Approximate time to complete: 45 minutes 

Download the Course Companion document before starting this course. You can use the Companion Document to take notes on your learning, address reflection prompts and as an easy way to retrieve course resources.  

Course Objectives:

Participants will be able to: 
  •  Identify the key components of academic language and explain its significance for adolescent literacy
  • Analyze current practice to identify areas to include and improve the use of academic language

Consider This Scenario

Connection Point

In your Course Companion Document, consider these questions:  

  • Can you relate to the above scenario? In what ways are your challenges in literacy instruction similar or different? 

Eighth grade math teacher Mr. Ramirez noticed that his students struggled to discuss the concepts in his geometry unit because they did not have a firm hold on the terms and vocabulary for the lessons. Students also struggled to comprehend story problems. In conversations with other teachers on the 8th grade team, he realized that this was not a problem unique to math class. Students had difficulty understanding new discipline-specific concepts and texts in all subject-area classes.

If you experience issues similar to Mr. Ramirez, focusing on academic language can help.

What is Academic Language? 

“Academic language is the specialized language, both oral and written, of academic settings that facilitates communication and thinking about disciplinary content” (Nagy & Townsend, 2012, p. 92).

How do we distinguish common or informal language from academic language? The text below shows the contrast between informal language and academic language.

Informal Language

  • Repetition of words​
  • Sentences starting with “and” or “but”​
  • Use of slang such as “dude”, “whatever”, and “like”​
  • Appropriate for use in casual, social settings​
  • Can vary greatly by ethnicity, region, gender and age​

Academic Language

  • Variety of words, more sophisticated vocabulary
  • Sentences start with transition words
  • Replaces slang with accurate descriptors​
  • Appropriate for use in all academic and workplace settings​
  • Common language register for all ​

Dr. Diana Townsend: Academic Language

View this clip by Dr. Dianna Townsend for a more in-depth look at the role of academic language and how to incorporate academic language instruction in the classroom. There is a place to take notes on the video in your course companion.

Knowledge Check

Take the brief quiz below to test your knowledge. You can click on the square button to expand the quiz. 


Review the Reading Rockets article by Flynt and Brozo, Developing Academic Language: Got Words?, for more information on academic language in the classroom.

In your Course Companion answer the question: What practical advice from this article can I incorporate into my practice? 

Course Reflection

On your own or with colleagues, review a small set of central texts, problems, videos, etc., for a content area. Identify common connectives within the texts. A list of common connectives is provided in this viewing guide. Take a few minutes to consider some instructional routines you can implement, such as those presented in the video, that will allow for students’ meaningful practice with those connectives.

To Learn More

If you are interested in learning more, check out the following resources: 

  • Learn from Dr. Paulo Uccelli as she compares academic language with everyday language.
  • View a video example of teacher Lili Velo as she explains the value of academic language and uses a tool that supports the use of transitions when writing as part of a history lesson with students in a sheltered instruction environment classroom. 


Please take a moment to fill out this feedback form. We will use your feedback to improve this and other courses. 

Last Modified: 9/20/2023 8:54:46 AM