Vocabulary Instruction in Biliteracy

In a biliteracy framework, teachers’ involve students in a variety of activities to support their academic and social language development. These activities should promote oracy. We may ask ourselves the following questions: Where do I select the words from? How many words should I teach? Which strategies will best support my students’ learning of academic vocabulary?

Explicit vocabulary instruction is key to the development of oracy skills and comprehension. In order for students to develop these skills, we must challenge them to learn and use academic vocabulary on a daily basis. Let’s start by reviewing the three vocabulary tiers, as seen in the image below, from Kimberly Tyson’s blog.

In our second grade unit of study about living organisms, we have looked at the NC Science Standard Course of Study and extracted keywords that will be taught explicitly during the building background stage. The keywords selected fall under the Tier 2 and Tier 3 categories, as seen in the table below. It is not necessary to teach Tier 1 words because 2nd grade students are already familiar with these words.

Tier 1Tier 2Tier 3
animal, plant, frog, butterfly, mom, dad, eggliving things, organism, characteristics, sequence, develop, related, reproduce,
offspring, inherit

If you would like to read more about the various vocabulary tiers, check out this post from Colorin Colorado.


After we have selected the key content/literacy words, it is time to plan vocabulary activities where students apply these new words in speaking, listening, reading and/or writing activities.

Total Physical Response (TPR)Teachers help associate an action to a word. The teacher or student can decide on the action used to represent the word.
We have found sign language to be very useful in deciding what action to use.
Third grade example
FishbowlTwo students are selected to be the fish and model the activity using academic language. The other students should stand around and watch how it is done. When it is time for the other students to do the activity, the teacher and the fish walk around and monitor the activity.Two students are selected to match the word, picture, and definition for the following terms: offspring, inherit
Metamorphosis, living things, organism, characteristics, sequence, develop, related, reproduce and compare.

Then, the teacher guides the students through the activity while the rest of the class watches them. Then, the observers replicate the same activity with a partner while the “fish” and the teacher walk around to provide additional support and feedback.
Adapted Readers’ Theatre (ART)The teacher adapts a short text/story that integrates the key vocabulary and acts it out with the students.The teacher adapts the story of the “Little Red Riding Hood” to introduce the vocabulary about story elements.
Concept AttainmentThe teacher presents either words or images that have common attributes. The students then use the information gathered to figure out the concept or “big idea”.The teacher shows the students different pictures of characters from various stories, so the students come up with the word: character. Also, the teacher shows different places and the students come up with the word: setting.
Word SortStudents must categorize words or objects into either predetermined categories or come up with the categories on their own. Students can either work in small group or on their own. The teacher will hand each group a bag with words such as, water, candy, clothing, phone, air, video game, food, ball, etc. Students will then group the words and decide what category they fall under (i.e. Needs and Wants).
Sentence PromptsStudents are given phrases to assist them in providing oral or written answers in complete sentences. Examples of needs are ___________________.

Examples of wants are
Vocabulary GamesGames where students can interact with the different key terms and practice saying, reading, and writing them.-Pictionary
-Talk a Mile a Minute
-$10,000 Pyramid

Do you have other ideas to support vocabulary instruction? Please comment below.

Until next time,

Claudia & Luz

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