Guided Reading and Academic Vocabulary: Words to Learn By
Guided Reading Time Is Prime Time for the Acquisition of Academic Vocabulary
Guided reading presents a unique opportunity for students to learn academic vocabulary if the guided reading books are written about engaging topics in ways that make academic vocabulary interesting and accessible. Students love learning “big” or “fancy” terminology for things and they will use academic vocabulary confidently if those terms have context to supply meaning and the terms have been used in a supportive discussion. Choosing guided reading books about interesting topics (and that use academic vocabulary) is key when selecting texts. Sometimes we choose texts because we think students need to learn about particular content; or need to read a text offering a particular phonic element; or need to read something at a particular level; or we may eliminate a text because we fear the students might not have the background knowledge. These reasons may actually prevent students from being exposed to and reading texts with powerful, interesting academic vocabulary. In guided reading, we want to choose texts because they have an opportunity for learning academic vocabulary. In quality guided reading texts, there will be support for this academic vocabulary—photos, illustrations, diagrams, glossaries. As we look at guided reading texts, the use of academic vocabulary should be criteria for selecting it, not for eliminating it. In effective guided reading lesson design, support for this academic vocabulary comes through a discussion which uses the academic vocabulary and terminology in meaningful ways. Hearing academic vocabulary used in a discussion is how we learn to pronounce and use this language. For example, during a guided reading lesson introduction, a teacher will use academic vocabulary as necessary when a book is being explored initially. If the book has been crafted using engaging photographs, students will often talk in ways that reveal their understandings of concepts but perhaps a lack of academic vocabulary. At this point, teachers can use the academic vocabulary during this discussion, supporting students to incorporate it into their understandings. If students aren’t familiar with the concepts presented in the book, the teacher may share some academic vocabulary and conceptual understandings during the introduction or decide to wait to see the meaning students make as they read the text. As discussions in guided reading continue, students learn new academic vocabulary and use this language in more precise ways. Choosing books for guided reading precisely because of the academic vocabulary supports readers to learn new concepts and acquire academic vocabulary.
Debra Crouch works nationally as an independent literacy consultant, collaborating with districts and schools in designing professional learning opportunities. Her work empowers teachers, principals, and coaches to envision instructional decisions that matter for children—decisions about processes for learning that unfold over time, across texts and among practices. She actively shares her thinking and practices through long-term professional learning opportunities with districts across the country serving children from diverse backgrounds, languages, and socioeconomic needs.