The mortar refers to general academic words such as, describe, represent, and approximate (Dutro & Moran, 2003). Understanding both types of terms is often the key to accessing content for English learners. For example, although most students need explicit instruction in the terms related to literary analysis, English learners (and struggling readers) also require that general academic words be included in their vocabulary instruction.
As you plan for lessons that teach and provide practice in both English-language arts content words and more general academic language, take a look at your teacher’s guides from your reading series and/or literature anthologies. Note the highlighted vocabulary. Also, identify other terms and phrases that are included in the student texts, but are not necessarily highlighted for teaching. This latter group of words may be precisely the aca- demic vocabulary that is unfamiliar to your English learners (and struggling readers).
Other resources include the “1,000 Most Frequent Words in Middle-Grades and High School Texts” and “Word Zones™ for 5586 Most Frequent Words,” which were collected by Hiebert (2005) and may be found online at www.textproject.org. For those of you who are high school teachers, you might also want to take a look at the Coxhead Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000).
In addition to your teacher’s edition and other word lists, use your state English- language arts content standards, and, if they exist, your state English language develop- ment standards for ELs to help you select academic language for writing and teaching accompanying language objectives. Let’s take a look at several ELA content standards taken from the English-Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools (K–12) (1998). The words that are English-language arts content-specific are bolded and general academic words are underlined.
Examples from Standards for Grades K–2
Match oral words to printed words.
Identify and describe the elements of plot, setting, and character(s) in a story, as
well as the story’s beginning, middle and ending.
Distinguish between complete and incomplete sentences.
Examples from Standards for Grades 3–5
Ask questions and support answers by connecting prior knowledge with literal information found in, and inferred from, the text.
Identify and use past, present, and future verb tenses properly in writing and speaking.
Make and confirm predictions about text by using prior knowledge and ideas pre- sented in the text itself, including illustrations, titles, topic sentences, important words, and foreshadowing clues.
Examples for Standards for Grades 6–8
Determine the adequacy and appropriateness of the evidence for an author’s conclusions.
Support all statements and claims with anecdotes, descriptions, facts and statistics, and specific examples.
Analyze the relevance of the setting (e.g, place, time, customs) to the mood, tone, and meaning of the text.
/ Academic Language of the English-Language Arts