Literacy and Vocabulary in the Content Area: A Perfect Couple

It may be easy to say that every teacher is a teacher of reading, but what about the multitude of upper grade educators who have had little preparation for delivering powerfully integrated literacy skills in the content area? With almost 9 million adolescents struggling to read, educators have no time to waste. Learn one way to QUICKLY incorporate five components critical to the development of reading proficiency: decoding/phonemics, morphology, vocabulary, fluency, and text comprehension. Oh yes, and there's a HUGE collection of matching online tools for each component.


“Every teacher a reading teacher?  Yes, but I’m NOT a reading teacher!  I am a content specialist.”  

We feel your pain.  Vocabulary instruction is one simple and painless way to make learning new words an opportunity to strengthen the five components that are critical to the development of reading proficiency while boosting students‘ comprehension of content area knowledge.  In fact, this approach may be the MOST EFFICIENT and EFFECTIVE way for teachers in grades 3-12 to seamlessly blend literacy instruction and increase achievement in the content area.  
“Research demonstrates that a student in the 50th percentile in terms of ability to comprehend the subject matter taught in school, with NO direct vocabulary instruction, scores in the 50th percentile ranking.  The SAME student, after receiving direct instruction in a specific way, raises his/her comprehension ability to the 83rd percentile.”  (Source)  
You can make these gains and more happen in your classroom.  Scroll on down for a recommended reading list, a simple three-step approach to literacy in the content area, a lesson template, and a huge collection of interactive online literacy tools and teaching strategies.


Recommended Reading

  1. FOCUS, by Mike Schmoker
    • Chapter 3: Two simple, and very familiar, lesson templates can have a stunning impact on learning.  (“Effective use of the templates can result in the largest effects on learning ever reported.”  -James Popham)  The templates can help students learn four times as fast, adding between 6 and 9 months of additional learning growth per year.  The KEY is to make CONSISTENT IMPLEMENTATION A PRIORITY.  The lesson template below (PDF) is based on this framework and adapted for vocabulary instruction in the content area classroom.
    • Chapter 4:    How to Use the Templates in English Language Arts
    • Chapter 5:  How to Use the Templates in Social Studies
    • Chapter 6:  How to Use the Templates in Science
    • Chapter 7:  How to Use the Templates in Math
  2. What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy   
  3. What Does Research Say About Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core
  4. Vocabulary (and Source List)  for the Common Core  (Academic Vocabulary - Cognitive Verbs & Domain Specific for ELA & Math)  Grades K-12
  5. Marzano's Master List of Vocabulary Words:   Excel Spreadsheet
  6. A Chart of Text Exemplars Across Grade Levels

Multiple Exposures in Multiple Ways

Provide multiple exposures to words in multiple ways, such as playing vocabulary games. [See list of free online games at the bottom of this page.]   

  • Students need about four exposures to new information to adequately integrate it into their existing knowledge base.  These exposures should not be spaced too far apart.  “We found that it took a minimum of 3 to 4 exposures with no more than a two-day gap between experiences.” The Art and Science of Teaching," Marzano   
  • REVIEW 10 / 2 / 7:   Try to review material within 10 minutes (simple turn and share), then within 2 days or 48 hours (graphically or with a demonstration,etc.), and then within 7 days (writing, performing, debating).
  • The practice that is sometimes called Chunk and Chew  (or 10/2) ensures students fully process new learning.
  • "Employ mnemonic devices ONLY AFTER students have processed information thoroughly and have a good, albeit incomplete, understanding of the content."   (The Art and Science of Teaching, Marzano)  
  • Use free online books to provide multiple exposures to frequently used words.  Check out, a POWERHOUSE of Free Books Online or Digital Library, which lists over 2 million free online books. 
  • Use free tools like  ArtPad for students to quickly generate an image for the meaning of words.  One click is all it takes to start drawing.  
*Sources:  FOCUS, by Mike Schmoker, Marzano’s Six-Step Proven Process for Teaching Vocabulary,  Visible Learning by John Hattie, and research by Marilee Sprenger

Break it Down:  Units of Sound

What is phonological awareness?



Clap it Out:  Syllables


Mark the Parts:  Units of Meaning

(Prefixes, Roots, Suffixes, Compound Words, Grammar, Parts of Speech,  etc.)


Tools to Use with Your Own Word Lists

 Help students adequately integrate content area words into their existing knowledge base.  


For the Love of Reading


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