Research Years 1 - 4: Word Generation for English Language Learners
Catherine E. Snow, Ph.D.
Harvard Graduate School of Education
A major obstacle to success in reading comprehension for English learners in the middle grades is their unfamiliarity with the vocabulary they encounter in their content area textbooks. Content area teachers report that they focus on teaching vocabulary, but closer analysis reveals that the words taught in content area classrooms are disciplinary words—photosynthesis and nutrition in science classes, legislative and battalion in social studies. Unfortunately the academic words used across disciplines—often to define the disciplinary words—are not dealt with by any of the content area teachers and thus are missed altogether. These words—such as process, compare, interpret, distinguish, and so on—are crucial to comprehension across content areas. English learners (and native English speakers from low-language environments) are extremely unlikely to know these words, and must be taught them in the classroom in order to learn them. Word Generation is a vocabulary support program designed to be used in middle schools across all content areas: it uses engaging paragraphs to present these all-purpose academic words as well as activities to help students learn them. It was developed with support from the Strategic Education Research Partnership and formatively evaluated in Boston Public Middle Schools; the CREATE component of the project developed alternative, simpler forms of the paragraphs to make them more accessible to English learners. The English Learners-accessible paragraphs provided a basis for a modified, English Learners-focused version of Word Generation.