Review | Bringing Words to Life

I came to this book hot off the heels from The Secret of Literacy; I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready for the world of robust vocabulary instruction.

Beck, McKewon and Kucan’s book explores the deficit between ‘word rich’ and ‘word poor’ students, and how best educators can go about fixing this. It definitely fulfils it’s remit. There are some shocking figures about the language deprivation of the children studied (the case studies are all American I should note – no value judgement, just interesting to compare!), and in short children who begin school with a vocabulary deficit will only see the gap between them and the ‘word rich’ widen as schooling progresses.

The book offers a structure for vocabulary introduction and teaching, and the biggest piece of learning for me was the splitting of vocabulary into three tiers. ‘Tier One’ words are the basic, high frequency words that children should know; ‘Tier Two’ the wow-words of old that are uncommon in oral language but often found in writing; and ‘Tier Three’ is the vocabulary of academic disciplines (think filibuster). I found this distinction particularly useful, and as I design my next unit of teaching I will definitely think about the ‘Tier Two’ words to focus my instruction on.

My only real problem with this book, was that it was a smidge dry. It’s style is densely academic (often sighting many studies and authors), it had lots of reproduced teacher-student conversations, and a slightly cheesy ‘your turn’ section at the end of each chapter. Its lessons are definitely worth hearing, but for a read on the train to work, this probably isn’t for you. Give it a go over the summer holidays, and don’t feel ashamed skipping the boring bits!

Order here

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