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SERP's Original Interdisciplinary Academic Language Program

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.

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.

Some topics are emotionally charged; the text is 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.

The topics of all three series are displayed in the Browse the 72 Units section.

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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Word Generation by SERP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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.