South Washington County Schools

Academic Vocabulary

What is Academic Vocabulary?

Dr. Isabel Beck’s Concept of Tiers

  • Tier 1 – Basic Concept Words – rarely multiple meaning words and usually do not need direct instruction

  • Tier 2 – Academic Vocabulary that help students access Tier 3 words – often multiple meaning across disciplines

  • Tier 3 – Content/Domain Specific Words

Why are we making this shift?

  • As Beck states above, students who struggle with Tier 2 Academic Vocabulary have difficulty accessing Tier 3.  Which means that students cannot access complex content.  Vocabulary instruction is key to teaching in depth content.

What is Academic Language?

  • The language used in the classroom and workplace
  • The language of text
  • The language of assessments
  • The language of academic success
  • The language of power

Why is this critical to our success?

  • First-grade children from higher socio-economic status groups know about twice as many words as children from lower socio-economic status groups.
  • High school seniors near the top of their class knew about four times as many words as their lower performing classmates.
  • High-knowledge third graders have vocabularies about equal to the lowest-performing 12th graders.
  • Individual differences in vocabulary have a powerful impact on reading comprehension beginning about third grade
  • Poor children, who enter school with vocabulary deficiencies have a particularly difficult time learning words from 'context.'
  • Research has discovered much more powerful ways of teaching vocabulary than are typically used in classrooms.
  • A 'robust' approach to vocabulary instruction involves directly explaining the meanings of words along with thought-provoking, playful, interactive follow-up.

Additional Resources:

Nine Things Every Teacher Should Know About Words and Vocabulary Instruction

  • 1. English is a huge and unique collection of words.
  • 2. The rules of English are simple and consistent compared to other languages.
  • 3. Language proficiency grows from oral competence to written competence.
  • 4. Words are learned because of associations that connect the new with the known.
  • 5. Seventy percent of the most frequently used words have multiple meanings.
  • 6.  Meanings of sixty percent of multi-syllabic words can be inferred by analyzing word parts.
  • 7.  Instruction in vocabulary influences comprehension more than any other factor.
  • 8.  Teaching fewer words well is more effective than teaching several words in a cursory way.
  • 9.  Effective teachers display an attitude of excitement and interest in words and language.

Karen Bromley. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, April, 2007.

Michael Fullan's concept of "Simplexity" - Knowing one's purpose, identifying a small number of high-leverage actions, and moving toward goals with a singular focus in order to achieve powerful consequences.  Motion Leadership (2011)