ELLs and Academic Conversations

Oakland Unified School District, the Teaching Channel, and Stanford University’s Understanding Language Group have collaborated in this three-part series on English language learners (ELLs) and academic conversations. Teachers create classroom structures that encourage students to talk to and learn from each other.

Academic conversations (Zwiers & Crawford, 2011) have the following characteristics:

  • Purposeful and sustained conversations about content
  • Anchored in grade-level texts and tasks
  • Students work together to co-construct knowledge and negotiate meaning
  • Students use “talk moves,” such as asking for clarification, paraphrasing, and building on or disagreeing with a previous idea

The videos were filmed in three secondary classrooms where ELLs are engaged in academic conversations. Each part of the series describes different aspects of academic conversations:

  • Part 1: Engaging ELLs in Academic Language
  • Part 2: Why are Academic Discussions so Important for our ELLs?
  • Part 3: Key Strategies for Developing Oral Language
Content Comments 

This video series is an informative introduction to academic conversations in practice. Each part of the series has descriptive text on an aspect of academic conversations, supplemented with embedded video links that illustrate the points made by the authors. Although the series does not specifically reference college and career readiness standards, it is clear that developing ELL students’ academic oral language is a means of helping them achieve the new standards. Teachers who work with ELL students or with struggling readers can incorporate the tips and strategies presented in this series when planning lessons and curriculum or developing learning goals for instruction.