Omit Examples from Core Vocabulary Lists

Some teachers struggle to identify the 30 core terms to target in any given content area. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It’s hard to imagine only teaching 30 words for mastery. But remember, all the vocabulary is still going to get taught. However, it’s not all going to be mastered.
  2. There is uncertainty confusion the definition of a core word. These are the terms that come up over and over in a variety of units and are essential to the academic success of the student. There is a difference between the need to know words and the nice to know words.
  3. Examples get mistaken for concepts. As we narrow our vocabulary instruction to focus on core words, it’s important to remember that there is a difference between “examples” and “concepts.”

Examples vs. concepts
A middle school science teacher might teach the following: predator, prey, consumer, producer, parasite, host. However, none of those words should be on the core vocabulary list for that class. They are all examples of a single bigger concept–organism. That is the word that should appear on the list. Organism will come up over and over during the curriculum via all the different examples. Students will learn the concept of an organism at a deeper level seeing it in all these different contexts.

Similarly, alliteration, personification, onomatopoeia, or similes wouldn’t be on most lists, but figurative language would be. Through instruction, the concept appears numerous times all year in a variety of ways.

The exception to that guideline might be if an example-type word comes up for the first time in your grade level.

  • Allusion might be a grade 4 core language arts word, but by grade 8, it would just be another example of figurative language.
  • In kindergarten, character might be a core word as it’s the students’ first exposure to it. They need to learn that a character could be an animal or a person or an inanimate object. But by grade 5 character is just a facet of story elements.

Narrowing down the core vocabulary list means prioritizing the important words that represent the bigger concepts students need to succeed.

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