Strategy Guide

Using Disciplinary Facets to Deepen Academic Vocabulary Knowledge

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Strategy Guide Series
Developing Academic Vocabulary

About this Strategy Guide

In this guide, you will learn how to use the disciplinary facets strategy to support vocabulary development across contexts and academic disciplines.

Research Basis

In his discussion of the research basis around teaching students individual words, Graves (2007) notes that “vocabulary instruction is most effective when learners are given both definitional and contextual information, when they actively process the new word meanings, and when they experience multiple encounters with words. Said somewhat differently, vocabulary instruction is most effective when it is rich, deep, and extended” (p. 14). Encouraging students to consider the multiple meanings that words take on in various contexts helps them see vocabulary acquisition as “part of learning language … [and to] understand language as a living, growing phenomenon rather than a list of items with definite meaning boundaries” (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2013; p. 52).

Strategy in Practice

  1. Project a copy of the Exploring Disciplinary Facets handout and explain that its purpose is to help them think about how words have different meanings and do different meaning work (such as differing parts of speech) depending on the context or class in which they are used.

  2. Ask students to think of a few examples of words that work this way.  Examples might include

    • crane: In biology, it’s a bird; in health or PE it’s an action performed with your neck; in building trades or physics it’s a mechanical device used to lift heavy objects.
    • reservation: In an academic argument, it’s a qualification or a doubt; in social studies, it may refer to land set aside by the U.S. Government for Native Americans; in a consumer science class, it may refer to an arrangement to save or “book” a room or table, as in a hotel or restaurant.
  3. Show students how the various definitions can be collected in the spaces on the chart, adding new disciplines when the pre-printed ones do not apply.

  4. Point out to students that thinking about the multiple meanings words have may be confusing at first, but that working through this confusion is a step toward developing a strong vocabulary.

  5. If possible, collaborate with cross-disciplinary colleagues to select words that students can expect to hear across the school day.  Introduce focal words one at a time and encourage students use the Exploring Disciplinary Facets handout to predict and/or collect the various facets of definition they encounter in different contexts.

  6. Discuss with students the connections and distinctions they see as words are used across disciplines.

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