What are the most critical vocabulary for primary students and beyond? Are some words more important than others? There are so many questions about teaching vocabulary. Where to turn?
Let’s go for a deep dive into the research behind academic vocabulary for primary students.
Why Teach Academic Vocabulary?
In order to teach vocabulary, we need to have words. We need a list of words upon which to focus. Let’s start with the most critical vocabulary for primary students.
There are lists created by educational researchers, yet the list created by Marilee Sprenger is the one that is the most critical for students to learn. The reason is that many of the words are found in college and career tracks, including about 85% of standardized test questions used in education.
Not only that, but there are 55 words that K-12 students should learn, review and use before graduating. Close to half of these words should be woven into our everyday teaching starting in the primary grades.
The shocking truth is that almost half of these words need to be learned before the end of 2nd grade, with the majority in kindergarten and first grade.
If you want the words now, get these printables by clicking the image below.
Academic Vocabulary Lists
How were the lists compiled? There are books written by educational experts in the field of vocabulary development and brain-based learning who have developed lists of tier 2 vocabulary words.
These words are found in 85% of standardized tests, as well as common core state standards.
The critical verbs and nouns are divided between grade levels, starting with 8 in kindergarten that is to be taught. First grade has 10 words! K-1 needs to learn practically half of the entire list. That makes for a lot of vocabulary for primary students…and some big words too.
Some Academic Vocabulary Words
The words for kindergarten and 1st grade seemed so challenging for young students to understand. Some, but not quite all, of the academic vocabulary for primary students is found in reading series adopted by school districts.
At first, I didn’t have a clue how I was going to make them developmentally appropriate. It boggled my mind to think of teaching the word distinguish to small kindergarteners, let alone reviewing to mastery with my first graders.
Best Ways to Teach Vocabulary
Ultimately, teachers need to incorporate these critical words in their classrooms, no matter the grade level.
If you’re teaching a well-known fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, there’s a way to teaching academic vocabulary.
Hang anchor charts for all the K-1 critical vocabulary with the other anchor charts in the classroom.
Teachers need many resources to choose from in order to mindfully teach, review and assess the academic vocabulary.
- anchor charts
- interactive notebook printables
- sentence frames to display in the classrooms
- sticky note printables to take notes and use in interactive read alouds
- “emergent readers” to encourage discussions using the words
So, now we have what we need in order to effectively teach the academic tier 2 vocabulary. Make sure to find at least 17 authentic exposures of the words for students to hold them in their long-term memories.
How Long Until Vocabulary is Learned
We teachers were finding that we would teach the words with the very engaging readers and activities, which was great! Rarely did we revisit the words on a continual basis.
Rushing students through vocabulary isn’t helpful. Teaching students to learn the words for one week and then moving on is not ideal.
Educators are consistently trying to make sure we get everything in that is on our curriculum map for the entire year. Every day counts when it comes to lesson planning.
But, where would we find the time to review and revisit all those words in first grade? Let alone the ones taught in the previous kindergarten year.
What good was it to only teach the vocabulary if the students weren’t internalizing it? What does it take for students to truly know that they know that they really know the words? Catherine Snow, PhD is an expert on language and literacy development in children and a Harvard education professor.
She found that students need about 15-20 exposures to a word to really know and understand that word.
Looking up the word in the dictionary and writing a sentence is not the best use of “exposure”. Exposure here means seeing and using the words over and over in different contexts, mostly familiar but also unfamiliar to students.
How do I make sure that students get 20 exposures to internalize vocabulary? I can’t remember when a change in the daily schedule, so how can I constantly remember to keep reviewing words?
Whatever is on my lanyard, students notice it right away: my new photo ID for the new school year, our smiles and frowns tallies. Whatever I have hanging from my lanyard, it’s in front of my students’ faces all..day…long. That’s all I needed to help me AND my students remember, use, and truly know the vocabulary for primary students.
I started with a printable anchor chart and then created badge size and brag size tags for each chart. Now, I display the chart on my classroom bulletin board or give each student their own tag of a miniature anchor chart.
How to Memorize Vocabulary
This is the next level, after teaching the words first. All you need is some bright paper and print out the anchor chart posters, lanyard badges, and small matching tags. Here are some ways I plan to use these this year:
- Post the anchor chart in the classroom.
- Wear a vocabulary badge on your school lanyard to have it in front of the teacher and students all day long.
- Have students wear and use the word.
- Students can switch lanyards with other students. Make it into a fun game.
- Reward students with a small matching tag in bright cardstock colors.
- Assign a word and have specials teachers and the principal wear the badge throughout the week!
- Easily review words. Just keep all the badges on a hook by the door. Grab one of the badges before walking down the halls, through the school, and on the playground.
You can go here to see this resource for yourself. Join me as I’ll be definitely using these in my classroom this year. Let’s see how rapidly our students will start internalizing the most critical vocabulary words for primary students with all the exposure they’ll get!