Teaching Academic Language and Vocabulary Across the Curriculum

Teaching Academic Language and Vocabulary Across the Curriculum provides practices for teaching academic language and vocabulary that are useful in many contexts across the curriculum.

Students need to be able to understand the teacher’s explanations, discuss what is being learned, read for different purposes, and write about their learning. We call this type of language academic language, the language that is used by teachers and students for the purpose of acquiring new learning and skills. The emphasis on academic language increases each year from the time children enter school to their progression to higher grades.

Vocabulary knowledge is directly related to content knowledge. Stahl and Fairbanks (1986) found that vocabulary instruction directly improves comprehension. Therefore, it is critical for students to possess a deep understanding of the content vocabulary in order to understand the concepts expected throughout the content standards. Content vocabulary is the technical language associated with a specific content area. Examples of content vocabulary in mathematics are: equation, fraction, exponent, and monomial. Often these words have multiple meanings leading to confusion (i.e., square, coordinate, degree).

Vocabulary teaching should concentrate on the words that provide students with a vocabulary that spans the curriculum and is critical for acquiring content knowledge. For example, teaching the word politics is more advantageous than spending time on the word proletariat. Most often, topic words are defined in the text and students can learn to look for meaning in context, in a sidebar, or glossary.

Practices:

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Academic Vocabulary Journal
This practice is the development of a vocabulary journal, an ongoing collection of the academic vocabulary (mortar) words that students learn in class. This journal can be used as a reference in any content area.

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Consensus Concepts: Critical Concepts to Improve Literacy
There are many concepts or “big idea” words that are implied within the standards and framework in all content areas that are essential building blocks of literacy. Exposing students to concepts will help build students’ academic vocabulary and foster a deeper understanding.

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Direct Teaching of a New Term
Teaching a New Term provides a direct and explicit format for pre-teaching an unfamiliar term to students. This practice includes: identifying the part of speech, a synonym, an explanation, examples, non-examples, use in context, and checking for understanding.

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Interactive Reading Log
The interactive reading log helps students expand note-taking skills, build understanding of core content, and make the transition to using academic vocabulary in their own writing.

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List-Group-Label
List-Group-Label allows students to brainstorm and categorize related vocabulary as a way to understand key terms and develop concept understanding.

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Making Meaning with Word Sorts
Sorting words is a strategy used to reinforce new vocabulary or concepts within or across a subject area by sorting the words into categories.

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Rating Vocabulary
This is a tool for identifying students’ prior knowledge of academic and content vocabulary that they will encounter in a lesson or unit of instruction. The teacher can use this information to determine the need for vocabulary instruction.

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Semantic Feature Analysis
This strategy helps students define characteristics of a concept by comparing its features to those of other concepts that fall into the same category.

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Teaching Word Parts
Teaching Word Parts is designed for teaching the definition of key vocabulary concepts by focusing on the parts of words, such as roots, prefixes, and suffixes. This practice is intended for teaching individual words or groups of words related by word parts.

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Word Map
Word map is designed for teaching the definition of key vocabulary concepts by focusing on the key components of a concept (characteristics, examples, comparisons, and category).

 
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