I recently read an article where David Coleman, the President of the College Board and architect of the Common Core, stated that in order for students to do well on standardized tests, they must fully understand and be able to use the academic vocabulary being used.
That doesn't seem like very much of a secret until you consider this:
Academic vocabulary is comprised of the words that are most often used in informational texts (such as textbooks) and literary texts (such as novels), but not likely used in everyday speech.
This means our students need to know words like integral, function, parallels and convey, perspective, and affect (which is different from effect.)
Of course, these words are not presented in the big tests in isolation. They are embedded in sentences and students will have to use their context clues. Again, sounds simple enough, but it's more than that. They will be required to focus not just on the word itself or the clues, but how the word is being used in relation to the clues in the sentence.
To me, this means these words have to be explicitly taught and constantly used in class to get the job done.
So what did I do? I went through the sample state test for my state (Florida) and pulled out the academic vocabulary.
First, I will have to familiarize my students with the words. I will start by doing a concept sort and asking pairs or small groups to sort them into fiction and non-fiction. Naturally we'll discuss the categories chosen based on the definitions. Then we can put the words on the Word Wall with the proper definitions.
Then, I will make it a game to use the words in class as part of any discussion. The students that uses the word correctly earns a reward as part of our "Super Improver" system.
Soon after we will play "vocabulary relay" where all the words and the definitions are scattered on the ground at one end of a field and the students are lined up at the other. The objective: Race to the words and definitions, grab a matching pair, and take it back to the team. The next team member then rushes off to do the same. The team with the most matching pairs wins!
Lastly, I will be placing the words and their definitions onto Quizlet.com so students can practice with the words digitally with fun games and even quizzes. We will also use other apps like Kahoot and Plickers where context clues will be necessary yet fun!
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