Developing collaboration across subjects

The language of schooling can easily be integrated with other subjects because language is both a medium of learning and the focus of learning in all subjects. In order to learn content knowledge, students need to learn the academic language used in describing abstract phenomena. The vast majority of second language learners spend most of their school lives in the mainstream classroom. This means that subject teachers, including language of schooling teachers, are expected to take the dual role of teaching both language and content. We believe that this is beneficial to all students because they benefit from language support and carefully designed teaching practices.


What will you learn in this section

The aims of the section are (see Marille 2011, 33–36):

Collaboration with teachers of other languages:

  • developing possible ways for teachers of different language subjects to co-operate
  • developing shared activities focusing on a certain phenomenon to be learnt

Collaboration with teachers of other subjects:

  • enabling learners to transfer language of schooling knowledge and skills to other language and non-language subjects
  • recognising the central role of the language of schooling in the learning of all subjects
  • being able to integrate content and language learning

Reflect on the key ideas

Developing shared activities and ways to cooperate

Today it is widely understood that literacy instruction is a responsibility that should be shared by teachers in all disciplines. However, it is inevitable that language specialists have a more detailed insight into language issues and better access to linguistic resources. Therefore, language experts have a special role to play.

Watch a short video of an interview with Professor Bernd Rüschoff from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. The questions asked in the interview are:

  • How would you diversify language education to encourage the use and awareness of minority languages and cultures?
  • What do you think might be the role of the "mother tongue" teacher in supporting plurilingualism?
  • How do you think cooperation between teachers of different subjects could be enhanced in schools? 


  • How would you comment on Professor Rüschoff's answers?
  • What does he mean by sensitivy towards languages and awareness of languages? How could that be achieved?

Consider the school culture in your country and discuss the following issues:

  • What elements encourage teachers to collaborate and which ones prevent them from doing so?
  • What is needed to develop the pedagogical culture so that more collaborative practices are taken up?

If possible, discuss these questions with students of other subjects to see if you share similar viewpoints.

Academic language is a challenge to all learners

Traditionally, it has been taken for granted that students simply learn to use academic language successfully, but that assumption has proved to be questionable. Academic language is also challenging for native speakers of the language of schooling. Therefore, to talk about language and the support we plan and arrange for second language learners is highly beneficial for native speakers too.

The key benefit of collaboration across school subjects is that language focus benefits all learners. Contribution from all teachers is needed: subject teachers are experts in their fields and they are masters of the language used within their disciplines. However, language experts are needed to provide an outline of the overall picture:

  • How does the language use differ in different subjects? 
  • What makes academic language challenging?
  • What kind of identity work is involved in developing academic skills in different subjects?
  • Could language knowledge taught in the language of schooling classroom be related to academic literacies and enable students to compare, analyse and identify different characteristics of language use?
  • How can language skills be transferred from one subject to another?

Two ECML projects focus on academic language skills and the integration of content and language learning. Read more about them:

  • Language descriptors for migrant and minority learners' success in compulsory education
  • Literacies through Content and Language Integrated Learning: effective learning across subjects and languages

5 principles for teaching content to language learners

Effective academic language instruction has been defined and researched by many scholars. Dr. Jim Cummins is one of the leading authorities in the field. He has identified three key pillars of effective academic language instruction for English language learners: activate prior knowledge, access content and extend language. Based on these pillars, Pearson has created five principles for teaching content to language learners. Learn more about them here.

Explore the principles and discuss them in groups

  • What do the principles mean with regard to the language of schooling classroom when teaching various content included in the curriculum?
  • What do the principles mean with regard to collaboration across subjects? How could the framework be used as a basis for structuring cooperation between teachers and cross-disciplinary projects?
  • How would the students in our example (see learner profiles) benefit from these principles?

If possible, develop, put into use and report on an exercise involving teachers/ student teachers of another subject.


  • Plurilingual teaching intervention
  • Academic language versus everyday language
  • Language use in science
  • Definitions as a genre


Plurilingual teaching intervention

Read an example of a plurilingual teaching intervention  in a Finnish secondary school. In the intervention teachers of both Finnish and English tried to figure out ways in which to integrate these two subjects, and even to enhance their 13-year-old pupils’ awareness of their diverse language competencies.

Think about ways in which you could implement these ideas in the language of schooling classroom. Come up with other kinds of activities that would make use of all the language repertoires of the pupils. What do you think about the questions mentioned at the end of the report? Discuss with fellow students.


Academic language versus everyday language

Part 1. Compare texts

Read the texts below and consider how you could focus your students’ attention on the differences between the linguistic means adopted in each one:

An oscillator is oscillating about an equilibrium position in a periodic motion which repeats at regular intervals of time. The time to complete oscillation, is called the period of the motion which is represented by the symbol T.

