Content Area Reading Strategy: Academic Lanugage Focus

Secondary students struggle with content area reading because they do not understand the words on the page. What should a teacher do about this? One strategy is to focus on academic vocabulary. Students need to make personal connections to what they read and cannot do this if they are stuck on phonetic decoding. By breaking out the vocabulary acquisition into three tiers (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014) both teachers and students can strategically approach the instruction. Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge. Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content. Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level. Teaching with vocabulary in mind will help with pre-reading, accessing previous knowledge, connecting to personal experiences, and reading for deeper meaning in the text; these are all proven reading strategies.


Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2014). Subjects matter: Exceeding standards through powerful content-area reading (Second ed.).

Author: David Orace Kelly

International Teacher - Arts and Education Leader

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