Helenann Steensen, Fountas & Pinnell Consultant
Can you explain the difference between technical words, academic words, and content words as stated in the guided reading continuum?
You will find content and academic vocabulary at almost all levels. Technical Vocabulary will be added in as texts become more complex.
This is an excerpt from Guided Reading Responsive Teaching Across the Grades.
Beck, McKeown, and Kulcan (2002) describe three tiers of words:
1. First-tier (Tier 1) words appear frequently in the oral language that early readers have experienced; they are learned without instruction because they are part of daily interaction; for example, yes, no, come, go, hungry, book. When children enter school, some experience an expansion of Tier 1 words; for example, pencil, desk, book basket, notebook. (These might be considered content words which may already be in the child’s oral vocabulary or are pertinent to the context.)
2. Second-tier (Tier 2) words are those that appear frequently in the vocabularies of mature language users and in written texts. Some examples are unfortunate, fascinating, exclaimed, remarked. You can even find some technical words in Tier 2 that are pervasive across scientific disciplines but not particular to any one, for example, vacuum, porous, translucent, luminous.
3. Third-tier (Tier 3) words are specialized and peculiar to scientific domains. They are usually learned through content area study. Even elementary students encounter Tier 3 words in the books they read, especially in nonfiction. Some examples are ectoplasm, bioluminescence, cerebral cortex.
An example of content-specific words is seen in the nonfiction book about popcorn. These words are introduced, explained, and illustrated in this text. (kernel, starch, steam). In Lifeguard Dogs: (tows, breeds, life buoys) are examples.
An example of some technical vocabulary used in a text about whales might include words pertinent to understanding the subject that go beyond words that might be used in a child’s oral language such as: (blowholes, blow, calf, pods)
F&P state, “Another area of great interest is “academic vocabulary,” a term that refers to the Tier 3 words that readers use as they talk in the academic disciplines. It also refers to the terms that readers and students of literature use to refer to literary texts, and this language can be expanded through every context for reading instruction. Even at early levels, children can use terms such as author and title; as levels expand in difficulty, there is more demand for the use of academic terms. Words like character, plot, and problem would also be included.” Other academic terms to talk about genres might include: (nonfiction, informational book, expository and narrative text). Academic connectives appear in written texts, often in academic treatises or scientific works, for example, alternatively, consequently, despite, conversely, eventually, finally, in contrast, initially, likewise, nevertheless, nonetheless, previously, specifically, ultimately, whereas, whereby.
It makes sense that the more Tier 2 and Tier 3 words a text includes, the harder
it will be. At levels A through J, you will find very few Tier 2 words and almost no Tier 3 words until level M. But these kinds of words occur with increasing frequency as the content load becomes heavier across levels.
I hope this helps.
Helenann Steensen, Official Fountas & Pinnell Consultant, Heinemann