An object is moving from one place to another and back, back and forth. It always moves in the same way and the movement always takes the same amount of time. The time from one end of the movement to another can be called the period of the motion. You can use the letter T to represent it.


How would you get your students to consider the following issues?

  • Why are there difficult concepts in different disciplines? What are they needed for?
  • What concepts are important to learn and which are worth understanding in the context but not needed to learn productively?
  • What is everyday language needed for?

Part 2. Develop a follow-up task to the exercise above

  • How would you strengthen students’ ability to apply and transfer skills learnt from reading one text to another?

Part 3. Observe language use in the classroom

Visit in pairs a classroom of a subject of your choice (not a language subject). Observe the language used by the teacher and the students. If possible, video the lesson(s).

Prepare for the observation by making a list of 3-5 questions about issues you would like to learn more about. For instance, you might focus on following issues:

  • How does the use of academic language and everyday language alternate in the classroom discourse?
  • How is academic language supported by everyday language?
  • What are the roles of spoken and written language in the classroom? What mode is used most frequently?
  • How are students engaged in substantive discussion?
  • What observations can you make of their language use?

Consider ways in which subject teachers and language of schooling teachers could collaborate to integrate two subjects and how this could help the students perform at school.

Make field notes and share your observations with the other pairs. If possible, try out some of your ideas for collaboration.


Language use in science

Look at the physics text below. How would you use that text to encourage pupils’ versatile language skills in the language of schooling classroom?


Nature of light

Light is transverse, electromagnetic wave motion that can be detected with the human eye.


Light is produced by one of two methods:

  • Incandescence is the emission of light from "hot" matter (temperature T ≳ 800 Kelvins), 
  • Luminescence is the emission of light when excited electrons fall to lower energy levels


Like all electromagnetic waves, light can travel through vacuum. The speed of light in vacuum is represented by the letter c from the Latin celeritas — swiftness. The speed of light in vacuum is fixed at 299,792,458 m/s and this fundamental quantity is related, for instance, to the current definition of the meter. The speed of light in a medium is always slower than the speed of light in vacuum. The speed of light depends upon the medium through which it travels. The speed of anything with a mass is always less than the speed of light in vacuum.

Light and colours

The amplitude of a light wave is related to its intensity. Intensity is the absolute measure of a light wave's power density. Brightness is the relative intensity as perceived by a typical human eye.

The frequency of a light wave is related to its color. Monochromatic light is described by only one frequency. Laser light is effectively monochromatic. There are six colors each associated with a band of monochromatic light. In order of increasing frequency they are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Polychromatic light is described by many different frequencies. Nearly every light source is polychromatic. For example, white light is polychromatic.

Adapted from


Use the text above to create tasks that guide students to:

  • identify the typical features of the given text type
  • employ the relevant reading strategies together with their background knowledge
  • identify the keywords and essential definitions
  • explore the topic in different languages to deepen their understanding
  • search for more information on the topic in other languages
  • compare texts (or parts of the texts) in different languages
  • discuss the topic and write derivative texts.

Share your ideas in the group and learn from the others. Consider jointly ways how you could strengthen students’ ability to transfer skills learnt in one subject to others. 


Definitions as a genre

Texts related to natural sciences are filled with different types of definitions. In order to understand the texts and consequently produce their own texts, students have to be familiar with the textual and linguistic features of definitions.

Your colleague asks for your help to better cater for learners with limited skills in the language of schooling (see the text below). How can you help your colleague in supporting integrated language and content learning in such a way that the students learn to:

  • identify definitions in the text and to recognise the way the definitions are constructed (keywords and their explanations)
  • focus on the linguistic features of the definitions (typical verbs, idioms, etc.)
  • use their plurilingual resources to explore and compare the definitions in different languages
  • construct new definitions and use them in a textual context?

How would you collaborate with the physics teacher in order to strengthen the students’ language skills and their knowledge of physics?

Physical characteristics of sound

Sound is longitudinal, mechanical wave motion. Sound is produced by a vibrating object. Sound always propagates in a medium, which means that it cannot travel in vacuum. As a consequence, there is no sound in space.

Sound waves consist of areas of high and low pressure called compressions and rarefactions. A region of increased pressure on a sound wave is called a compression. A region of decreased pressure on a sound wave is called a rarefaction.

The frequency of a sound wave is called its pitch. High frequency sounds are said to be "high pitched" or just "high"; low frequency sounds are said to be "low pitched" or just "low".

Humans are generally capable of hearing sounds between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. Sounds with frequencies above the range of human hearing are called ultrasound. Sounds with frequencies below the range of human hearing are called infrasound. Typical sounds produced by human speech have frequencies on the order of 100 to 1000 Hz. The peak sensitivity of human hearing is at around 4000 Hz.

Text adapted from:


Header image based on "Coloured pencils chevre" by Chevre (CC BY-SA 3.0).