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Bonnie Campbell Hill Award Recipients

2015 WA State Literacy Leader Award
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2015 National Teacher Leader Award
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Citation: Beck, Isabel, McKeown, Margaret, & Kucan, Linda. (2002). Bringing Words to Life. New York, NY: Guildford Press.


Title: Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction
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Year: 2002
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Medium: Book
Author(s): Beck, Isabel
Kucan, Linda
McKeown, Margaret
Grades: Kindergarten to Twelfth Grade
Category: Teaching Vocabulary English Language Learners and Writing
Annotation: “First-grade children from higher-SES groups knew about twice as many words as lower SES children” (p. 1) is one of many research findings that Isabel Beck, Margaret McKewon and Linda Kucan share to help explain the need for effective vocabulary instruction in your classroom for all students, be especially for ELLs and underachieving readers and writers. One misconception that they hope to clear up with this book is that vocabulary is indeed learned through the context of reading, but providing time to read by itself is not enough, especially since many children do not read enough or are not reading at high enough levels to increase their vocabulary at an adequate rate. In addition to learning vocabulary through context in reading, these leaders implore educators to explicitly teach vocabulary in other ways and the structure that they suggest involves three tiers of words. The first tier includes words such as baby and walk which rarely need to be taught, especially as related to school curriculum. The third tier of words is made up of low frequency words such as peninsula which can be taught in the appropriate content area. However, it is the second tier of words (7,000 approximately) which are frequently used across many contexts that they feel should be the focus of vocabulary instruction.

The bulk of this book then introduces you to strategies for choosing words for your grade level; introducing vocabulary; developing vocabulary in early and later grades; making the most of natural contexts; and enriching the verbal environment. As a part of this rich verbal environment, “Teachers, through their own choice of words, should strive to have students become accustomed to hearing words they do not know, words that are beyond their current knowledge” (p. 121). The appendix includes lists of books for teaching vocabulary for kindergarten through second grade, resources about the origins of words, and books to spark students’ curiosity about language. If you are a teacher, curriculum director, or administrator looking for research-based strategies for vocabulary instruction, this resource may be good starting point.