Frontloading Vocabulary & Concepts

Although ELL students can acquire basic communication skills in one to two years, it takes five or more years to acquire academic language, because it is more cognitively demanding, it is used less frequently and they are learning new concepts while simultaneously learning the language. There are things that teachers can do to support academic language acquisition:

  • Teach cognates
  • Teach Greek/Latin root words
  • Use comprehensible language
  • Build background knowledge and connections
  • Preview texts and use graphic organizers
  • Teach structural analysis of texts (text organizational patterns, purposes)
  • Frontloading information

Although general academic vocabulary (words like therefore, contrast, examples) is less technical than content-specific vocabulary (hypothesis, equation, amendment), general academic vocabulary is harder for students to learn. This is because the focus is usually on content-specific words, the new content usually is connected to content-specific words and these words are often bold/italicized in texts. Teachers must point out and teach general academic vocabulary.

Frontloading is an effective strategy for teaching new concepts and vocabulary to all students, especially ELLs. Frontloading involves learning about something, talking about it, wondering about it then reading/writing about it. This helps students see/hear/use vocabularly in context and in multiple ways and helps students make connections. I used to think it was cheating to provide students with support like pictures walks, gist statements about books and giving them all of the vocabulary up front, but this was foolish to think. I now realize how critical it is to give students this support to activate their prior knowledge and help them to make connections as they learn and as they read!

Here are three great resources that I want to share. The first is an article on frontloading and the other two resources are resources to share with classroom teachers for strategies for working with ELLs in general.

1. This article from We Are Teachers Frontloading Article offers additional information on the benefits of frontloading.

2. Another great resource that I want to point out is a brochure that Parkland School District in Pennsylvania made for their teachers as a collaboration tool. Here is the link to their website and brochure.

3. I found a wonderful blog my Ms. Houser, who has created a free printable to share with teachers with 8 main strategies to use for scaffolding instruction for ELLs. You can check out her blog at Ms. Houser’s Blog.

8 Strategies for Scaffolding Instruction, Ms. Houser, Retrieved Sept. 2016



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