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Word Wise and Content Rich, Grades 7-12

Five Essential Steps to Teaching Academic Vocabulary

By Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey
Foreword by Karen Bromley

With Word Wise and Content Rich, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey bring vocabulary in out of the cold and into the heart of daily classroom practice in English, math, science, and history.

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This book is a natural for a teacher study group. It is well worth the time spent reading and discussing with colleagues because the ideas it holds are basic to rethinking and transforming vocabulary teaching.
—Karen Bromley
Binghamton University, SUNY

How do you teach students the words that are crucial to unlocking the concepts in your content area? Until now “assign, define, test” has been the default strategy. But with Word Wise and Content Rich, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey bring vocabulary in out of the cold and into the heart of daily classroom practice in English, math, science, and history.
Word Wise and Content Rich offers a five-part framework for teaching vocabulary that’s tailored to the needs of adolescent learners yet mindful of the demands on content-area teachers. Grounded in current research, this framework gives students the multiple encounters necessary to lock in the meaning of new words forever. Fisher and Frey’s five-step modelshows you how to:
  • Make it intentional: select words for instruction and use word lists and up-to-date website lists wisely
  • Make it transparent: model word-solving and word-learning strategies for students
  • Make it useable: offer learners the collaborative work and oral practice essential to understanding concepts
  • Make it personal: give and monitor independent practice so students own words
  • Make it a priority: create a schoolwide program for word learning.
Use Word Wise and Content Rich, and close the word gap between low-achieving and high-achieving students. With its strategies, every student in your class—in your school—can access the textbook and develop the vocabulary needed for success in content-area reading.
Read Word Wise and Content Rich and get the last word on great vocabulary teaching.

(click any section below to continue reading)



1. Words (Still) Matter in Middle and High School

2. Make It Intentional: A Framework for Selecting and Teaching Vocabulary

3. Make It Transparent: Teacher Modeling of Academic Vocabulary Learning

4. Make It Useable: Building Academic Vocabulary Through Peer Talk

5. Make It Personal: Consolidating Students’ Academic Vocabulary Through Individual Activities

6. Make It a Priority: Creating a Schoolwide Focus on Learning Words

7. Make It Your Own: How to Keep Learning About Academic Vocabulary


Companion Resources

Complete Study Guide
Book Study Suggestions

CHAPTER 1: Words (Still) Matter in Middle and High School

Vocabulary is vital. In every content area, mastering vocabulary supports deeper understanding and wider expression. But traditional assign, define, test instruction doesn't help students lock in meaning or give them the skills to solve unfamiliar words. To begin with, we focus on what students need to know, how much they need to know, and how they best acquire the words they need. And we introduce a five-part framework for highly-effective teaching that makes powerful vocabulary instruction doable across the content-areas.

CHAPTER 2: Make It Intentional

First and foremost, we have to intentionally select words that are worth teaching. We need to carefully consider the types of words students need to know and learn. Middle and high school students need to understand technical words to become proficient with the discourse of a discipline. They also need to know the specialized words that are commonly used but that change their meaning based on the context or content area in which they are used. The key here is to determine which words students need to know and how to best teach them. Accordingly, in this chapter, we focus on an instructional design model that is deliberate and takes into account what is known about human learning. Our intentional vocabulary learning model is based on a theory of gradual release of responsibility of learning, which suggests that teachers should purposefully plan to increase student responsibility for learning.

CHAPTER 3: Make It Transparent

One way that students learn is through teacher modeling. The purpose of this component of academic vocabulary instruction is twofold. First, modeling develops what Michael Graves (2006) calls "word consciousness" by drawing attention to the language used by the writer. Second, it teaches procedures for problem solving unknown or poorly understood words. It is also important to discriminate between these two purposes and teaching specific vocabulary words. It seems reasonable to suggest that modeling word-solving strategies and word-learning strategies across content areas will help students learn words by providing them with cognitive guidance and a how-to model. However, using teacher modeling to teach individual words out of context is an inefficient use of instructional time. When teachers read aloud to their students and share their thinking about the words in the text, they develop their students' metacognitive skills.

CHAPTER 4: Make It Useable

While we know that modeling is critical for student success, we also understand that immediately after this modeling, students have to use the words they've been taught if they are to own them. Students simply will not incorporate academic vocabulary into their speaking and writing unless they are provided multiple opportunities to do so. Collaborative tasks that require students to use newly acquired vocabulary verbally or in writing are thus a part of our model. Authentic usage is essential for acquisition of vocabulary knowledge.

CHAPTER 5: Make It Personal

Independent learning is a vital but often undervalued aspect of word acquisition. In this strand of our model, students are given tasks that allow them to apply what they have learned in novel situations. This component is essential if students are to move beyond passive participation and incorporate new academic vocabulary into their funds of knowledge. Students have an opportunity to take ownership of the vocabulary by integrating it into their personal verbal and written repertoires.

CHAPTER 6: Make It a Priority

We know that reading has an impact on vocabulary. Therefore, students must be engaged in authentic reading tasks, with texts they can read, on a daily basis. The best way to do this is to ensure that the school places a high priority on wide reading. In reading widely, students will acquire some of the general words they need to know. In addition, they'll see familiar words in diverse contexts and add new meanings to known words. In addition to wide reading, another schoolwide effort as part of our academic vocabulary initiative encourages all teachers to focus on high-frequency prefixes, suffixes, and root words. In doing so, they'll help students develop transportable skills they can use to make educated guesses about words they do not know. As we discuss later in the book, there are clusters of words that share meanings, and studying them together helps students remember them.

CHAPTER 7: Make It Your Own

Now that we have a model for effective vocabulary instruction that moves from telling students about words to integrating words into everything we teach, what do we do? The answer is that we make the topic of vocabulary our own by reading widely on the topic, making use of resources both in print and online, and gathering information in our classrooms to inform future instructional decisions.