Until a few years ago, I had no clue that there were different types of vocabulary. At a writing training I went to, the presenter discussed the importance of using Tier 2 vocabulary words in order to get a passing score on the SBA writing tasks. Huh, ok so I obviously needed to learn a bit more about vocabulary since I had no clue there were different tiers of vocabulary. I got Marzano’s book, “Vocabulary for the Common Core” and I am now a huge proponent on why we should be teaching academic vocabulary.
A student’s vocabulary is tied directly to how well they will succeed at school. According to Marzano, “Knowing what words mean and how they interconnect creates networks of knowledge that allow students to connect new information to previously learned information. Studies have shown that students with greater background knowledge about a topic learn more, remember more, and are more interested when that topic is taught than those who have less initial background knowledge.” So it seems really important that vocabulary is taught in school, yet Marzano reported that “uniform and systematic vocabulary instruction is scarce in U.S. schools… consumed less than one-half of one percent of instructional time in schools.” Direct vocabulary instruction can increase students’ vocabularies and thus are critical teachings that must occur for students’ success.
In order to teach vocabulary, one must be aware of the three different types. Tier 1 vocabulary can be classified as everyday vocabulary that we use in life around us. This type of vocabulary is often learned orally at a young age, reading, and daily experiences. Tier 2 is academic vocabulary. Marzano has a list of academic vocabulary that should be taught per grade level. Oftentimes we assume students know what these words mean, but in reality, they need to be taught. Tier 3 vocabulary is domain or content specific. For example, if teaching about circles, the word circumference or radius would need to be taught. Or if you are doing an ancient civilizations unit on Egypt, the word hieroglyphics would need to be explained. Students’ academic success comes when specific instruction of both Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary is taught.
Ok, so how do I effectively teach vocabulary? It is definitely a process and not something you can just teach one time and be done. Vocabulary needs to be experienced several times in order for it to become ingrained in students’ brains. Marzano outlines a 6 step process for how we can intentionally and effectively teach students vocabulary.
I have found since I started following this guide and intentionally teaching Tier 2 academic vocabulary to my 6th graders, their academic success has definitely risen. I now require that students include at least 2 academic vocabulary word per paragraph when writing and students are now starting to include them in short answers on their own. They have a much better understanding of what questions are asking because they now get what the academic vocabulary words in the question mean. If there is one thing that I think has made the biggest impact in my classroom the past few years, it is including intentional academic vocabulary instruction.
One of the ways that I use academic vocabulary with my students and also keeps me accountable is my secret code word of the day. Each day I present the kids with a new 6th grade academic vocabulary word. I write it in my code word of the day box on the board. I then define the word for the kids and hand the word and definition from my ceiling. I share examples and then, the rest of the day, I try to use the word in context. If a student hears me use the code word, the first one to raise their hand gets a vocabulary Dojo point. They absolutely LOVE this! They also totally call me out when I forget to use the word and will remind me. Because the academic vocabulary words are hung from the ceiling as we learn them, it is easy for students to look up and see the words with their definition and add to their writing. Students who use an academic vocabulary word in the correct context when speaking also earn a vocabulary Dojo point.
If you haven’t been teaching academic vocabulary in your classroom, I would highly encourage you to look into it and see how you might incorporate it. It will definitely help your students succeed.
Some resources you might find helpful are:
http://www.berkeleyschools.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/BUSD_Academic_Vocabulary.pdf (if you scroll down to page 26, there are lists of what academic vocabulary words should be taught per grade level)
“Building Academic Vocabulary” by Robert Marzano
“Vocabulary for the Common Core” by Robert Marzano & Julia A. Simms