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Report: 'Academic Vocabulary' Lessons Boost Reading Skills

From guest blogger Alexandra Rice

The meanings behind academic vocabulary words can take longer to understand than common nouns and adjectives for many young students, particularly non-native English speakers. Often complex and intangible concepts, these words are generally not used in everyday conversation but they may be scattered throughout textbooks and scholarly articles, making those readings that much more difficult for students to grasp.

But according to a new report by CREATE, a research group that studies ELLs, studies have shown that "vocabulary instruction can have an important and lasting impact on student learning." It points in particular to Word Generation, a program that is taking this concept to the next level with seeming success. The program aims to help students with reading comprehension and later word knowledge by targeting academic language when teaching new vocabulary.

Word Generation targets middle school students, specifically, because that's when students are first "expected to read and understand expository texts with increasingly difficult vocabulary demands." Word Generation focuses on the core subjects by using current events and issues to help teach students five new abstract vocabulary words each week. Teachers are encouraged to use the program's five-day cycle approach to establishing meaning and applying context to each word.

Examples of types of words the program hones in on include communicative intents ("affirm" and "confirm," for example), argumentation (words such as "evidence," "conclusion," "warrant"), abstract entities ("theory," "factor," "process," to name a few) and categories (like "vehicle," "utensil," and "artifact").

Emphasizing these types of words is particularly important for ELLs because their English vocabulary often lacks the depth and breadth of native English speakers, the report says. English-language learners in particular showed gains in the Word Generation Program in a study the center did in conjunction with eight public schools in Boston.

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