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Connecting Content and Academic Language for English Learners and Struggling Students, Grades 2–6

Connecting Content and Academic Language for English Learners and Struggling Students, Grades 2–6

Foreword by Ofelia García

Additional resources:

June 2012 | 200 pages | Corwin
For English Learners and other struggling students, understanding and using academic language is absolutely critical to literacy development and school achievement, but it takes careful planning to help these students develop mastery. Ruth Swinney and Patricia Velasco's teacher-friendly guide explains how to weave together content and language goals when planning lesson units, as well as offering strategies for moving students from social to academic language and creating a curriculum of talk in the classroom. In addition, Swinney and Velasco provide detailed sample unit plans in all content areas to demonstrate how these strategies can be employed while simultaneously meeting curriculum demands. Using specific structures of balanced literacy including read along, shared reading, and shared writing, these unit plans also include a self-assessment guide for teachers to use as they scaffold the content to increase comprehension and student achievement
List of Illustrations
Foreword: Finding Cats and Dogs in the Zoo, by Ofelia Garcia
About the Authors
Part I: The Language Component: From Social to Academic Language
Introduction: Making Content Accessible to English Learners and Struggling Students
1. Building Language: How and Why
Background Knowledge and Its Relationship With Vocabulary

The Role that Background Knowledge Plays in Our Learning

Morphology and Syntax

Figurative Language


Questions for Reflection

2. From Social to Academic Language: a Curriculum of Talk
Developing Oral Language

The Social and Academic Language Continuum

What Is a Curriculum of Talk?

Goals of a Curriculum of Talk: The Role of Conversation

Different Types of Classroom Conversations That Support Listening and Speaking in the Classroom


Questions for Reflection

3. Structures of Balanced Literacy That Support English Language Learners and Struggling Students
What Is Balanced Literacy?

Literacy Practices That Support Language Growth

Adapting Balanced Literacy Components

Interactive Real Aloud

Shared Reading

Shared Writing


Questions for Reflection

Part II: The Lesson Component: Sample Units to Integrate Content and Language Goals
4. Language Arts Unit: Memoir (Grades 3-6)

Section 1: The English Language Learner and Memoir

Breaking the Plan Into Doable Parts

Immersion in the Genre Through Read Aloud

Developing Knowledge About the Genre After Reading Many Memoirs

Section 2: Addressing Language Needs

Elements of Cohesion

Figurative Language


Teacher Self-Assessment for the Unit

5. Social Studies Unit: Colonial Times and the American Revolution (Grade 4)
The English Language Learner and the Social Studies Curriculum

Concepts and Teaching Tools

Breaking the Plan Into Doable Parts

Anchoring the Unit in a Read Aloud

Thinking Skills Used Throughout the Unit: Language Prompts

Vocabulary Development

Shared Reading: Working With Language Goals

Shared Writing


Teacher Self-Assessment for the Unit

6. Science Unit: Plant and Animal Adaptations (Grades 5-6)
The English Language Learner and Science

Planning the Unit

Breaking the Plan Into Doable Parts

Shared Reading

Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Read Aloud

Experiment: Plant Adaptations

Individual Book Reports


Teacher Self-Assessment for the Unit

7. Thematic Unit: The Rainforest (Grades 2-3)
The English Language Learner and Thematic Units

Planning the Unit

Breaking the Plan Into Doable Parts

Social Studies and Math Concepts


Language Arts

The Rainforest of the Amazon: The Play


Teacher Self-Assessment for the Unit



Supplemental Resources Website
This companion website provides printable templates for the different organizers that have been described throughout the book. They will assist you in planning units of study that include the development of background knowledge, and the integration of content and academic language goals.

"When told not to simplify but rather to amplify a lesson for English learners, a teacher's first questions are: 'how and when?' In Swinney and Velasco's book, a Grade 2–6 teacher finds the answer to both questions and the tools to implement them. Congratulations! I do not know many books that can do that."

Elena Dilion, Supervisor of ELL and Dual Language Programs K–12
City School District of New Rochelle, NY

"The authors offer teachers a toolbox that explicitly illustrates scaffolding strategies to trigger background knowledge, link the building of academic language to the acquisition of new knowledge, and intertwine thinking skills throughout all experiences. Written in simple, user friendly language, this work will undoubtedly become a most useful tool for all teachers who seek to ensure academic success for emergent bilingual learners."

Nancy Villarreal de Adler, Executive Director
New York State Association for Bilingual Education

"Finally, teachers of English learners have the book they have needed for so long. Swinney and Velasco describe in a friendly and practical way the precise pedagogical sequence needed by Grade 2–6 school teachers in the education of ELs. In my personal experience the only way that English learners can develop their cognitive abilities in the second language is learning the second language within the content of the other curriculum matters."

Rafael Olivares, Associate Professor of Education
Queens College, NY

"Many professors, staff developers and literacy coaches offer their conceptual knowledge but lack the wisdom of practice. Swinney & Velasco take the time to detail exactly the making of an ELL master teacher. Their teaching wisdom serves an often misunderstood student population—the struggling reader and writer. This book is a must-read to those practitioners in the field of second language special education."

Jossie O’Neill, Ed. D., Director of Partnerships & Outreach
The Gateway Schools, New York City, NY

"Swinney and Velasco provide an extraordinarily useful and comprehensive resource across content areas for the full spectrum of professionals working to improve the language and learning skills of students in Grades 2–6. Teacher educators as well as pre-service and beginning teachers will find a rich array of very concrete examples that detail effective instructional strategies, step-by-step action plans for achieving specific instructional objectives, and real-world vignettes of teachers achieving success with struggling students. This is an inspired and inspirational guide, well-informed by theory and research, and by the realities of actual classrooms. Both authors have extensive experience in classroom teaching, teacher supervision, program development and administration, and the writing of educational materials; their book distills the best of their combined 30 years of educational service."

Herlinda E. Cancino, Associate Professor
San Francisco State University, CA

"The authors' practical approaches for teaching content and language simultaneously are based on research and a deep knowledge of how classrooms operate. Every teacher working with language-diverse students will find much of value here.”

Catherine Snow, Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA

"The main contribution this book makes is to show teachers that they have other options rather than simplifying the material. Supremely practical, with careful and precise guidance, the book is for teachers in bilingual settings, in regular classrooms, and for ESL teachers. It can also be valuable in teacher training programs, which incorporate language objectives into all their planning.", July 2011, Issue 147

The content was covered by other resources that were more broadly applicable to other grades.

Dr Kate Reynolds
Foreign Languages Dept, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
February 15, 2013

Sample Materials & Chapters



Ruth Swinney

Ruth Swinney is a native of Colombia, S.A. She started her career as a bilingual teacher in New York City. In 1984 she founded one of the first dual language programs in New York City in PS 84, and subsequently became director of bilingual and dual language programs for a large District in NYC. In this role she supervised bilingual and ESL programs, and developed seven model dual language programs for the District. When she became principal PS 165 (Manhattan) she set up a nationally recognized dual language program at the same time that she turned around one of the bottom schools in the city. She has won numerous awards for her work with... More About Author

Patricia Velasco

Patricia Velasco started her career as a speech pathologist in Mexico City. After finishing her EdD in the United States, she established a Staff Development Institute (Casa de la Ciencia) that works with indigenous bilingual children and their teachers in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico . After she moved to New York City, she first worked for the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University, as a staff developer supporting teachers all across New York City in addressing the literacy and language needs of English language learners. In addition, she was part of the faculty at Teachers College, Columbia... More About Author

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ISBN: 9781412988438