In ‘Bringing Words to Life’, Beck, McKeown & Kucan talk about three tiers of words that students will be exposed to during school:

Most students come to school with a good tier 1 vocabulary.  Those students who come from a ‘word-rich’ family, where they have been encouraged to read and have discussions about the world around them, will have a good tier 2 vocabulary.  At school, they will be exposed to a growing number of tier 3 words, from the subject specialists that teach them.  What about the students who come from a ‘word-poor’ background, where they haven’t been encouraged to read and so haven’t developed that more sophisticated tier 2 vocabulary?  The classroom will be a daunting place for them.

Here’s Dr Isabel Beck talking about tier 2 vocabulary:

Last week, Dr Brian Marsh and I visited some lessons around Durrington, across science, history and geography.  Within the short period of time that we were in lessons, students were exposed to an array of different tier 2 and 3 words. For example:

  • Absorption
  • Emission
  • Transfer
  • Temperature
  • Solution
  • Osmosis
  • Biome
  • Precipitation
  • Variation
  • Composition
  • Representation
  • Emblem
  • Dominant
  • Depiction
  • Masculinity

This was in less than an hour.  Multiply that up across 5 lessons a day, every day and it becomes clear what students are exposed to.  This is great to see – students being exposed to and encouraged to use challenging academic vocabulary.  We need to think about this though – those students who come from a ‘word-rich’ background will cope with this vocabulary well.  Those that don’t, will probably experience feelings of inadequacy and frustration, as their understanding of these words will be limited.  This will be a serious block to their learning.

Fortunately, we saw teachers using a number of strategies in lessons to help their students understand this new vocabulary:

  • Deliberate multiple exposure to the new words during the lesson – including chanting the word and definition repeatedly in a science lesson!
  • Asking students to explain the definition of these words, in their own words.
  • As well as explicitly teaching the definition of the new word, following this up by questioning students about the correct use of  the word in a sentence e.g. ‘So, Trinity, how would you use ‘biome’ in a sentence?’
  • Discussing words that have a different meaning, that students might think have the same meaning e.g. heat and temperature.
  • Encouraging students to use academic language in their response e.g. ‘Well done Sam, but instead of saying hot objects give off more infra-red radiation, what could you use instead of ‘give off’?’  Sam then thought about it and replied with ’emit’.
  • Discussing the derivation of words e.g. students had studied electrolysis before and knew that ‘lysis’ meant ‘breaking down’ so electrolysis effectively means using electcity to break down compounds.  This was linked to ‘plasmolysis’ during osmosis i.e. the shrinking and possible rupture of a cell.

Teaching vocabulary like this can often be overlooked, but is so important.  It’s empowering for students and grows cultural capital.  Put simply, it makes students feel clever.

Knowledge Organisers are a great way to support this, but more about that during our INSET day in November.

Further Reading

Posted by Shaun Allison

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