Teaching academic vocabulary

Teaching academic
Ellen Douglas
October 19, 2009
Activity : Vocabulary Quilt
Fold paper into 8 parts—hamburger-hamburgerhamburger
Write one of these terms on each square:
BICS/ CALP/ academic vocabulary/ Tier 2 words/
mini-novela/ multi-dimensional word knowledge/
incremental word knowledge/ false cognate
Take 3-4 minutes to write any knowledge or
association you have with each term. Don’t talk to
others at your table just yet!
From the research—why do we need to
teach vocabulary?
1st grade children from higher income groups knew
about twice as many words as lower income
children (Graves, Brunetti & Slater, 1982; Graves & Slater, 1987)
Others found that 3 year olds of higher income
groups knew as much as five times as many
words as their lower-income peers (Hart & Risley, 1995)
High school seniors near the top of their class knew
4 times as many words as lower-performing
classmates (Smith, 1941)
High-knowledge 3rd graders had vocabularies
about equal to lowest-performing 12th graders (Smith,
From the research—what can teaching
vocabulary do?
Vocabulary instruction had a strong relation
to text comprehension for 4th grade students
(McKeown, Beck, Omanson, and Perfetti; 1983)
Pre-teaching vocabulary words had a
significant effect on retention and acquisition
of social studies content (Carney, Anderson, Blackburn,
and Blessings; 1984)
Meta-analysis showed that vocabulary
instruction was important for text
comprehension (Stahl and Fairbanks, 1986)
Some recommendations from the
National Reading Panel (2000)
Teach vocabulary directly.
Expose students to vocabulary items many times.
Offer rich contexts for vocabulary learning.
Make sure students are actively engaged in
vocabulary learning tasks.
Make sure they understand why and what they’re
doing when learning vocabulary. Restructure the
task as necessary (esp. effective for low-achievers)
Make use of computer technology.
Offer a variety of vocabulary instruction methods.
How to choose what words to teach:
Beck, McKeown, Kucan (“Bringing Vocabulary to Life” 2002)
Tier 1 words: most common words: “clock” “baby”
Tier 3 words: low frequency, limited to specific
domains: “refinery” “isotope” etc.
Tier 2 words: everything in between: “introduce”
“coincidence” “fortunate”
High frequency—high utility—found across a variety of
Good instructional potential—can work with them in a variety
of ways
Students already have a general idea of the concept—you’re
giving them a more precise term for it (have to/ required;
lucky/ fortunate; kind/ benevolent)
Problems with tiered vocabulary
It’s all relative…
English learners need to learn a lot (maybe
even most!) of what are Tier 1 words for
native speakers
…still, as Beck says:
“Thinking in terms of tiers is just a starting point—
a way of framing the task of choosing candidate
words for instruction.”
Tiered vocabulary activity
Have a look at the non-fiction book from your
grade-level’s curriculum
As a grade-level team, pick out what you
would consider Tier 2 vocabulary for your
grade level—but be sure to consider your
English learners!
In 5 minutes, we’ll share out what we come
up with
Other research tidbits from Nagy and
Scott, 2000
Word knowledge is incremental (students need
many exposures to learn some words)
Word knowledge is multi-dimensional (words can
have many different meanings and functions)
Word knowledge is interrelated (if you know one
word you can sometimes figure others out by
extension, e.g. urban/ suburban). (And note:
Cognates can be useful, but watch out for false
Turn to your neighbor: think of words that are multidimensional or interrelated
Marzano's 6 steps for vocabulary
Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term. If
working with ELL students the teacher should first provide the
description in the native language and a visual representation of
the word.
Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example
in their own words. ELL students may write their definition in their
native language.
Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic of the
term. This activity is critical for ELL students. (Alisha Das: Add
kinesthetic element to the definition!)
Engage students every other week in activities that help them
add to their knowledge of the terms.
Every other week ask students to discuss the terms with one
Once a week involve students in games that allow them to play
with the terms.
Kinesthetic activity
Pick a concept from any of your curricula and
devise a way to demonstrate it kinesthetically
to your students (5 minutes to devise)
Share with everyone!
Let’s look at ELLs some more
BICS: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills:
language of the playground—conversational
language. Picked up quickly and easily.
CALP: Cognitive and Academic Language
Proficiency: language of the classroom. Requires
a lot of cognitive processing and takes many
years to master.
BICS/CALP activity
3 or 4 volunteers
Tell a chain story about the last fire drill we
Now tell about the process of
…without using words that begin with p, l, t,
or s
Academic language
Academic language is what we need to focus
on in vocabulary instruction
Academic vocabulary is the vocabulary
critical to understanding the concepts of
the content taught in schools.
Can include content vocabulary, but it also
includes terms that span the content areas
“compare/contrast” vs “water cycle”
Check out some academic word lists
Finally: ideas from Socorro Herrera
Need to consider a student’s cultural
What are the home culture’s attitudes towards
What kind of access does the student have to
learning about this subject—i.e., what kinds of
experiences are they likely to be able to have?
What are the funds of knowledge that the child
brings with her to school—e.g., what experience
does she already have with the subject?
More from Herrera
Reinforcing the different kinds of memory and
learning styles:
Sensory or short term memory: find a way to
activate background knowledge to make the most
of sensory memory
Working memory: You can do activities while
they’re learning that will reinforce the concept
Long-term or permanent memory: Prove they own
the concept!
Even more from Herrera
This translates into before, during and after
activities, e.g.:
Vocabulary Quilt: activates background
knowledge and gets the sensory memory going
Vocabulary cards, kinesthetic movements:
reinforces the concept
And finally, a strategy for highlighting permanent
ownership: the mini-novela
Mini-novela activity
Fold along all lines first (hamburger-hamburger-hamburger), then open up and
fold in half along blue line (hamburger) to cut through the red dotted line. Open
up and fold along the green line (hot dog), and push so the cut section opens
like a mouth. Keep pushing so the pages make a plus sign, then fold into book.
Have a look at some of the resources listed
within and at the end of this presentation
Try at least one vocabulary activity before we
meet again (November 2).
Remember: Tier 2 words, before-during-after
Write up a brief reflection of how the activity
went, what you would do differently, and what
more you want to know.
“A Focus on Vocabulary”
Excellent, thorough article about teaching vocabulary
Wordsmyth—kid-friendly definitions
Wordsift—definitions, images, and a thesaurus. Great for
planning and introducing a concept
Academic vocabulary teaching site for Tennessee educators.
Check out their games! They’re phenomenal!
Academic word lists from Illinois district U-46. Lots of useful
vocabulary teaching items here.
My Delicious vocabulary links
“Vocabulary development with ELLs” from Reading Rockets
Reading Rockets vocabulary page with video of Beck and others
Southwest Vocabulary wiki

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