Academic Vocabulary and Language

Academic vocabulary and language is used in academic dialogue and text and may not necessarily be encountered in conversation, though it relates to more familiar words that students use, such as observe rather than watch.

Understanding academic vocabulary and language helps students to understand oral directions and classroom instructional dialogue and to comprehend texts across different content areas, including math, science, and social studies/history. Important for all learners, academic vocabulary and language must be taught explicitly, particularly to second language learners.

Generally, vocabulary is categorized into three tiers:

(1) Basic vocabulary or words most children will know, including high-frequency words that usually are not multiple meaning words.

(2) Less familiar, yet useful vocabulary found in written text and shared between the teacher and student in conversation and referred to in the Common Core as “general academic words.” Also called “rich vocabulary,” these words are more precise or subtle forms of familiar words and include descriptive and multiple meaning words.

Instead of walk, for example, saunter might be more descriptive.

(3) The third tier of words is called “domain specific” in the Common Core and refers to words that carry specific concepts of the subject matter or processes taught in schools.

Generally, they have low frequency use and are limited to specific knowledge domains (e.g., isotope, peninsula, or mitosis), which are best learned with content lessons and are common in informational texts.


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