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Blog: Friday, March 15th, 2019

Academic Language Tip

Language, language everywhere, but which words should I teach? 

As a means of communication, we are constantly engaging with and processing new language all the time.  How do we know which words to teach?  Let’s begin by looking at tiers of language.  Beck, Mckeown and Kucan (2013) have identified that there are three tiers of vocabulary. 

Tier one language consists of words that we encounter in everyday speech, such as: door, car, dog, sad, happy, etc. These are words that our students will typically acquire through multiple encounters on the playground, in the classroom and at home.   

On the other hand, tier three words are those that are usually embedded in our content such as: mitosis, integer, metamorphosis, photosynthesis, etc.  While these terms are important to understand concepts within the content, they have limited leverage outside of the specific subject area. 

Getting the most bang for your buck: 

Tier two words, often referred to as academic language, are high leverage words that can be encountered across disciplines in multiple contexts.  Words such as significant, perspective, explain, analyze, and describe are found throughout the competencies.  These words are essential for academic success and must be explicitly taught.  Teachers can provide opportunities for students to engage with the language multiple times, both orally and in writing.  Students don’t just need to know academic words they need to own them!