Literacy 7-12

Systems Change

Factor Connections

Hover to see how factors connect to Vocabulary. Then click connected factors to explore strategies related to multiple factors.

Building students' Vocabulary and ability to decode unfamiliar words helps with reading comprehension and effective writing. As texts become more complicated, students' Vocabulary becomes even more critical, because when students come across unfamiliar words, comprehension can break down. When students reach middle and high school, Vocabulary learning is less centered on everyday Vocabulary, and becomes more content specific and academic.

Main Ideas

As students progress through middle and high school, they typically acquire new and often discipline-specific vocabulary through reading and writing advanced texts rather than by memorizing definitions. The academic language used in these texts may be more difficult for adolescents to grasp, as they may not have routine exposure outside of school and it is more abstract. As such, repeated exposure to complex disciplinary texts may help students build higher level Vocabulary knowledge across multiple components.

Vocabulary Breadth vs. Depth

  • Vocabulary Breadth is the number of words for which the student has at least a superficial understanding.
  • Vocabulary Depth is the extent to which the student knows word properties, including definitions, spelling, pronunciation, and syntactic and morphological properties.

Receptive vs. Expressive Vocabulary

  • Receptive Vocabulary are the words understood by the listener or reader.
  • Expressive (or Productive) Vocabulary are the words appropriately produced in context by the speaker or writer.

Vocabulary in higher level content texts also often involves nominalization or the changing of verbs and adjectives into nouns to allow for further explanation. For example, "the salt dissolved" may be written as "the salt went through the process of dissolution". As this may be difficult for adolescents to follow, it is important for content teachers to teach discipline specific methods of understanding and learning new vocabulary, rather than relying on foundational decoding skills. Students may not begin to use nominalizations in their own writing until late in high school and beyond.

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