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Matthew III – Raising Literacy (Blog 3 of 3)

Posted 01/11/2017 13:43:36 by mmortell

Following on from Matthew I and Matthew II, snippets of which are below, our final piece on literacy tries to answer the key question.

Matthew I

This means that for a student bought up in a word-rich environment, he not only hath, but will go on to exponentially receive in abundance.
This For a child bought up in word-poor environment, he not only hath not, but further opportunities for development will be diminished.

Matthew II

So having just congratulated ourselves on teaching tier 3 vocabulary, it is time to consider how we can develop tier 2 vocabulary in our students. The result of this will be that even to whosoever hath not¯ it shall not be taken away.¯ Or to rephrase in tier 2 vocabulary: Even for whosoever does not possess it shall not be removed.

What, then, can we do to help our students become word-rich? Here are some quick and easy things you can start doing right away: vocabulary?

  • Be alert to opportunities where you can introduce Tier 2 vocabulary
    When there is a range of complex concepts for students to learn, its tempting to simplify our explanations, but using less sophisticated vocabulary. However, we should seek opportunities to smarten up the vocabulary as well as dumb it down. For example, in a recent Year 7 PSHE lesson, we were talking about peer-pressure. It occurred to me that the verb to coerce¯ would be relevant to introduce here. So I did. We briefly considered its meaning and applied to different situations. In a Year 7 English class, we were discussing a particular character. We considered how she played with the emotions of other characters. Here the word manipulative¯ was relevant. This is a fancy word for Year 7s, but its a very useful one for discussing character and I can think of plenty of places where I can reinforce its meaning. Now, I'm starting to anticipate the kind of tier 2 vocabulary that might actually come up in a particular topic and consider how I might introduce this.
  • Build up a word-bank with your tutor group or class
    I now have a list of vocabulary that my tutor group and I have built up. It includes words like coerce¯, hung Parliament¯, majority¯, overall majority¯. Now and again, I quickly test the tutor group on some of the words on the list.
  • Heres a little routine for tier 2 words: Show the word, state its meaning, and say the word.
  1. Show students the word, so all students get a chance to see what it looks like.
  2. State the words meaning. Give examples of its use.
  3. Say the word  and say it together.

Many of these words are unfamiliar and can be a bit of a mouthful. Saying the new word together gives everyone a chance to get their mouths around it without too much embarrassment. It also means students will be more confident of being able to say word as an individual.Theres another important factor here. Words are very much tied up with identity. As students are maturing, they are evolving a new sense of identity. Part of this must include their sense of themselves as educated people aspiring to higher-level academic study.Much of this Tier 2 vocabulary, though, will be vaguely alien to them. They might feel that some of this language doesn't belong to them in some way – it seems too adult perhaps,too posh, or highfalutin. Therefore, they need to gain ownership of the vocabulary. To evolve their sense of themselves as educated young adults they will need to start making this vocabulary a part of them. So say those fabulous new Tier 2 words and say them with pride, passion, and pleasure and say them together.

Commendation Possibilities

Introducing Tier 2 vocabulary opens up commendation possibilities. You can give a student a breakthrough commendation if:- she pronounces the word correctly, having previously struggled to pronounce it;- she uses it in an oral or written response.

*A list of Tier 2 vocabulary can be found at this link. It refers to the American system. There is much more of a focus on vocabulary because it is specifically tested: http://www.hpcsd.org/district.cfm?subpage=29208


  • In Bringing Words to Life, Isabelle Beck suggests there are 7,000 word families which are very high frequency in written texts and very low-frequency in speech. These are words that feature heavily in textbooks and exam papers. They are part of the language of academic success; if you're familiar with the likelihood that you will be academically successful is so much greater.

Further Reading


The Matthew Effect by Daniel Rigney


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