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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 04/13/2010

Tennessee’s Vocabulary Project--Do you know these words?

By Valerie Strauss

It has long been known that children from high-poverty families start school at a disadvantage, in large part because they have less than one-third the vocabulary of better-off children. This deficit is linked to lower academic achievement that starts early and is often never remedied.

To try to address this, the state of Tennessee is implementing what it calls the Academic Vocabulary Project.

Teachers are armed with a list of words and phrases that have been identified as necessary for students to know at different grades, and they are supposed to make the kids learn them.

These aren’t necessarily the kinds of words students will find on a college admissions test; rather, they represent concepts that children need to grasp new material in math, science, language arts and social studies.

Tennessee’s young students have long scored poorly when compared to other states in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (in 2007, fourth-graders ranked 41st in reading and 46th in math.)

The project was launched well before Tennessee became one of the two states to win money last month in the first round of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s "Race to the Top" competition. The state's proposal beat out 14 other applications that promised to reform public education.

The project was built around a teacher’s manual called “Building Academic Vocabulary” by researchers Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering.

Marzano wrote the manual for the Tennessee project, in which he explains how the words were selected--with the help of experts in different subjects--and how they should be taught.

The least effective way is have kids memorize words and definitions. Rather, Marzano’s manual says, it is actually best to avoid giving students a formal definition of a word when it is first introduced. Use a description, explanation or example instead, he says.

Kids are then supposed to write their own descriptions and keep a vocabulary notebook to add entries with enough room for comments as their understanding of the word develops.

You can find all of the words for each grade at the Tennessee vocabulary project Web site:

Here are some of the words for each grade. Check to see how many your child knows--and how many you could properly explain to another person.

Kindergarten language arts words are:

Alphabet, author, illustrator, beginning, ending, consonant, vowel, drawing, fairy tale, letter, letter sound relationship, picture book, poem, story, song, print, retell, rhyme, sentence, speech, title, upper case (capital), lower case, word, period, question mark, exclamation mark, read.

Sixth-grade science words:

Abiotic, atmospheric convection, adaptive engineered technologies, assistive engineered technologies, asteroid, bias, biome, biosphere, biotic, cause and effect, chemical potential energy, climate change, conductivity, control, criteria, design constraint, elastic potential, electrical conductor, energy transformation, gravitational potential, energy, hygrometer, meteorological data, ocean current, protocol, prototype, psychrometer, scavengers, simple circuits, tides, variable.

The seventh grade math words are:

absolute value, additive inverses, box & whisker plot, coefficient, cube root, function, function notation, greatest common divisor, greatest common factor, histograms, intercepts, interquartile range, least common multiple, linear equation, negative exponents, perfect square, property, proportional relationships, quartile, scatter plots, scientific notation, slope, square root, unit rates.

Eighth grade social studies words:

philanthropy, altruism, antebellum, absolute, exchange, commerce, congressional, civic efficacy, constitutional, contract, consumption, autocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship, diplomacy, domestic, doctrine, federalism, Holocaust, human impact, infrastructure, insurrection, interdependence, international, map projections, nationalism, Magna Carta, recession, relative, republicanism, social norms, totalitarian, vernacular, autocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship.


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By Valerie Strauss  | April 13, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Tags:  Race to the top winners, Tennessee Vocabulary Project, Tennessee and RTTT, Tennessee and vocabulary, how to teach vocabulary, vocabulary project  
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Okay, what am I missing? These are words that should be used within the context of actually teaching the concepts themselves. As a kindergarten teacher, I used those words DAILY. My guess is that when one is required to teach to state tests, the majority of these topics aren't discussed or taught. Children would have no frame of reference for these if they are taught in isolation. THey have to be taught and used while actually teaching the subject matter. ???

Posted by: Live4literacy | April 13, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

I guess the idea is for the teacher to use the word and then have the kids do the notebook thing after they have actually done an activity with the word. They would be learning the vocabulary word, "drawing" instead of "make a picture". Many places already do this, but, I do think it is good to have a list of commonly used vocabulary words, it makes it easier on the teachers and the kids, and if the child moves, they are not faced with a whole new set of jargon.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 13, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

This reminds me of E.D. Hirshe's common core standards. I say this approvingly, I think too often we miss how important enhancing a kids vocabulary is for advanced thinking. I appreciate the list and think I will use it for our summer learning.

Posted by: Brooklander | April 13, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, very useful.

Posted by: mamoore1 | April 13, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

As an early reader from a bookish family, I had a very extensive vocabulary, but I doubt that I encountered some of these concepts at the age recommended. Maybe kids don't really know less than their parents and grandparents did; maybe we are expecting them to know more earlier. (I remember being bored in first grade while my classmates learned the alphabet--now children are expected to enter kindergarten knowing the alphabet and begin reading immediately. Just when is it permissible to be ignorant?)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 13, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

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