3 Simple Tools to Support the CCSS Academic Vocabulary Shift

vocabulary tools

The Common Core identifies six instructional shifts needed to effectively implement the standards in ELA/Literacy.  Shift 6 suggests an instructional change in
the teaching of Academic Vocabulary. While there are many specific vocabulary standards in the K-12 Language strand, it’s helpful and important to look at Academic Vocabulary from the big picture view known as Shift 6.

Shift 6 Academic Vocabulary

The Common Core recognizes three tiers of vocabulary.

Tier 1

Words acquired through every day speech, usually learned in the early grades.

Tier 2

Academic words that appear across all types of text. These are often precise words that are used by the author in place of common words. (i.e. gallop instead of run). They change meaning with use.

Tier 3

Domain specific words” that are specifically tied to content. (i.e. Constitution, lava) These are typically the types of vocabulary words that are included in glossaries, highlighted in textbooks and address by teachers. They are considered difficult words important to understanding content.

Target Instruction

The Common Core suggests that it’s important to target specific instruction on Tier 2 and  Tier 3 vocabulary words to help students develop deep understanding that cannot be acquired through independent reading. Tier 3 words; however, are often targeted in content specific instruction. The words appear bolded in text and they are featured in glossaries.
Tier 2 words are particularly important and challenging to identify and target since they appear across all disciplines. The task at hand, then, appears to be identifying the Tier 2 words and finding effective instructional strategies to dig deeper and support acquisition of those words.
Here are three digital tools that can be used to dig deeper into vocabulary. The first two tools are particularly useful for identifying Tier 2 and Tier 3 words and the third tool will definitely help students dig deeper.


VocabGrabber is a digital tool that makes it easy to generate vocabulary lists from digital text. Just copy and paste text into a box and watch the tool generate a word cloud in which the most  frequently used words appear larger in size. Those words are sorted into categories so users can extract specific content-related words from the cloud, or generate al vocabulary list. Clicking on a word displays a definition, examples from context and a visual word map generated through the company’s Visual Thesaurus Tool.

Word Sift

WordSift  is a tool that was Developed by Stanford University. It provides students with flexible learning paths. Place text into a box and then press sift to create a word cloud in which the most frequently used words appear larger in size. The words can be sorted by subject area or by a word list.
Click on specific words to access related images and video. Examine word relationships through the Visual Thesaurus. Use the workspace to build a concept. Students do not need to login to use this tools.


instaGrok is a visual search engine and interactive learning tool collects educational content and displays it in the form of a web of related words. The tool is very appealing because it offers a variety of multimedia features to meet the unique learning needs of students. In addition to the visual map, content is displayed in the form of text, images, video and web links. Better yet, students can use the handy slider tool to self select the level of difficulty of the results displayed  which provides them with access usable information.
Just enter a search term in the box to generate a word cloud and instaGrok collects an assortment of useful and related content that is categorized and displayed on the screen. As users sift the information they can use the push pin to add relevant content directly to the word cloud, allowing for the construction of a personalized web of knowledge about a concept.
In addition to the the visual mode, an integrated journal and note-taking feature allows users to take notes without leaving the site. Click on the push pin to add content to the journal then add original thoughts and ideas as notes. Teachers should consider using the journal space for collecting citations too. The journal can be emailed or printed for convenience.
The teacher version of instaGrok is tailored to the education environment. This version provides teachers with the ability to create classes and use a code to allow students to join the class without a student email account.

Final Thoughts

The tools featured here provide teachers and students with quick access to information about vocabulary. They are efficient and effective tools to add to any learner’s digital toolkit.

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