Weekly Passage and Using the Focus Words
Launch passage introducing a controversial topic that can support discussion and debate and focus words
Comprehension questions to guide the class in checking understanding of the passage and to invite students to tap into their personal beliefs about the week's topic
Do the Math
Two Levels of Word Problems
Problems are related to weekly topic
Use of some of the target words in math context
Science-related background information gives students more practice using different forms of the words
Students interpret data and draw conclusions
Debate the Issue
Identification of reasons and evidence
Development of positions on issues
Use of academically productive talk to argue positions
Take a Stand
Prompt provided to inspire persuasive essay
Opportunity to use focus words in writing
Evidence and reasoning included in essays in order to support position
Weekly Passage (page 1 of 6)
Using the Focus Words (page 2 of 6)
Do the Math (page 3 of 6)
Think Scientifically (page 4 of 6)
Debate the Issue (page 5 of 6)
Take a Stand (page 6 of 6)
Why these words?
(Focus Words from Unit 1.01)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.
We believe that the subset of AWL words we have selected to use in our materials are particularly useful for students to know. Even if students have some prior exposure to some of these words, they may not understand them in novel contexts or abstract uses. For example, we have found that many students know 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.
Focus Words, Series 1
Focus Words, Series 2
Focus Words, Series 3
Why such controversial topics?
Students require information about controversies currently attracting national attention, and skills for analyzing these issues, in order to be prepared to participate effectively in our democracy. Yet American schools tend to de-emphasize civics, leaving students ill-equipped to join the national conversation surrounding such issues as funding for stem cell research, use of affirmative action in college admissions, or the possibility of amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
In an editorial, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor asserted:
I believe that the civics curriculum should focus on getting more students in the game. To do so, it must concentrate on issues of importance to their world; teach them to analyze and engage in constructive discussions regarding controversial and important issues of the day, in a setting that inculcates thoughtful discussion.
While the weekly topics, in most instances, will not connect directly to the regular curriculum, they will give teachers an opportunity to help students explore issues that are deeply relevant to their content area. The topics are divided into four strands, so that each teacher will have the opportunity to present issues connected to his or her own subject.
Some topics are emotionally charged; the paragraphs are designed to encourage students to look beyond their initial response to examine the facts surrounding a particular controversy. The program includes suggested structures for facilitating debate and exposure to multiple points of view.
