Academic Content as a Vehicle for Language Learning

An Action Research Study of using Math, Science, and Social Studies Topics to develop Language in an Elementary Classroom

  • Kendra Nunan Purdue University
  • Brenda Capobianco
Keywords: ELLs, action research, science, social studies, language development


This study profiles an action research study conducted by a second grade teacher examining the different ways of leveraging academic content such as science and social studies as a means of enhancing students’ learning of language. The context of study was a second grade classroom housed within a small urban school where student performance on both school- and district-based assessments indicated that ELLs were 10-20% lower than English only students. State-wide math and reading achievement for ELLs in this school was lower than the overall population, and ELLs had the lowest percentage of students meeting their annual growth goals. Action strategies included an array of proactive instructional activities focused on speaking and writing derived from both science and literacy education literature. Student performance was measured using NWEA scores and a teacher-created speaking evaluation. Results indicated that students demonstrated significant growth in the use and frequency of academic vocabulary. Lessons learned and recommendations for teaching ELL using academic content in the elementary classroom are discussed.