Create a Standards-Based Integrated Performance Assessment Unit Step-by-Step

Step 8: Identify Vocabulary

In addition to can-do statements and related structures, learners also need to build their vocabulary. The challenge is how to present and practice new vocabulary so that it is eventually stored in long-term memory and is readily accessible for communicative purposes. Brain research suggests that we remember words better if there is an image to accompany the word (Brandl, 2008). It is equally important to present new vocabulary in context. Context gives clues to meaning and models how the vocabulary is used to communicate meaning. The brain anchors words in our memory when the words are connected or associated to each other, and when the words are organized into categories (Wixted & Rohrer, 1993). These findings underline the importance of teaching language based on thematic units.

In content-based instruction, vocabulary is divided into two categories: content-obligatory and content-compatible. Content-obligatory vocabulary includes words that are essential for understanding and talking about the content. Content-compatible vocabulary includes words that can be taught in the context of the content but are not required for successful content mastery (see CARLA's CoBaLTT website for more details).

The Common Core English Language Arts Standards present vocabulary according to three categories found in reading (see

Tier One: words for everyday speech; concrete; used frequently
Tier Two: general academic words more commonly found in writing than in speaking; abstract; add sophistication to expression
Tier Three: content specific words more commonly found in informational texts
  (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008)

When selecting vocabulary for a thematic unit, consider how frequently the words will be used and in what context the words will be used. Distinguish between passive and active vocabulary. Passive vocabulary is vocabulary that students should recognize in context. Active vocabulary is vocabulary that students should be able recall and use in their own communication.

Give It a Try

Where would you place the following vocabulary words about geography in terms of the three tiers identified in the Common Core Standards?

Drag and drop the words to the appropriate tier. When dropped on the correct tier, the word will stick; otherwise, it will return to its place.













Tier One

Tier Two

Tier Three



CARLA Mailing List Signup Contact CARLA CARLA Events Donate to CARLA CARLA on Facebook CARLA on YouTube
Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) • 140 University International Center • 331 - 17th Ave SE • Minneapolis, MN 55414