Topics, Series 1
1.01 What is the purpose of school?
1.02 When should someone be considered an adult?
1.03 What makes an American?
1.04 Cloning: threat or opportunity?
1.05 Does rap music have a negative impact on youth?
1.06 Animal testing: Is it necessary?
1.07 Censorship: Who should decide what young people read?
1.08 Climate change: Who should pay for the consequences?
1.09 School dress codes: not strict enough?
1.10 Who is responsible for doping in professional team sports?
1.11 Mummies: Who owns the dead?
1.12 Junk food: Should schools sell it?
1.13 Is the death penalty justified?
1.14 Asthma: more than a medical problem?
1.15 Today’s news: information or entertainment?
1.16 Teen smoking: Who is responsible?
1.17 Solitary confinement: legitimate protection or cruel and unusual punishment?
1.18 Should drugs be legalized?
1.19 Should the NFL require the Washington Redskins to change their name?
1.20 High school dropouts: What can be done?
1.21 Should victims’ families all receive the same compensation?
1.22 Politics and privacy: What do we need to know about a candidate?
1.23 Explicit photos and cell phones: illegal or just risky?
1.24 Dating violence: When should the police be called?
Series 1 Topics
Topics, Series 2
2.01 Should a standardized test be a requirement for high school graduation?
2.02 Should colleges use affirmative action?
2.03 Should schools or parents be responsible for sex education?
2.04 Do professional athletes deserve multi-million dollar salaries?
2.05 Should students be paid for performance in school?
2.06 Does Title IX promote gender fairness in sports and education?
2.07 Should the government fund embryonic stem cell research?
2.08 Who is responsible for childhood obesity?
2.09 Nuclear power: our energy future or danger to society?
2.10 Should the Pledge of Allegiance say “one Nation under God”?
2.11 Should English be the official language of the United States?
2.12 Are kids responsible for stepping in to prevent bullying?
2.13 Should doctors be allowed to assist seriously ill patients with suicide?
2.14 Should American students be required to learn a second language?
2.15 Are green technologies worth the investment?
2.16 Violence and media: Are ratings systems necessary?
2.17 Should intelligent design be taught in school?
2.18 Should drug companies be allowed to advertise prescription drugs on TV?
2.19 Should voting be compulsory in local and national elections in the United States?
2.20 Should there be amnesty for undocumented immigrants?
2.21 Should corporal punishment be outlawed?
2.22 Should middle and high school students have to meet a grade requirement to participate in sports?
2.23 Are after-school jobs helpful or harmful for middle and high school students?
2.24 Should middle and high schools use academic tracking?
Series 2 Topics
Topics, Series 3
3.01 Should school be a place for debate?
3.02 Should our use of paper or plastic be regulated?
3.03 Is an extended school day the right choice for U.S. students?
3.04 Should adoption information be kept from children?
3.05 Should secret wiretapping be legal?
3.06 When should the U.S. send troops to other countries?
3.07 Should the government impose a mandatory year of service?
3.08 Should the government regulate genetic testing?
3.09 Should the U.S. have tighter regulations on genetically modified food?
3.10 Should people continue to eat meat?
3.11 Do the benefits of renting a pet outweigh the potential harm it can cause the animals?
3.12 Should single-gender education be an option for everyone?
3.13 Should schools have a vocational track?
3.14 Should children be prohibited from becoming actors at an early age?
3.15 Who is responsible for protecting teens from online predators?
3.16 Should shopping malls be allowed to institute teen curfews?
3.17 Should everyone have access to medical marijuana?
3.18 How should organ recipients be chosen?
3.19 When is it okay to lie?
3.20 Should the U.S. have stricter gun regulations?
3.21 Should everyone get a trophy?
3.22 Is Barbie a bad influence?
3.23 Are schools responsible for protecting kids from cyberbullying?
3.24 Children protesting: duty or danger?
Series 3 Topics
Special Supports for English Learners available for Series 3!
Word Generation materials are often used in classrooms serving many students who are current or former English Language learners. Such students may need extra supports to benefit fully from the program–more background knowledge about the topic, explanations of idioms or unusual expressions used in the text, help with complicated grammatical structures, extra opportunities to practice participation in discussion, and so on. Such supports have been developed for Series 3 of the original Word Generation topics (2014 version), in collaboration with teachers using Word Generation with ELL students.
If ELL and recently reclassified students are to meet the new Common Core State Standards, they need access to rich reading, writing, and discussion activities. They can participate with their English-only classmates if they have access to the kinds of specific and targeted support available here. Furthermore, their teachers benefit from the guidance about what aspects of the texts and the tasks may be particularly puzzling to ELLs, so they can provide the help needed.
Academic Language For All!
Word Generation Supplementary Materials for Series 3
Download a sample.
Each unit supports ELLs in 5 ways:
All Series 3 ELL supports are available through the website above or by visiting the main Word Generation Download Center.
Interdisciplinary Units Grades 6-8
Word Generation Weekly is a supplementary curricular resource that offers a series of discussable dilemmas designed to promote students’ academic language and argumentation skills. Each of the 72 brief one-week units is focused around a social or civic dilemma designed to be of interest to young adolescents. Fifteen- to twenty-minute activities focused on the week’s dilemma take place in ELA, science, social studies, and math classes, and five target academic vocabulary words are incorporated into each of those activities. Students read, discuss, debate, and write about each weekly topic, using the newly taught vocabulary words.
Word Generation creates the opportunity for students to become familiar with current issues and persistent dilemmas, while acquiring skills prioritized in the Common Core State Standards. The program is unique in its cross-disciplinary design, giving teachers of ELA, science, social studies, and math the chance to collaborate on the shared goal of helping students use academic language to articulate their thinking.
Most middle schools using the WordGen Weekly have all students in grades six through eight working through the same series concurrently. This provides opportunities for whole-school engagement with the topic and creative reinforcement of the target vocabulary. For example, principals can reinforce the vocabulary by using it in announcements. Some schools have created field trips or other activities as a result of engagement with Word Generation topics. Teachers report that trips to the local courthouse are more engaging when students ask questions about the death penalty or minimum sentencing. Some teachers also communicate with parents about Word Generation topics and vocabulary so that parents can discuss the issues with their children, and use the words themselves to reinforce learning.
All student materials available at the Student Download Center (no login or registration req'd).
Student, teacher, and supplemental materials available at the Teacher Download Center (registration req'd).
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Download a one-page description of WordGen Weekly
SERP has developed three series of weekly units on a variety of controversial topics.
Each series is intended to last once academic year. Schools may decide on any order that suits their needs.
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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