Academic, Conversational & Domain-Specific Language

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Tiered vocabulary development is an essential part of meeting academic standards. In this lesson, we will define and discuss the three tiers of vocabulary: academic, conversational, and domain-specific language.

Word Use

Think about your word choice for the last essay you wrote for class. Did you sound the same as you do when you talk to your friends? Now think about the difference between the words you use in math class compared to the words you use in English class. Our language needs change based on our setting. In order to be able to understand and communicate in a variety of settings, we need to learn vocabulary within each of the three tiers: conversational, academic, and domain-specific. Let's find out more about each of the tiers of vocabulary.

Tier One: Conversational Words

Conversational words are words used in daily conversations with family and friends. It is important to know how to use these words in order to communicate with other people. These words are generally not taught in general education classes in school, but students new to the English language may need some support learning these types of words. Some examples of conversational words include: storm, subway, water, kitchen, pencil, and clothing. Mastery of words like these will help you tell others what you need.

Tier Two: Academic Words

Academic words are the words you need to know in order to be successful in any academic setting. Rather than being words that are specific to a certain subject, academic words are used across the curriculum. Many academic words will describe academic actions. For example, compare, defend, illustrate, clarify, and summarize are verbs that are used across all content areas to describe academic actions.

Some tier two words have more than one meaning. For example, the word 'notice' could mean to see something or it could mean a communication that is either posted or sent to someone. Other multiple-meaning tier two words include: consumer, contract, and minutes. Tier two words could also consist of descriptive words that influence reading comprehension.

Bloom's taxonomy, which is a hierarchy that describes levels of cognitive thinking, is based on tier two words.

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