Science Teaching Series

Internet Resources

I. Developing Scientific Literacy

II. Developing Scientific Reasoning

III. Developing Scientific Understanding

IV. Developing Scientific Problem Solving

V. Developing Scientific Research Skills

VI. Resources for Teaching Science

Academic Language

What is academic language?

Academic language represents the language demands of school (academics). Academic language includes language used in textbooks, in classrooms, on tests, and in each discipline.  It is different in vocabulary and structure from the everyday spoken English of social interactions. Each type of communication (both academic and social) has its purpose, and neither is superior to the other.

Academic vocabulary is used in all academic disciplines to teach about the content of the discipline, e.g., a water table is different from a periodic elements table. Before taking chemistry, for example, some students know the technical words used in chemistry, while others do not. Preteaching of vocabulary and subject-specific terminology helps to address that need.  Teaching academic language can be challenging because struggling readers and English learners do not always know the vocabulary used to learn specific academic terms or key concepts.

Academic structure also includes the established ways of organizing writing (which can affect how one reads) in a discipline. Different genres, paragraph/sentence structure, level of text difficulty, purpose, intended audience, overall organization, and knowledge of outside resources for the text all affect how one writes and reads in that discipline.
How can I teach academic language? Some suggestions for teaching academic language include:

Adapted from Gebhard, M. & Willett, J. (2008). Social to Academic: University-School District Partnership Helps Teachers Broaden Students’ Language Skills. JSD, 29(1), 41-45.

Adapted from <>


Alvermann, D. E. (2001). In McGrath, D. (2005). Effective literacy instruction for
adolescents. Chicago: National Reading Conference.

Bailey, A.L. (2007). The language demands of school: Putting academic language
            to the test. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Scarcella, R. C. (2003). Accelerating academic English: A focus on the English learner.
            Oakland, California: Regents of the University of California.

Source: Mira Pak, with help from Judy Lombardi, Carolyn Burch, and Bonnie Ericson