Why these words?

Most of the focus words for each week are drawn from the Academic Word List (AWL), which was originally developed as a support for instruction to second language learners of English. Although there are many word lists that provide candidates for explicit teaching and implicit enrichment of student vocabulary, the Academic Word List has compiled well-organized sublists of word families that occur with frequency in academic texts across academic domains.

While students may have prior exposure to the words selected, they may not understand them in novel contexts or abstract uses. For example, students tend to be familiar with only one meaning for the words substitute and suspend–a substitute teacher, and suspended from school. Yet these words are just two examples of high-frequency, high-importance, broadly useful words that deserve sustained attention so that they can be understood (and used) across a wider array of contexts. The focus words in Word Generation are widely used in academic discourse across disciplines, are at an appropriate challenge level for middle school students, and have properties that provide opportunities for teaching transferable word study strategies (e.g., polysemy, Greek/Latin roots, cognates, etc.).

Also included in the list of focus words are "topic-specific" words (if applicable). These are words that, while potentially useful in a variety of contexts, have particular applicability to the topic under discussion. Students cannot debate the content of the Pledge of Allegiance, for example, without a detailed understanding of what "allegiance" means, nor can they consider the risks associated with the use of nuclear power without a firm grasp of "contamination." These topic-specific words therefore facilitate thought and discussion.

The WordGen TeamDevelopment of Word Generation was led by Catherine Snow (Harvard University) through a SERP collaboration with the Boston Public Schools and other districts in Massachusetts and Maryland. Support for Word Generation was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Leon Lowenstein Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education through grant numbers R305A090555 and R305F100026. The information provided does not represent views of the funders.
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