Teaching Domain-Specific Words

We really don't talk enough about vocabulary on this blog, do we?


All joking aside, conversations about vocabulary instruction are important. Without proper vocabulary study, students may have a hard time developing the rest of their language arts skills, including reading and writing. Having strong vocabulary knowledge will help outside the English classroom, too, as students will undoubtedly encounter unfamiliar words in other subject areas.


To prepare students for success in school and beyond, the Common Core State Standards include this anchor standard under Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:


CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6

Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


So, what exactly are these domain-specific (or Tier 3) words?


Put simply, domain-specific words, also known as Tier 3 words, are technical or jargon words important to a particular subject. For instance, chemistry and element both fall under science-related vocabulary, while allusion and verse relate closely to English language arts (naturally, our favorite subject area).


Where do you find these words?


You probably don't want to scour a bunch of huge textbooks to find quality domain-specific words for your students, so here are a few suggestions:


Discuss your vocabulary needs with other professionals.


Your fellow teachers should be glad to give you potential vocabulary words from their areas of expertise (especially because your teaching these vocabulary words will help their students, too). If you ask nicely, they may also direct you to nonfiction texts you can use in your classroom. Everyone wins!


Don't be afraid to ask your students for vocabulary word inspiration, too. Chances are high that they've come across domain-specific words in other classes. Analyzing uncertain terms from other subjects, such as history or math, will help students strengthen their vocabulary skills and reinforce their knowledge in other school subjects.


Assign rigorous nonfiction to your students.


Nonfiction texts are the perfect place to encounter domain-specific words, especially since those words will be used in the appropriate context. Have students attempt to define unfamiliar vocabulary words in context before giving them hints or allowing them to use a dictionary. Strategies like root study, comparing and contrasting, logical analysis, and illustration will come in handy during these types of exercises.


Finding nonfiction texts for your lessons is easy. Web articles, journals, and encyclopedias are great resources for introducing domain-specific words to your students. For teachers pressed for time, ready-made compilations such as Reading Informational Texts and Essential American Documents and Speeches contain nonfiction pieces, including exemplar texts, that meet the level of difficulty the CCSS demand.


Use vocabulary resources that have sections on domain-specific words.


Our trusted Vocabulary Power Plus series and its upcoming digital counterpart, Vocabulary Power Plus Online, offer direct practice on hundreds of high-impact words while helping you cut down on instruction time.


The 2nd edition of the Vocabulary for the College Bound series includes comprehensive lessons that focus on academic and domain-specific words from many subjects, including science, math, and social studies. In each level of the series, each vocabulary word is used several times in different contexts, reinforcing word understanding and helping students retain what they learn.


These are just a few ways you can find and teach domain-specific words. What's your favorite method? Let us know in the comments!


This post originally appeared on the Prestwick House blog.