Language for All Learners: Basics



I'm starting a new series where I'm sharing my love of language! And by language, I wish I could say that I'm an expert in foreign, romantic languages and that I'd be sharing about that through my worldly travels. But alas, not quite. I'm sharing my love of language in the classroom, specifically, academic language. 

It's a recent, new found love of mine. Perhaps because I love learning and I'm having to learn a LOT myself to help my students reach their full potentials. But now that I'm a "Masters" (my diploma with my maiden name was delivered this week- you can't win them all I guess), and I spent the first part of this year fully engulfed in all things language, I have seen the huge impact it makes on my students.

All my students.

Not just my 13 ELs. Although the language they've been able to use is pretty remarkable.

I think as an elementary teacher this is especially important but also especially challenging. We wear so many hats all day long. We teach multiple content areas. Some may say, "I'm not a language arts teacher... I teach a lot of other things too!!" However, language is the vehicle in which students share their learning and understanding so in a sense, we all are language arts teachers all day long!

The series will be called, "All Students as Language Learners" and each post will share on the topic of academic language in the elementary classroom. Some will include information that you may not know about academic language, others will include strategies and tips, while others will share resources I use in my room to help make learning stick. I'll also include a quote to kick off each post  to guide the content. I hope to do this once a week, or heck at least once a month... but if you've been around this blog for a while, you know that my blogging during the school year can be hit or miss!

Let's start with the basics.

If students speak English as a first language, they more likely than not have the BICS under control, meaning, they can carry on a conversation with others in a social setting just fine. Typically, the context of the conversation is very clear and easy to distinguish. ELs also may have a great grasp on their BICS depending on where they are at in their English acquisition.

It's the CALP that is like a foreign language to all students. Even students who have grown up speaking English their whole life, will need to be explicitly taught both academic vocabulary and language in order to really take their learning to the next level. We can't assume they know the more abstract, limited context words that we use to discuss our content. So, what is a part of academic language then? It's more than just bold words in a text book!


The bricks are those words that we come in pretty much KNOWING we have to teach students about. Think about a content area and the words you would think to put on your word walls or vocabulary charts. The bold words in text books and articles. Those are your bricks. But just as important are those words that help construct clear meaning, especially when speaking and writing. They hold the thought together.

These are the words and phrases that often go untaught because for (one) they are abstract and hard to explain to students and (two) they aren't as obvious compared to the big bricks. These are our mortar words. They are words and phrases that are very abstract and can be used across content areas, but they are essential to complete our thoughts.

Take a look at this following example. Can you identify the bricks and the mortars? For those mortar words and phrases, do you think even your native English speakers have a good grasp on when to use these phrases and what they mean without any direct instruction on it?
Which words are the bricks? Which words are the mortars? 

Throughout this series, I'll be sharing ways to teach into those mortar words that I've found successful in my classroom. I'll also share ways to make those big brick words stick with learners so they can confidently use them to communicate their ideas and learning. Lastly, I'll share how to broaden and take language farther. I'm just starting out on this journey and just got on the freeway so I know I have a lot to learn still and I'm excited to explore and share it with you all!

Other posts a part of this series:

Stop-Worthy Words and Context Clues





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1 comment

  1. I can't wait for the rest of this series!! I have heard of BICS and CALP, but the bricks and mortar analogy is new to me- I took my ESL Master's classes in the late 90s- I suppose that explains it :)- and I love it!

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