English Language Learners (ELLs) face the double challenge of learning academic content as well as the language in which it is presented. Teachers have traditionally treated language learning as a process of imparting words and structures or rules to students, separate from the process of teaching content knowledge. This approach has left ELLs especially unprepared to work with the complex texts and the academic types of language that are required to engage in content area practices, such as solving word problems in Mathematics, or deconstructing an author’s reasoning and evidence in English Language Arts. ELLs need to be given frequent, extended opportunities to speak about content material and work through complex texts in English with small groups of classmates.
The new, widely-adopted Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards also call for all students, including ELLs, to master an array of academic language practices that are critical to achievement in content areas. Examples of these academic language practices include: argument from evidence, analysis of complex texts, and developing and using models. At Stanford’s Understanding Language, we have found that ELLs benefit from instructional approaches that treat language and content in an integrated way that is designed to help them build the language skills that they need to succeed in content classrooms, college and careers.