Academic Vocabulary: From “Yawn” to Applause!

Erik Christensen, BHP Teacher
California, USA

We realize there are amazing connections to be made between BHP’s unit driving questions (DQs), the Investigations, and the lesson/unit vocabulary. Our teaching model uses student writing—spread over a few days during each unit—to make these connections pop. Here’s how it works:

We tackle the Text Genome Part 1 activity and the activity in which students write an initial response to the unit’s DQ on the same day, with the vocabulary activity preceding the writing one.

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We start by modeling two to four of the Text Genome Part 1 vocabulary exercises, then have students work in Kagan groups of three or four to complete the worksheet. Although the group work takes some monitoring, it’s essential that the students work together. Once they’ve completed the worksheet, we regroup and go over the entire worksheet together.

Next, we introduce the DQ. Since there has been some content introduced already (via vocab), students are able to hold reasonably productive discussions in their groups. After groups have had discussion time, we go over important points, such as common themes, as a class.

Later on the same day, students individually construct their written responses to the DQ. Here’s the key: they must use four to six of the vocabulary (or root) words in their DQ responses. This use of vocabulary, pulled from the Text Genome sheets, makes them sound very scholarly. (Additionally, we take time to use an equity draw system to allow several students to read their responses aloud. This is often an impressive classroom moment with praise, feedback, and often student applause. Students are amazing once they’re equipped with appropriate academic vocabulary.)

We essentially repeat this activity a week or two later, when Text Genome Part 2 is introduced. Students revise their DQ responses now that they know more about the thematic/unit content, and we challenge them to use eight to ten vocabulary words in their writing.

Of course, this revised and polished DQ response has a very good chance of being the introductory/thesis/claim section of their Investigation essays, which they are happy to use during Investigation Day.
A side note: We print hard copies of the Text Genome worksheets (Parts 1 and 2). We decided to code the Text Genome worksheets with color-coded paper that matches the unit color scheme (red for Unit 1, green for Unit 5, for example). This provides a sense of organization and is easier on the eyes for many of our students.

I first posted about our approach in this thread in the BHP online teacher community. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

About the author: Erik Christensen is a second year Big History teacher at Granada Hills Charter High School in Los Angeles. GHCHS is the largest charter school in the United States, with an enrollment of approximately 4,800 students. Erik teaches four sections of Big History in an integrated classroom environment that combines general education and special education students. These integrated sections contain approximately 30 students (35% special programs and 65% general education) and are cotaught with Straun Joseph, a veteran Big History and special education teacher.

*Note from BHP Team: Read more about the BHP partnership with Text Genome in this recent EdSurge article.