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Four Types of Words for Building Vocabulary

teaching vocabularyThanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this instructional strategy from Vocabulary at the Core: Teaching the Common Core State Standards, by Amy Benjamin and John T. Crow. In this tip, Benjamin and Crow identify four categories of words that can comprise vocabulary instruction to answer the question: What words do we teach?

A key factor in explicit vocabulary instruction is deciding which words to target. We certainly can’t teach every new word that students encounter, especially in an English class, where much of their assigned literature is studded with archaic words, allusions, and what the Medieval poet John Lydgate fondly refers to as “aureate” words. These would be words that, literally translated, have a “golden hue” to them—precious gems of words, glittering with their own rarity.

We need an overall game plan for vocabulary instruction. We need a master list, and that master list must consist of words worth knowing because our students will see them again and again in academic discourse. These are the words that tend to be at the core of content area reading and discussion, and their acquisition and use contributes to students’ proficiency in reading complex texts in a variety of content areas, as advocated by the Common Core State Standards.

  1. Generic Academic Vocabulary: These are words that your students will encounter frequently in academic discourse all day long, from all of their teachers in all of their subjects. Yet, these words may not yet be fully integrated into their existing vocabulary. A heavy majority of these words have a Latinate base; some have a Greek base.

    Words that indicate the requirements of a task—e.g. analyze, clarify, discuss, implement, refute...

    Words that establish relationships within units of information—e.g. accordingly, because of, even so, furthermore, likewise, whereas...

    Words about space and divisions of space—e.g. adjacent, dimension, orientation, proximity, scope...

    Words that are about how we think about a topic—e.g. acknowledge, imply, overarching, rudimentary, tentative...

    Words about organization—e.g. breakdown, complement, exclude, mainstream, set, unit...

    Words about ideas—e.g. abstract, conjecture, literal, perceive, thesis...

    Words about cause and effect—e.g. affect, contributing factor, interact, result, stimulate...

    Words about process—e.g. assemble, emergent, formulate, hinder, process, technique...

    Words about amounts and degrees—e.g. critical, maximum, negligible, substantive, volume...

    Words about time and order—e.g. chronological, index, previous, simultaneous, transient...

    Words about systems—e.g. aspect, core, establishment, integral, paradigm, trigger...

    Words about change and stability—e.g. accelerate, decrease, fluctuate, plateau, transform...

  2. Literary words: These are the sometimes-ornate, “precious gem” words that sparkle and glow in the special language of literary genres. Many of these words also have a Latinate base with a heavy French influence.
     
  3. Subject-specific words: These are the kinds of words that appear in subject area glossaries. Here is where you’ll find a lot of Greek-based word components.
     
  4. Interesting words: These are those wonderful “relish” words that you read in well-written newspaper articles and hear in fine oratory from the mouths of speakers whose language you admire. These are the words that attract you. You want to get to know them because of their beauty, specificity, moxie, verve and ability to do a job that might have taken you five words to do (and do less well).


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