Academic Language

Published on September 15th, 2014 | by Aaron Hart

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An Intro to Academic Language in PE

Here’s an essential concept for any physical educator working to elevate a PE program to Core Subject Status – Academic Language.  Academic Language is a term that is often associated with the current College and Career Ready movement. In the context of physical education we can think of it as the language that our students must speak and navigate in order to become physically active and healthy for a lifetime. This language includes PE-specific vocabulary as well as the understanding of activity-specific symbols and signals.

With that very brief explanation in place you may wonder, “What are three key reasons that I should focus on academic language?” I’m glad you asked.

  1. Raise your stock in the main office.  Showing an understanding, and then communicating the importance of Academic Language in Physical Education with your administration, parents and colleagues will help you achieve (or maintain) a high level of academic credibility. In other words, it will help keep your program alive and thriving.
  2. Define expectations and outcomes.  Academic Language is an absolutely essential part of student achievement with respect to expectations and outcomes. We’re already using this language everyday – work smart and improve student outcomes.
  3. Get them College and Career Ready in PE. Academic Language in technical subject areas helps students learn the core academic content that they are expected to master during their journey toward college and career readiness. Healthy and active students become a healthy and active workforce – saving businesses and taxpayers billions of dollars.

In my search to learn more about Academic Language and its relevance to the rigor of physical education, I’ve been directed to a great toolkit developed by Phoebe Constantinou & Deborah A. Wuest at Ithaca College.  I love this toolkit for its overall simplicity and PE-specific focus.

One simple way to begin emphasizing Academic Language in PE is the use of Word Quilts. Word Quilts are sort of like Word Walls on a very strict Cross Fit regimen. Constantinou and Wuest point out that, “The word quilt tool can be used to promote Syntax and Vocabulary. Post it on the gymnasium wall and have students contribute to it.”

So, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing (with the help of some #PhysEd friends), and I want to share that work with all of you. Here’s a PDF and a Word file of a Word Quilt for Personal and Social Responsibility in physical education (based on the great work of Don Hellison). You can use these pages as they are, or modify them for whatever concept/unit you’re currently working on.

Look for more Academic Language resources and tools to be posted on the US Games Blog over the course of the school year. Please comment with feedback on what you’re doing to make Academic Language a successful part of your teaching.

Work hard. Have fun.

(Follow me on Twitter @nyaaronhart)


About the Author

is the Director of Educational Programs for US Games and teaches as a part-time faculty member in SUNY Cortland’s Physical Education Department. Aaron has been teaching physical education for seventeen years, serving all levels from Early Childhood through Graduate School. He’s provided over 150 professional development workshops in 36 states and Canada.



6 Responses to An Intro to Academic Language in PE

  1. Lisa says:

    Thank you for the Word file regarding Academic Language. I appreciate the time and effort that you put into publishing this information. I look forward to using it in my PE classes.

  2. Wendi Hatley says:

    This is probably the most useful Physical Education Blog that I’ve come across. I have forwarded this to all of my Elementary and Secondary Teachers and encouraged them to use it as a resource.

  3. Laura says:

    Wow! This is awesome! It’s funny but I’ve had student teachers from Cortland and have struggled a bit to help my ST’s use “academic language” as is required to state in the formal lesson plan. THIS spells it all out very nicely and clearly of what is expected. I too will be using it for my own observations and general teaching! Thank you!!

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