Explicitly Teaching Academic Vocabulary to Help Students Transition
TESOL Convention, March 25, 2010
Laurie Martin, Professional Development Specialist
Adult Learning Resource Center, Arlington Heights, IL
ESOL students often need to expand their academic reading vocabulary in order to be able to transition into
ABE, ASE, or higher education classes. In Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction (Isabel
Beck, Margaret McKeown, and Linda Kucan, The Guilford Press, 2002) the authors propose that teachers
select words for instruction based on their usefulness and frequency of use in print. Tier Two words appear
across all content areas of academic texts, so they are words that can greatly contribute to students’
Tier One • Concrete
Tier Two • Academic (across content areas)
• Content/subject specific
Tier Three • Infrequent
Sources of Academic Words
• The Academic Word List (Averil Coxhead) in sublists and word family sublists according to frequency:
• The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, 4th Ed. by E.B. Fry, et al. (Jossey-Bass)
3-Step Explicit Vocabulary Instruction
1. Preparation & Presentation
♦ Tell students why
♦ Pronounce words and give meaning
♦ Give examples
♦ Students try
2. Practice – Low and High Impact Exercises
♦ Oral and written, simple to complex activities
♦ Words used in many contexts
♦ Students explore similarities and differences in word meanings
♦ Continual review
3. Independent Application
♦ Students use words by themselves, orally and in writing.
♦ Continual use
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Preparing Teacher Notes
customary (adj) – usual, normal, habitual, traditional
Antonyms: peculiar, unusual
• In the U.S., it is customary for adults to shake hands when introduced in a business setting.
• In China, it is customary for brides to wear red, whereas in the U.S. brides traditionally wear
• I customarily walk my dog around 7:00 in the morning.
Discussion prompts: In your country, what is the customary way that people greet each other?
How do people customarily find jobs?
Try it: Choose one word from the list below and write two sentences that use the word meaning in contexts
that your students are likely understand. Be careful to use the meaning that is given.
adequate (adj) good enough to get the job done, passable, sufficient
appeal (v) to ask for something you need badly, to make an important request
objection (n) a statement or a feeling of dislike, disapproval, or opposition
Low Impact Exercises
Fill-ins, matching words and definitions, and multiple choice exercises are useful at the beginning of
vocabulary practice. They are highly supported and have only one correct answer. The context is supplied
for the student, so completing them is not as personalized or rigorous as other types of exercises.
High Impact Exercises
The activities below will push students to explore the new word meanings in more depth. These activities are
more open-ended and allow students to develop their own contexts for the word meanings.
Students determine if the sentences make sense. If they don’t make sense, the students revise them so that
they do. Personalize the contexts whenever possible.
Example: Masaki knows about current cancer research because he read all the medical journals that
were published two years ago.
…were published recently.
advise current deprive hesitate maintain
minimum objection originate penalize reliable
Try it: Use two of the words from the word bank to write statements below.
Statement 1 (makes sense):
Statement 2 (doesn’t make sense):
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