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Using Your Words: The Power of Academic Vocabulary

May 25, 2020

By: Elizabeth Kelsey, Kendall Hunt RPD Intern, with contributions from the writing team of Pathways 2.0

I was once enrolled in a course called Professional Writing, where we discussed not only workplace communication but also basic principles of graphic design. My professor’s catchphrase that semester was “naming gives you power.” If we were able to articulate why we made the design choices we made—and articulate them using authentic design terminology—our work would be stronger. Better yet, we would understand why it was stronger, which would allow us to continue making strong choices.

In subjects from math to history to music, the ability to use accurate and professional terminology boosts students’ confidence and lets them express what they know. For example, teachers in one New Orleans preschool recently received training in incorporating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) instruction alongside students’ play by talking to them about their activities using STEM vocabulary. In a video from edutopia.org, assistant educator Janay Parham interacted with a student building a block tower. She intentionally used words like foundation, stability, and gravity and tested his understanding of the opposites light and heavy.

By incorporating these words, students can gain an understanding of what words are used in what situations and can potentially explain what they’re thinking because they have the words to do so.

“It wasn’t over their heads; it was very age-appropriate,” said school director Angie Belisle. Parham agreed, saying that although at first, she was skeptical that four-year-olds could grasp STEM vocabulary, the students are more than up to the challenge. And sometimes, it’s not even about immediate use of the new term but about mere exposure to the vocabulary that they will later use in upper-level science courses. Once they get there, the terminology will already be familiar.

The importance of vocabulary isn’t just found in science. In the Pathways 2.0 reading and language arts program, the Kendall Hunt Religious Publishing Division (RPD) has designed vocabulary lessons incorporating both Anchor Text Vocabulary and Academic Vocabulary words, each with a different purpose. Anchor Text Vocabulary words help students identify new or important words in the paired classroom text, but Academic Vocabulary words allow them to have intellectual discussions about the work they do and the texts they read. With Academic Vocabulary, Pathways 2.0 gives students naming power.

For example, the Grade 5 Social Issues Daily Lesson Guide (DLG), which focuses on the Beverley Naidoo book Journey to Jo’burg, includes Academic Vocabulary Words such as idiom, argument, purpose, report, graph, format, firsthand, and secondhand. The Writing Workshop tasks for this four-week DLG include drafting a persuasive argument, a formal report, and a response essay, and the Academic Vocabulary Words give them the tools to do so—and to discuss what they’re doing.

When students have the academic vocabulary that relates to what they’re learning about, they can talk about it accurately. Not only does this allow educators to more accurately assess what students know, but it also helps students themselves understand the concepts because putting information into one’s own words makes it more digestible. Furthermore, knowing the authentic terminology for a writing style or reading strategy makes students more likely to intentionally use that strategy again in their own writing and reading because they know what it is and can call it to mind when working.

The Pathways 2.0 reading and language arts program sets students up for success by giving them the tools to talk about what they know. Explore our customized reading and language arts curriculum for grades 1–8 to discover how Academic Vocabulary challenges students and enriches their learning!

What is a time that naming has given you power?

 

Sources:

https://www.edutopia.org/video/exploring-stem-through-play