Academic Word Finder: Invaluable Resource

by Tricia Ebner, M.S.Ed., NBCT

Recently my seventh graders and I began work on a new unit of study, one focused on adolescent brain development and technology. I’d been considering this unit for several weeks, reading through articles and making decisions about which resources best fit the needs of my students and the standards of the community in which I work. There was no doubt this unit had plenty of opportunity for my students to work with complex text and academic language, one of the three major shifts in ELA standards. As our unit launch drew closer, though, I had one more task ahead of me: I had to determine what vocabulary needed more attention in the unit.

I turned to one of my favorite vocabulary tools: the Academic Word Finder. This tool allows me to input passages to help me identify the academic terms present within a text. The unit had already identified the domain-specific vocabulary; I knew my students and I were going to be learning terms like prefrontal cortex and limbic system. I also needed to consider what Tier II words needed attention. One of my favorite aspects of this tool is that it identifies academics words below grade level, at grade level, and above grade level. This is a great tool for differentiation; as a teacher of gifted children, I appreciate how it identifies a range of terms so that I can match vocabulary instruction to the needs of the learners in my classroom.

Having this information at my fingertips has been very useful as we’ve gotten started. I have been able to embed quick formative checks on words identified by the academic word finder, allowing me to target those terms specifically. This has also allowed me to cluster instruction. For example, one of the early articles in the unit has the terms universal, universally, and universality, which the Academic Word Finder identified as on-grade-level academic terms. Rather than addressing each one individually, I worked with all three terms together, so that students could see the meanings were extremely similar and changed slightly because the form of the word was different (adjective, adverb, and noun). Using the Academic Word Finder has allowed me to incorporate more effective vocabulary instruction within our lessons.

As our unit continues, I will keep using the Academic Word Finder to help me identify those terms my students are likely to need help and support in defining and learning. This resource will continue to be valuable in this unit and all our work throughout this year.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Academic Word Finder, check out This web site has a large number of free resources, including a lesson planning tool, math coherence map, and professional development resources. If you create an account (free), you can even save the results of the Academic Word Finder, so those terms are at your fingertips electronically. 

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