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Vocabulary: Research and Teaching Strategies

Research Digest No. 7 defines vocabulary, provides suggestions for assessment and instruction, and lists additional resources and references. You will find the PDF under the “Vocabulary” heading.



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Stellar Vocabulary Ideas

These “stellar” (meaning outstanding) ideas for vocabulary instruction were collected from participating MN STAR administrators and teachers during 2009-2012. Note: Some of the contributors’ original wording was reduced or revised for clarity and consistency.


Vocabulary - Challenges & Possible Solutions

NEW [updated July 2017Common vocabulary instructional challenges and solutions developed by Minnesota STARs and Trainers.


Vocabulary Instruction for STAR/EBRI Volunteers

This handout describes what STAR/EBRI volunteers “need to know” about evidence-based and explicit vocabulary instruction. It also clarifies how they can build or expand students’ Tier Two or academic vocabulary knowledge and usage.


Vocabulary Lessons

This online vocabulary curriculum includes 38 lessons. Each lesson is focused on 5 Tier 2 (or academic) words and provides a Knowledge Rating Scale, definitions, synonyms/antonyms, examples, and guided practice activities. It is useful for Intermediate level students.  You will find the Word documents under the “Vocabulary” heading.


Vocabulary Units

The vocabulary curriculum accessible from this page was originally created by two STAR trainers from the Adult Learning Resource Center, Arlington Heights, IL, in 2009-2010. With their permission, the units and lessons were adapted by Melissa Lupinek and Vicki Ostrom, Central MN ABE (Cambridge), in 2012. The original units covered 10 Tier 2 words. The adapted lessons cover only 5 Tier 2 words, a more reasonable number for students to learn deeply.

The concept of word tiers was developed over 26 years ago and based on frequency within English spoken and written language (Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G. & Omanson, R., 1987).

  • Tier 1 (or One) words are frequent in everyday, spoken language; examples include familiar and concrete words such as store, girl, truck.
  • Tier 2 (or Two) words are frequent in written language at or above 4th grade level; examples include abstract and academic words such as approach, benefit, contract.
  • Tier 3 (or Three) words are frequent only in content-specific, written materials; examples include math/history/science words such as pyramid, emancipation, ecology. 

Tier 2 words are essential for ABE students to know in order to read and understand the academic language used in print or online text. If they are not readers, they do not encounter and do not learn enough Tier 2 words. The experts referenced above recommend explicitly teaching Tier 2 words when students “can manage everyday conversation.” 

Suggestions for Use:

For each Lesson, there are Teacher Notes for modeling, Student Activities for guided practice and application to context, and Teacher Answer Keys for checking. Each Unit also has a Review activity.

  1. Use the Teacher Notes only as a guide for modeling and oral introduction – do not copy and distribute to students. 
  2. TELL students the pronunciation, "friendly" meaning, and part of speech - one word at a time.
  3. SHARE the two contexts for each word. After students are more familiar with each word and its usage, ASK them to share personal contexts.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Note: Beginning with Unit 11, other members of word families are listed on the Teacher Notes. Present them carefully to avoid "word overload."
  4. Select Student Activities to complete together and alone. Begin with simple, closed activities like Matching, Fill in the Blank, Fill in the Blanks.
  5. As students develop deeper knowledge of the words, scaffold to more complex, open activities like Sentence Completion, True/False/Why, Yes/No/Why, and Writing Prompts. Not all activities need to be completed!

Vocabulary Units Game

This vocabulary game is a companion resource for Units 1-4 of the above curriculum. The game board and eight sets of question cards were created by Kristin Knudson, an ABE teacher from Hennepin County Adult Corrections. As students learn new words from each unit -- or as a review of all -- they can play the game to improve their knowledge and usage.

Game Materials: game boards, cut-up question cards, dice, markers for players

Game Directions:

  1. Question cards are shuffled and placed face down on the game board.
  2. Player with the highest dice roll begins the game at START.
  3. All players roll the dice to move around the game board. 
  4. All players orally ask and answer questions from the cards.
  5. First player to reach END wins!

Vocabulary 1 - Fry's Instant Words, Phrases & Sentences

Fry's first 300 words presented in order of frequency and in simple phrases and sentences.


Vocabulary 2 - Academic Word Lists

Academic word lists 1-10, presented in order from most frequent to least frequent usage across content areas.


Vocabulary Workouts

This evidence-based curriculum provides 60 workouts for the most common Tier 2 words from the Academic Word List. It begins with the author's Introduction and Rationale, How to Use the Vocabulary Workouts, and References. Each one-page, vocabulary workout presents a headword (i.e. analyze), 1-2 related words (analysis), parts of speech, definitions, contexts, conversation practice, and writing prompts. They may be especially useful in small programs or open enrollment settings because they provide stand-alone (or one-day-at-a-time) lessons. They were developed and are generously shared by Susan Finn Miller, Instructional Services, Lancaster, PA.


Academic Word Finder

As we well know in MN ABE, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for K-12 and our own College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) recommend regular instruction and practice with academic (or Tier 2) vocabulary words. This requires teachers to be 'on the alert' for their presence in a variety of written and leveled texts. The Academic Word Finder is a free electronic tool from Achieve the Core that quickly identifies academic words in copied and pasted texts. It is not intended to "replace teacher judgment; rather, it helps to support the teacher and identify the most useful academic words." After you set up a login with an email address and password, you are ready to follow these simple steps for finding academic words from selected texts!

  1. Copy the text you want to analyze.
  2. Paste that text into the open box on the homepage.
  3. Select the grade level and click submit.
  4. Enter the details of your search for your reference and automatic saving.
  5. View all of the words in order of appearance in the text.
  6. Print, export, or email the list and use it to plan academic vocabulary instruction!