Explicit Instruction and Academic Vocabulary

by | Feb 1, 2024


In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the emphasis on explicit instruction and academic vocabulary has become increasingly paramount. As educators, it’s our responsibility to ensure that students not only understand the content but also have the language proficiency to engage meaningfully with academic texts and concepts. In this three-part series, we will explore the foundations of explicit instruction, the importance of academic vocabulary, and practical strategies for implementation.


The Foundation of Explicit Instruction


Explicit instruction is a systematic and structured approach to teaching that leaves no room for ambiguity. It involves clearly stating the learning objective, providing direct explanations, modeling strategies, and offering guided practice before gradually releasing responsibility to students. This approach ensures that all learners receive consistent and comprehensive instruction, leading to deeper understanding and mastery of concepts.


In the context of academic vocabulary development, explicit instruction is essential for equipping students with the language skills necessary to comprehend complex texts and articulate their understanding effectively. By explicitly teaching one to two Grade Level Academic Vocabulary words per week in context, educators lay the groundwork for language acquisition and academic success across all subjects.


The Significance of Academic Vocabulary


Academic vocabulary, encompassing Tier Two and Tier Three words, plays a pivotal role in students’ ability to engage with academic content. Tier Two words, such as “analyze,” “synthesize,” and “evaluate,” are essential for understanding and discussing complex texts across various subjects. Tier Three words, specific to particular fields of study, are critical for mastering subject-specific concepts and terminology.


Effective academic vocabulary development goes beyond mere exposure to words; it involves systematic practice, review, and deep processing. By integrating academic vocabulary into every academic subject and providing cumulative instruction, educators ensure that students internalize and apply these words across multiple contexts.


Practical Strategies for Implementation


Implementing explicit instruction and academic vocabulary development requires strategic planning and thoughtful execution. Here are some practical strategies to consider:


  • Systematic Practice: Utilize a research-proven Vocabulary Development Routine, incorporating elements from Robert Marzano’s six-step vocabulary development, Kate Kinsella’s vocabulary instruction routine, and Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey’s Gradual Release of Responsibility. This routine ensures that students engage with new words actively and repeatedly, leading to deeper understanding and retention.


  • Differentiation: Tailor instruction to meet the diverse needs of students by using words from previous grades for Tier One intervention and selecting words strategically based on student proficiency levels. Grade-level teams can collaborate to plan the order and timeline for teaching words, ensuring coherence and alignment across classrooms.


  • Integration Across Subjects: Embed academic vocabulary instruction seamlessly into every academic subject, ensuring that students encounter the words frequently and have opportunities to apply them in context. Language arts teachers can delve deeper into word nuance, origin, and affixes, using word work strategies to reinforce understanding.


In the next parts of this series, we will delve into sample lessons and activities for explicit instruction and academic vocabulary development, providing practical tools and resources for educators to implement in their classrooms.



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