Academic vocabulary is the words critical to understanding the content taught in schools. In identifying academic vocabulary for instruction teachers must remember that not all words are of equal importance.
- Some words are critically important.
- Some words are useful but not critical.
- Some words are interesting but not useful.
District 33 Staff developed a “draft” list of academic vocabulary words that students are expected to understand and use at each grade level. You can find the “draft” list on our web site.
Why teach Academic Vocabulary?
According to Dr. Marzano (2005) the strongest action a teacher can take to ensure that students have the academic background knowledge to understand the content they will encounter is providing them with direct instruction in these words. When students understand these words, it is easier for them to understand the information they will read and hear in class.
• Vocabulary assessed in first grade predicted over 30% of reading comprehension in 11th grade (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1977).
• While four encounters with a word did not always improve reading comprehension, 12 encounters did (McKeown, Beck, Omanson, and Pople, 1985).
• One of the most critical services a teacher can provide, particularly for students who do not come from academically advantaged backgrounds, is systematic instruction in important academic words (Marzano and Pickering, 2005).
• The same student placing at the 50th percentile in reading comprehension, with no direct vocabulary instruction, placed at the 83rd percentile when provided specific instruction in academic vocabulary (Stahl and Fairbanks, 1986).
ELL Students and Academic Vocabulary
Marzano and Pickering (2005), emphasize the importance of teaching ELL academic vocabulary in a systematic approach. They suggest that vocabulary programs that emphasize high-frequency words fail to provide the background knowledge needed for student success in the content areas. Students learn high-frequency words through wide reading of fiction and informational text.
Six step process for teaching Academic Vocabulary
The process of teaching Academic Vocabulary includes six steps. The focus of steps 1-3 is on introducing new words and steps 4-6 offer ways to review the words providing students with deeper knowledge.
Step 1. Teacher provides 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.
Step 2. Teacher asks students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words. ELL students may write their definition in their native language.
Step 3. Teacher asks students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic of the term. This activity is critical for ELL students.
Step 4. Teacher engages students every other week in fun activities that help them add to their knowledge of the words.
Step 5. Every other week teacher asks students to discuss the words with one another.
Step 6. Once a week the teacher involves students in games that allow them to play with the words.
Cunningham, A. and Stanovich, K. (1977). Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years latter. Developmental Psychology, 33, 934-945.
McKeown, M., Beck, I., Onanson, R., and Pople, M. (1985). Some effects of the nature and frequency of vocabulary instruction on the knowledge and use of words. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 522-535.
Stahl, S. and Fairbanks, M. (1986). The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 56, 72-110.
Marzano, R. and Pickering, D. (2005). Building academic vocabulary: Teacher’s manual. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.