Best Practices for Improving Academic Language

At the MELL Convention, 2014 this year, we tapped into strategies to use for strengthening an ELL student’s ability with academic vocabulary.


According to Debbie Arechiga, featured presenter and founder of Tools for Literacy, Inc. and author of Reaching English Language Learners in Every Classroom, there are challenges and opportunities for meeting the Common Core with English Language Learners.

She stresses the need to cultivate connections, connections to kids, to colleagues and to cultures.  In doing this she says we can elevate our expectations. It is through elevated expectations that we lead students to stronger academic demands and boost student confidence.  According to Archiga, a linear, remedial, passive approach to educating these students is not going to yield results.  What works is “accelerated language”.  Accelerated language describes fast paced, integrated, engaging and enriching instruction.  She does this is with “strategic energizers”.  Energizers help to recharge and stretch our capacities by giving students comprehensible input by:

  • building bridges where meaning is scaffolded
  • getting students talking
  • and flooding instruction with vocabulary

Arechiga stimulates students to achieve more by using “warm demanders”.  A warm demander is a genuine caring with a deep certainty that all students can succeed.  It is used in conjunction with appropriate learning supports.

See Arecguga use these strategies:

bridging strategy modeled

“Read-aloud are knowledge-builders for our ELLs.  Make them interactive so that students are engaged by responding to the reading.  When ELLs respond to reading, they’re bridging.”

Debbie’s strategic energizers can be broken down into 4 key ideas.

1.  Keep instruction comprehensible.

2.  Build bridges for language learning.

3.  Get students talking (active engagement).

4.  Flood instruction with vocabulary.

By modeling comprehension strategies, using gestures, choral reads, chants, poetry, and engaging students by encouraging them to talk, Arechiga  floods her lessons with vocabulary.  A quick assessment ensures they understand.