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by most of the United States, students need help developing their understanding and use of language within the academic context. This is crucially important throughout middle school and high school, as the subjects discussed and concepts taught require a firm grasp of language in order to understand the greater complexity of the subject matter. Building Academic Language shows teachers what they can do to help their students grasp language principles and develop the language skills they’ll need to reach their highest levels of academic achievement.

The Second Edition of Building Academic Language includes new strategies for addressing specific Common Core standards and also provides answers to the most important questions across various content areas, including:

  • What is academic language and how does it differ by content area?
  • How can language-building activities support content understanding for students?
  • How can teachers assist students in using language more effectively, especially in the academic context?
  • How can academic language usage be modeled routinely in the classroom?
  • How can lesson planning and assessment support academic language development?

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.

Author Biography

JEFF ZWIERS, EdD, is a senior researcher at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. He consults internationally on language and literacy instruction, curriculum development, and teacher education program development. A former middle school language arts teacher, he has also taught teacher preparation courses at the university level.

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


About the Author

About the Sponsor


Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?

The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

The Used, Rental and eBook copies of this book are not guaranteed to include any supplemental materials. Typically, only the book itself is included. This is true even if the title states it includes any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

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