Thursday, February 26, 2015

Academic Vocabulary


One of the key shifts in Common Core standards is an emphasis on academic vocabulary.  These are words that are used in the classroom, in textbooks, and on assessments.  Understanding academic language is essential to student success.  Academic vocabulary needs to be taught explicitly.  It is not likely to be acquired through students’ independent reading or incidental classroom exposure.

Vocabulary words can be divided into three tiers.  Tier 1 words appear frequently in spoken language.  They are commonly used in various contexts, not just in classroom or educational settings.  They rarely require explicit instruction. These would be words like clock, house, or walking.

Tier 2 words are used less commonly, and are likely to appear more often in written text than in spoken language.  These words are generalized, and used in many different contexts.  They are often more precise ways to say rather simple things. They are essential to understanding, and need to be taught explicitly.  Examples of these words are: conclude, define, and dialogue.

Tier 3 words are highly specialized, and domain-specific.  They are not generalized, or used widely. These words must be explicitly taught. Tier three word examples are: isotope, tectonic plates, phoneme

Here is a suggested procedure for teaching academic vocabulary:

1.  Introduce the word by providing a description, explanation, or example in student-friendly terms.  Do not use dictionary definitions when introducing the word.  Write the word for students to see.  Have students repeat the word, and spell it orally.  Provide several opportunities for students to read and say the word.

2.  Have students explain the term in their own words and let them share examples, synonyms, or uses of the word.

3.  Have students represent the word in graphic or picture form.

4.  Working with partners or in small groups, have students discuss their ideas and understanding of the word.

5.  Provide opportunities for the word to be used in context.  Teach a word when it will be incorporated into the lesson activities.  For example, teach the word develop when students will be working on writing assignments and can be encouraged to develop their ideas and add more information.

6.  Be sure to teach other forms of the word.  For example, when students learn conclusion (a noun), they should also learn conclude (a verb).

7. Review and revisit the words after they have been taught.  Use the terms frequently during instruction in all subjects.
I have  new academic vocabulary packet in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  It has page-size posters for 48 academic vocabulary terms that are taken directly from Common Core standards.  I purposes chose words that were not tied to one domain, but are very general and are useful in any subject area.  You can find it here: