Teaching Academic Conversation to Improve Proficiency
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The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) require that all students, including English Language Learners (ELLs) be able to use academic language across all content areas. In order for this to occur, we need to provide ELLs the necessary tools to engage in academic conversations in all subject areas. These conversations can be powerful teachers that help ELLs learn academic vocabulary and the skills they need to improve communication as well as to produce high quality academic writing. Unfortunately, conversations which encourage ELLs to think more deeply and to communicate their ideas more clearly are not the norm in most classrooms. By not providing them the opportunities to refine these skills needed to succeed academically and professionally, we are doing these students a disservice. Jeff Zwiers has become a leading researcher in the field of classroom language and literacy an his work with academic conversations will be examined in this paper. His thoughts on cultivating the skills and language students need in order to interact effectively in the classroom as well as strategies for scaffolding academic conversations in pairs or groups and ideas for assessing academic language will be discussed and applies to the unit plan detailed at the end of this work. Particular focus will be placed on Zwiers' five core skills of academic conversation: elaborating and clarifying, supporting ideas with examples, challenging or building upon a partner's idea, paraphrasing, and synthesizing and how teaching those skills will help prepare all students, including ELLs, for academic success according to the CCSS.