05: Engaging in Academic Literacy





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  • Implement a Janus curriculum: Develop academic language based on what students already know: Key strategies include:
    • Build new knowledge on top of prior knowledge
    • Use personal narratives to start lessons
    • Prior to reading text, brainstorm what words might appear in text and supplement with words in text that might challenge students; discuss those words using everyday language.
  • Model the use of academic language in your interactions with students: Key strategies include
    • Give students opportunities to make content-related observations.
    • Appropriate student observations and recast them in more academic language.
    • Move back and forth between everyday and academic language to create multiple opportunities to learn new terms.
  • Talk about language: Develop a meta-language with students: Key strategies include:
    • Talk about language to show how it works to express ideas more concisely and/more more effectively
    • Text may appear less dense if students underline nominal groups and nominalizations – See 04: What is Curriculum Literacy to learn what nominal groups and nominalizations are.
  • Integrate Language Activities with Content Activities: Key strategies include:
    • Embed communication prompts into content tasks
    • Use graphic organizers
    • See Literacy articles for ideas.
    • Embed form-focused activities into content activities – example of form concepts: proper grammar & language for a lab report
  • Sample Literacy Building Activities: Too many to recount here.  Buy the book!  Here are my top 5 in no particular order:
    • Progressive brainstorming:  Students each get own color marker.  Each starts with a poster with a topic on it.  For a set time, student brainstorms word associations with topic.  Students rotate and add content to different posters.  After rotating back to original poster, students reflect on other students’ additions to poster and discuss whether or not they agree with these new associations.
    • Joint construction: Model genre-specific writing by co-writing with students in a live, think-aloud discussion
    • Thinking sheets: Sheets with checklists that explicitly scaffold problem solving processes.  If used repetitively, can build bridges between prior and new knowledge.
    • Barrier crosswords:  Pairs of students get the keys for each other’s crossword puzzles.  They give each other clues to complete the puzzles.
    • Word walls:  Word bank of key terms displayed on a dedicated part of the wall.  Include pictures, terms, examples, and student-friendly definitions.


The strategies in this section can be used to build strong bridges between everyday and academic language.   Knowing many literacy strategies can help one amplify the content through message abundancy.  All of the strategies recapped above can be used to create PBL scaffolding that teaches content and language simultaneously.


Preparation Steps
  • Research language and thinking that is key to effectively understanding concepts in upcoming unit or project
  • Research literacy and content building strategies.  See Literacy articles for ideas.
  • Select strategies that best tie prior knowledge to new language and thinking
  • Develop resources (graphic organizers, thinking sheets, question prompts, etc) that relate to strategies to be implemented
  • Set aside time in project calendar for scaffolding activities that develop content and language knowledge simultaneously
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement multiple scaffolding strategies that build upon prior knowledge to acquire new knowledge.  See Literacy articles for ideas.
  • Be aware of and leverage opportunities to extend academic conversations that use both academic and everyday language
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Develop routines (for example: standardized thinking sheets for solving word problems and for writing lab reports) that students can use repetitively to solve problems and develop products
  • Develop a practice of using meta-language to make students more aware of how academic language is used to effectively express ideas
  • Prompt students to reflect on whether or not and how learning strategies are helping them develop their content and language skills


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