1703 North Beauregard St.
Alexandria, VA 22311-1714
Tel: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday
Local to the D.C. area: 1-703-578-9600, press 2
Toll-free from U.S. and Canada: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723), press 2
All other countries: (International Access Code) + 1-703-578-9600, press 2
How to Build Academic Vocabulary
May 22, 2014 | Volume 9 | Issue 17
Table of Contents
Building Academic Vocabulary and Concepts, Brick by Brick
To do well in school, students must master what Dutro and Moran call "brick and mortar words" (2003). Brick words represent content, such as decimal or censorship. Mortar words are the glue that holds sentences together, such as the phrases "can be described as …." Although both brick and mortar words are essential to comprehension, I will focus on simple ways for subject matter teachers to integrate brick words and phrases within content lessons.
As students learn novel ideas, they learn the words to represent them. Often, key words in content area classrooms are new to students, so it is important to intertwine vocabulary instruction and concept development. All students benefit from a focus on vocabulary development, and this is particularly essential for English language learners. When students do not understand the terms for the concepts, they are unlikely to fully understand the material, nor will they be able to build upon foundational ideas and reach advanced levels of learning.
Here are five ways for busy teachers to seamlessly reinforce new vocabulary as they teach. Pull one of these practices out each day, and by the end of the week, your students will have experienced numerous opportunities to use, reflect upon, and compare the meanings of new content words (Nagy & Townsend, 2012).
You can easily integrate these five simple strategies into your content area instruction to support your students’ content vocabulary learning. Brick by brick, you can help students build a strong foundation of academic vocabulary.
Dutro, S. & Moran, C. (2003). Rethinking English language instruction: An architectural approach. In G. G. Garcia (Ed.), English learners: Reaching the highest level of English literacy (pp. 227–258). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.
Nagy, W. & Townsend, D. (2012). Words as tools: Learning academic vocabulary as language acquisition. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(1), 91–108.
Lori Helman is codirector of the Minnesota Center for Reading Research and an associate professor of literacy education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Minnesota.
ASCD Express, Vol. 9, No. 17. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
Subscribe to ASCD Express, our twice-monthly e-mail newsletter, to have practical, actionable strategies and information delivered to your e-mail inbox twice a month.
ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online.