Tennessee's Academic Vocabulary
How the Terms and
Phrases Were Identified
It is important to note that the terms and phrases listed are meant as "examples." They are not to be considered implicitly or explicitly a list of "mandated" terms and phrases. Rather districts (or schools) might decide to add terms and phrases, delete terms and phrases, further define terms and phrases, or create their own lists which are completely different from those offered here.
The lists provided here were generated by groups of volunteer subject matter and grade level specialists from Tennessee schools whose charge was to identify those terms and phrases that are important to student understanding of mathematics, science, language arts, and social studies. Approximately 30 terms were identified in each subject area so as not to overburden an individual classroom teacher. For example, a third grade teacher in a self-contained classroom whose job it is to teach all four of these subject areas would be responsible for about 120 terms and phrases. During a 36 week school year this would amount to about 14 terms and phrases per month allowing adequate time for the teacher to address many other terms of her own choosing. For example, the teacher could attend to the 120 pre-identified terms and phrases and still teach important words found in a story or important words found in a chapter of a textbook. In fact, research indicates that about 400 terms and phrases per year are typically addressed in programs that emphasize vocabulary instruction (see Marzano, 2004, p. 63). Identifying 120 terms and phrases leaves about 280 terms and phrases that are specific to an individual teacher.
To demonstrate the potential power of teachers within a district addressing common terms and phrases, consider the subject of mathematics. In mathematics 244 terms and phrases are listed for grades K – 8. If every teacher in a district were to teach these terms and phrases, students in that district would enter ninth grade with common, in depth experiences in these 244 key mathematics terms and phrases. Certainly this would provide a strong base on which ninth grade mathematics teachers could build.
How to Teach
the Terms and Phrases
There is no single best way to teach terms and phrases. However, the research and theory on vocabulary development does point to a few generalizations that provide strong guidance.
Initially Provide Students with a Description, Explanation, or Example as Opposed to a Formal Definition
When introducing a new term or phrase it is useful to avoid a formal definition---at least at the start. This is because formal definitions are typically not very "learner friendly." They make sense after we have a general understanding of a term or phrase, but not in the initial stages of learning. Instead of beginning with a definition, it is advisable to provide students with a description, explanation, or example much like what one would provide a friend who asked what a term or phrase meant.
Have Students Generate Their Own Descriptions, Explanations, or Examples
Once a description, explanation, or example has been provided to students they should be asked to restate that information in their own words. It is important that students do not copy exactly what the teacher has offered. Student descriptions, explanations, and examples should be their own constructions using their own background knowledge and experiences to forge linkages between the new term or phrase and what they already know.
Have Students Represent Each Term or Phrase Using a Graphic Representation, Picture, or Pictograph
Once students have generated their own description, explanation, or example they should be asked to represent the term or phrase in some graphic, picture, or pictographic form. This allows them to process the information in a different modality---an imagery form as opposed to a linguistic form. It also provides a second processing of the information which should help deepen students’ understanding of the new term or phrase.
Have Students Keep an Academic Vocabulary Notebook
One of the basic assumptions underlying the approach outlined in this manual is that over time students will develop an understanding of a set of terms and phrases that are important to the academic content in mathematics, science, language arts, and social studies. This implies that the terms and phrases that are taught using this approach represent a related set of knowledge that expands and deepens from year to year.
To facilitate this cumulative effect it is highly advisable for students to keep an "academic vocabulary" notebook that contains the terms and phrases that have been taught. Enough space should be provided for students to record their initial descriptions, explanations, and examples of the terms and phrases as well as their graphic representations, pictures, and pictographs.
Space should also be provided for students to write additional comments about the terms and phrases as time goes on. As mentioned in the next section, students should be engaged in activities that allow them to review the terms and phrases in their academic vocabulary notebooks and add to their knowledge base regarding specific terms and phrases. As these activities occur, students can be asked to add to the entries in their notebooks perhaps correcting misconceptions, adding new information, or making linkages with other terms and phrases.
Ideally, all terms and phrases are kept in one academic notebook that has a or divider for each subject area. This would allow students to make comparisons between terms and phrases from different subject areas. The academic notebook might also have a "tab" or divider entitled "my words." In this section students would record terms and phrases of interest gleaned from their own reading experiences in or outside of school.
Periodically Review the Terms and Phrases and Provide Students with Activities That Add to Their Knowledge Base
If students experience a new term or phrase once only, they will be left with their initial, partial understanding of the term or phrase. To develop deep understanding of the terms and phrases in their academic vocabulary notebooks students must be engaged in review activities. Once a week or perhaps more frequently, students might be offered activities that add to their knowledge base about the terms and phrases in their notebooks. For example, they might make comparison between selected terms in a given subject area or between subject areas; they might create analogies or metaphors for selected terms; they might simply compare their entries with those of other students. Finally, they might be engaged in games that use the terms and phrases from their academic vocabulary notebooks. After each of these activities students should be asked to make corrections, additions, and changes to the entries in their notebooks. In this way, students' knowledge of the academic terms and phrases might deepen and become a sound foundation on which to understand the academic content presented in class.
Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement: Research on what works in schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
The terms and phrases listed are offered to Tennessee districts and schools as a foundation from which to design and implement a comprehensive program to enhance the academic background knowledge of students. Districts and schools are encouraged to use this resource in ways that best suit their needs and dispositions.