There’s no secret formula to ensuring all your students succeed. Each student learns in a different way and benefits from different teaching strategies. But what if there were one thing you could do to significantly improve comprehension for all your struggling students, including English learners?
In 2009′s Quality Counts, David Francis of the University of Texas identified “mastery of academic language” as “arguably the single most important determinant of academic success for individual students.” He went on to say that its importance “cannot be overstated.”
Why all the fuss?
Pretend you’re a student who received the following paragraph to report on:
Zanadoo was a Meeshan tetalon, graphalit, and Haboogan spy during the Selorrora. After escaping from yootagomy, into which she was born, she made thirteen missions to rescue more than 70 yoota using a network of trishun jormeers and safe houses. She later fought for women’s renefort.
How many comprehension questions do you think you’d get right?
The above paragraph was excerpted from a Wikipedia entry, except that every academic word (as identified by a list in Robert J. Marzano’s Building Academic Vocabulary: Teacher’s Manual) was swapped with a nonsense word. Didn’t make much sense, did it?
Though this example (about Harriet Tubman, by the way) may have been a little overdone, it helps to illustrate the importance of explicitly teaching academic vocabulary. By doing so, you give your students a frame of reference in which to learn. And Marzano has done the research to prove how helpful this teaching technique is.
In his book Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, Marzano describes the results of a study: Students with direct vocabulary instruction on words related to class content increased their comprehension to the 83rd percentile, when previously they received no such instruction and placed in the 50th percentile.
What can you do to increase your students’ academic vocabulary?
- Before a classroom discussion, select one or two words that will be important to the discussion. Explicitly teach these, using definitions, pictures, or anything else that will help build background knowledge.
- Ask students to create their own definitions or illustrate key vocabulary words.
- Play word association games in small groups to encourage production and comprehension.
- Take advantage of Imagine Learning English‘s new academic vocabulary activities. With more than 100 advanced academic vocabulary words, hand-selected from state test word lists, and hundreds of fun practice activities, your students will have the background knowledge they need to better participate in history, math, science, and language arts discussions.
Find out how you can help your students master over 1,000 academic vocabulary words with Imagine Learning English–contact us today.