Vocabulary: Not just for ELA class
By Robyn Kehoe Ramsey and Megan Motley
No matter the content area, explicit vocabulary instruction is essential for student success. While it is by no means a panacea, strong connections between vocabulary acquisition and literacy, equity, and positive outcomes for students are clear. We must consider that when we test students’ reading comprehension, we may actually be testing their vocabulary and background knowledge and unintentionally preventing them from showing what they really know and can do (Willingham, 2017). Since vocabulary knowledge is directly linked to student success in school, it is well worth considering why and how every teacher should be teaching vocab.
Vocabulary acquisition is directly linked to equity. By first grade, higher socioeconomic groups are likely to know twice as many words as lower socioeconomic groups (Neumann & Wright, 2014), and we all know now that most children are never able to close that gap, negatively impacting their outcomes all the way through high school. “It is now well accepted that the chief cause of the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups is a language gap” (Hirsch, 2003). Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all -- not just upon ELA teachers -- to be intentional about vocabulary instruction.
How NOT to teach vocab:
How to teach vocab:
Which words to teach?
Consider that vocabulary words in any discipline can be divided into three Tiers (not to be confused with the Tiers of MTSS!). Tier 1 words are basic words in common use (“chair,” “phone,” “lion”). Tier 2 words are academic words that students encounter across contents (“analyze,” “evidence,” “theme”). Tier 3 words are content-specific (“metaphor,” “perpendicular,” “renaissance”). Tier 2 and Tier 3 words need to be explicitly taught as they influence students’ ability to understand and learn new content and concepts. Proficiency Scales are an excellent place for teachers to find specific vocabulary on which students should focus and build their knowledge.
“Teaching vocabulary will not guarantee success in reading … However, lacking either adequate word identification skills or adequate vocabulary will ensure failure” (Biemiller, 2005). Because vocabulary knowledge is so clearly linked to reading comprehension, as well as issues of equity for all students, teachers -- ALL teachers -- should consider how they are explicitly teaching the words students need to build a strong foundation for success in every content area.
Want to explore more ways to teach vocab? Check out this resource!
Biemiller, A. (2005). Size and sequence in vocabulary development: Implications for choosing words for primary grade vocabulary instruction. Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice.
Hattie, J. (2018) 252 Influences and Effect Sizes Related to Student achAchievement. Visible Learning. https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/
Hirsch, E.D. (2003) Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge of Words and the World. American Educator. https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Hirsch.pdf
Moore, D. (n.d.) Why Vocabulary Instruction Matters. Best Practices in Secondary Education. https://ngl.cengage.com/assets/downloads/edge_pro0000000030/am_moore_why_vocab_instr_mtrs.pdf
Neumann, S. and Wright (2014). Teaching Vocabulary in the Early Childhood Classroom. American Educator. https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2014/magic-words
Willingham, Daniel (2017). The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads.
Curriculum & Instruction