10 great words to teach young high-schoolers (and why) – with brilliant free resources!

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Welcome to 2018, dear readers!

Over the last years, we’ve published hundreds of free articles, and ebooks summarising some of the latest research about speech, language, reading, stuttering, accent management and voice. You can access them all, anytime, on our new website.

This year, we’re committed to bringing you more free, Plain English, evidence-based information. But, this year, we’re going for something different.

Based on reader feedback, you’ll see fewer long articles covering theoretical academic debates in minute detail. You’ll see more short, sharp articles summarising practical strategies and tips you can implement at home, at school, or in your clinic.

So let’s get started!

Based on the terrific work of Dr Sarah Spencer and colleagues, here are 10 words we should teach young high-schoolers (12-14 year olds) and older children with language or reading difficulties.

1. Which words should you teach?

  • Interpret
  • Evaluate
  • Exclude
  • Sustain
  • Discriminate
  • Infer
  • Contribute
  • Generate
  • Summarise
  • Consult

2. Why these words?

All these words are:

  • cross-curriculum words. In other words, they are used in high school across multiple subjects. Cross-curriculum words are also known as “academic words” or “tier 2 words”. You can read more about these words, find out why they are so useful, and access longer words lists and other free resources here;
  • highly functional. They can be used in all sorts of places, with all sorts of people in the “real world”; and
  • verbs. Verbs are harder to learn than nouns, especially for children with language, learning or reading difficulties (e.g. Nash & Snowling, 2006).

To date, vocabulary interventions show that you can teach kids new words with lots of effort. But choosing the right words is really important because:

  • it takes lots of work for a child to learn a new word, especially if the child has language, learning or reading difficulties; and
  • learning a word doesn’t seem to automatically help a child learn other words (e.g. Snow et al., 2009).

3. How should the 10 words be taught?

  • Intensively: at least an hour a week, with home exercises between sessions.
  • Teach one word at a time, e.g. spend a teaching session talking only about “consult”.
  • Define the word explicitly (you can teach children to use a dictionary at the same time), e.g. “consult means to seek information or advice from, or to seek permission or approval from”.
  • Use lots of repetition, in lots of different contexts, e.g. you can consult a rulebook, the teacher, a school counselor, the principal, an umpire, a dictionary, Ikea instructions, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a psychologist, a speech pathologist, an accountant, a weatherman/woman, a psychic (although not recommended!), Centrelink, the Department of Housing, a website, etc.
  • Teach to small groups (3-5 children) so they can work together and discuss the words based on their real world experiences.
  • Give children lots of opportunities to use the word in different ways.
  • Focus on different aspects of the word including the:
    • meaning of the word;
    • speech sounds and syllables that make up the word /kənsʌlt/, rhyming words (e.g. cult, adult, result);
    • grammatical role of the word, e.g. “consult is a verb” – it’s something you do;
    • morphology of the word, including the word origin (Latin meaning “take counsel”), its prefix (“con” meaning “with”) and root (“sult”, meaning to leap upon), as well as different word forms, e.g. consult, consults, consulted, consulting, consultant, consultation; and
    • spelling of the word (c-o-n-s-u-l-t).
  • Use activities the kids like to increase motivation and engagement (e.g. by consulting “experts” on YouTube or Reddit).
  • Act out the word (there is some evidence that miming an action while saying the word can help younger children to learn verbs e.g. Riches et al., 2005).
  • Give the kids personal challenges at the end of the session where they have to use and act out the word at home or out and about.

Final tip: when teaching kids new words, go for depth of word knowledge, rather than breadth.

4. Where can you find free resources to teach these words to young high-schoolers?

For more information and resources (including free lesson plans!), go to this wonderful, evidence-based website run by Dr Spencer, a Lecturer and Speech and Language Therapist at the Department for Human Communication Sciences, at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. Free lesson plans and resources for each of these 10 words can be found here.

5. How can you assess whether your high-schooler has learned the words properly?

Check out Dr Spencer’s Word Knowledge Profile here.

Clinical bottom line

Young teenagers at risk of school failure often have poor knowledge of cross-curriculum words like the 10 listed above. Knowing cross-curriculum words can be a big help at school and in life.  We should teach cross-curriculum words to teenagers, especially those at risk of school failure.  Thanks to the wonderful research and resources provided by Dr Spencer and her colleagues, we’re well equipped to teach at least 10 of these words.

Principal source: Spencer, S., Clegg, J., Lowe, H., Stackhouse, J. (2017). Increasing adolescents’ depth of understanding of cross-curriculum words: an intervention study. International Journal or Language and Communication Disorders, 52(5), 652-668. Abstract link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1460-6984.12309/abstract

Further reading and free resources:

Image: https://tinyurl.com/ybaufb2o

Man wearing glasses and a suit, standing in front of a bay

Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.

Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language

Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.

David Kinnane
Speech-Language Pathologist. Lawyer. Father. Reader. Writer. Speaker.


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