Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach

This approach was developed by Anna Chamot and J. Michael O’Malley to help secondary-level students make a successful transition into their regular high school classes. The cognitive academic language learning approach (CALLA) is a three-pronged approach focusing equally on academic language learning, academic content learning, and learning strategy instruction. Lessons built around academic content include various exercises that focus on language skills, study skills, and content-specific concepts. Chamot and O’Malley encourage the use of the following instructional methods and concepts in their approach: language across the curriculum, language experience approach (LEA), whole language, process writing, cooperative learning, and cognitive instruction. Although this approach began as a secondary level approach, its use has been expanded to other levels.
Strategy of Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach

A CALLA lesson is built around the following five steps:

  • Preparation students’ background knowledge and schemata about the content being studied as well as their learning strategies are explored
  • Presentation the teacher presents the necessary new content and learning skills needed for the lesson
  • Practice students perform various activities to reinforce the material to be learned
  • Evaluation students evaluate their own learning
  • Expansion students use what they have learned and apply it to new situations

Applications and Example of Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach
A CALLA American History (Revolutionary War) Lesson

  • Students are given questions and exercises to help them and the teacher probe their background knowledge about the Revolutionary War. Students might be asked: What is a revolution? Has your country of origin had a revolution? Why do you think revolutions happen? Students might be shown pictures of the American Revolution’s events and/or symbols and asked what they are looking at.
  • Students read about the American Revolution. Students are asked what they need to do to read the passage successfully. They look at the subheadings, pictures, and any preview or review questions to help them develop their learning strategies. They might be asked to predict what they think the text will be about. Students might also hear a lecture about the American Revolution, in which case, they would also be taught methods of note taking.
  • Students do exercises and activities related to the reading. They might answer questions about the reading, make a timeline of the events, make charts or tables to help them categorize information, or write sentences describing people or events of the Revolutionary War.
  • Students use a learning log to check what they know. Students mark off on a list the academic vocabulary they know, if they can use certain learning strategies, what they know about the Revolutionary War. They might also be asked questions such as: What was interesting about this lesson? What was easy? What was difficult? How can you learn what is difficult? Students are encouraged to review information they don’t know.
  • Students expand and apply their knowledge through various activities. Students might write about a famous Revolutionary War person. In groups students might debate the pros and cons of the Revolutionary War. Students might give presentations about a famous historical event in their country.

A Beginning Level CALLA Math Lesson

  • Students are shown different numbers and asked to say them in English as a review of numbers.
  • Students are then shown simple arithmetic problems and learn the words “addition,” “subtraction,” “multiplication,” and “division.”
  • Students then see a number of problems and are asked to say which operation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) they are seeing.
  • Students are given a worksheet that shows the different words used to express math operations such as “four plus four equals eight” or “eight minus six is two.” Students are shown word problems and asked to say the problems.
  • Students are then given worksheets where they see word problems and write them out or see a problem written out and write it as a word problem. For example: The student sees 4 + 6 = 10. The student writes: Four plus six equals ten. Or the student reads: Seven plus two equals nine. The student writes: 7 + 2 = 9.
  • As an extension, students are asked to write problems using objects that they and their partners manipulate. For example, Chin has three books. He gives one book to Mohamed. They will write, “Three books minus one equals two books.”
  • After students who are complete their activities, they will fill out a log that asks them what they learned, what they need to review, and what they else they need to know.
Weaknesses and Modifications of Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach
  • Students not in school may find academic content not relevant. However, the basic strategies of preparation, presentation, practice, evaluation, and expansion are applicable to many teaching situations.