• The Original Interdisciplinary Word Generation
  • Grades 6-8
  • 72 Weekly Units Available
  • Each unit has five brief activities for ELA, math, science, and social studies related to a controversial topic of the week



  • Interdisciplinary Units of Study for
    Grades 4 & 5
  • 12 two-week units for each grade available
  • Each unit is organized is around a central question and offers a variety of texts, word-learning activities, writing tasks, and discussion/debate opportunities


Science Generation

  • Science Units with Academic Language Components for Grades 6-8
  • 18 Units Available
  • Approximately five full class sessions each, plus each unit contains supplementary materials for ELA, math, and social studies teachers


Social Studies Generation

  • Social Studies Units with Academic Language Components for Grades 6-8
  • 18 Units Available
  • Approximately five full class sessions each, plus each unit contains supplementary materials for ELA, math, and science teachers

So, what is the big idea behind Word Generation?

Word Generation sets students on a path to college and career readiness by providing multiple perspectives on complex problems.

One of the greatest developmental challenges for students is to understand the reasoning of others.

Young students generally believe that ideas are right or wrong. The notion that there may be different perspectives on the cause of a war, and that evidence can help us decide which explanation is most defensible, is at the core of learning history. Similarly, the notion that our scientific knowledge about the world is based on evidence and reasoning, not on a truth handed down by brilliant people in white coats, is at the heart of understanding science. Students must have the opportunity and the support to develop these more complex understandings.

The ability to understand multiple perspectives is not only important for academic learning, it is also at the root of social and emotional learning.

Students who know how to listen to conflicting perspectives, and argue respectfully about differences using evidence, have a better chance at successfully negotiating their way through the challenges of adolescence and into adulthood. Understanding multiple perspectives is also at the core of successful argumentation. A good argument of course uses evidence in support of a position, but also uses evidence to counter alternative positions. Anticipating how someone who disagrees with you will think is crucial to successful argumentation.

Word Generation builds reading comprehension by incorporating academic vocabulary to engaging texts and providing ample opportunities for discussion and debate.

Word Generation focuses on academic vocabulary, i.e., words that students are likely to encounter in textbooks and on tests, but not in spoken language.

Academic vocabulary includes (a) words that refer to thinking and communicating, like infer and deny, and (b) words that are common across subjects, but hold different meaning depending on the subject, such as element and factor. Both types of academic vocabulary are likely to cause problems with comprehension unless students have been taught how to deal with them. The cross-content focus on a small number of words each week enables students to understand the variety of ways in which words are used, and the multiple exposures to words provide opportunities for learners to develop a deeper understanding.

Each unit introduces 5–10 of these high-utility academic “focus words” and begins with an engaging text that introduces multiple perspectives on a high-interest topic.

Topics range from “Who should decide what we eat?” in 4th grade, to “Should secret wiretapping be legal?” in middle school. Word Generation extends to include science and social studies units for middle school, going in-depth on topics such as whether Egyptian pharaohs were wise investors or wasteful spenders in social studies, and thinking about natural selection in science. Students read, discuss, debate, and write using the focus words.

Word Generation places heavy emphasis on 21st century learning goals, including academic language, argumentation, analytic reasoning, reading to find evidence, and argumentative writing.

The Word Generation program provides a well-structured opportunity to introduce the practices that have been elevated by the CCSS and NGSS.

Though the development of much of Word Generation preceded the CCSS, it was designed by preeminent researchers whose work influenced the development of the standards. Consequently, the program was designed from the start to maximize students’ opportunities to engage in the practices that promote higher order thinking and learning, a feature that distinguishes Word Generation from programs that are being retrofitted in an effort to “align” with the standards.

Development of Word Generation was led by Catherine Snow (Harvard University) and Suzanne Donovan (SERP). Major SERP contributors to program development include: Claire White, Alyse Krantz, Halley Wheeless, Matt Ellinger, David Dudley, and Patrick Hurley. Boston Public Schools and other districts in Massachusetts and Maryland collaborated with SERP to develop of Word Generation.
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.
Strategic Education Research Partnership  •  1100 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 1310  •  Washington, DC  20036
serpinstitute.org  •  info@serpinstitute.org  •  (202) 223-8555
Creative Commons License
Word Generation by SERP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.