You are on page 1of 6


Matters Elfrieda H. Hiebert

TextProject & University of California, Santa Cruz

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are

Text changing curriculum planning and classroom
instruction in many ways. One significant change

Complexity involves the diculty levels of text. In the past,

standards documents have referred to proficiency
with grade-level texts. However, grade level was not
and English defined. The CCSS represents a departure from this
practice. Standard 10 of the CCSS specifically calls

Learners for increasing levels of text complexity across the

grades to ensure students proficiency with the texts
of college and career. This standard aects all stu-
Building dents, but it represents a special challenge to Eng-
lish Learners. Many educators ask what increases

Vocabulary in text complexity mean for English Learners, many

of whom struggle with their current texts.

Cover image 2012 All rights reserved. Used under license.

VOLUME 2 For more information about Text Matters, visit

ISSUE 1 v.1.0 2013 TextProject, Inc. Some rights reserved (
2 Text Matters

What, then, is text complexity, and cabulary often describe the traits of
The Distribution of
how can English Learners achieve characters and the nuances of plots.
success with this standard? First, an English Words In informational texts, they convey
understanding of what makes texts A small group of words4,000 sim- specialized terms in chemistry, en-
complex is in order. Archaic lan- ple word families (e.g., help, helps, tomology, and many other topics.
guage, lengthy sentences, new top- helping, helped, helper)accounts The percentage of rare words in
ics, unusual writing styles, unique for about 90% of the words in most a text can vary considerably, even
text structuresthese features and texts. This vocabulary forms the among complex texts (see Table 1).
many others aect the complexity, core of any text, even complex ones. An increase of only one or two per- means
In the exemplars of complex texts cent in rare vocabulary can make Tier 3
and hence the comprehensibility, of
listed in Appendix B of the CCSS, texts considerably more complex.
text. However, the foremost chal-
the core vocabulary accounts for When viewed from the vantage
lenge for English Learners is a texts
93% of the Grades 23 exemplars, point of a thousand-word text, a
vocabulary (Pasquarella, Gottardo, 92% of those in Grades 45, 90% of rate of 8% means the text has about
& Grant, 2012). The syntax of a new those in Grades 68 and in Grades 80 rare words, while a rate of 10%
language does present obstacles to 910, and 88% of those in Grade means that a text has about 100
comprehension; however, vocabu- 11College and Career Ready. rare words. An additional two rare
lary is the most significant hurdle This Text Matters focuses on the words in every 100 words can in-
when learning a second language. extended vocabularythe 300,000 crease the challenge of a text.
Two issues of Text Matters are or more words that account for The next Text Matters gives
devoted to the topic of complex approximately 10% of the words guidelines on appropriate rates of
text and English learners. This first in texts. [Readers who are inter- rare words for English Learners at
issue describes support for English ested in learning more about the dierent developmental levels. In
Learners in developing strategies core vocabulary can read Hiebert this issue, the focus is on the ex-
(2012, 2013).] Unlike the words in
and knowledge about the vocabu- tended vocabulary and ways teach-
the core vocabulary, many words
lary of complex texts. The sec- ers can support English Learners in
in the extended vocabulary appear
ond issue of Text Matters presents understanding this vocabulary.
less than once per every million
guidelines for selecting appropriate words of text. Consequently, they
texts that move English Learners are often described as rare. When Systematic Vocabulary
up the staircase of text complex- rare words do appear in text, they
ity. Both topics depend on teach- often are essential to the content
ers understanding of how English and quality of texts. In narrative To help English Learners build
words work. texts, words in the extended vo- strong vocabularies, teachers need

Table 1
Vocabulary Profiles of CCSS Selected Exemplars From Grades 68
Content Area Text Core Vocabulary (%) Extended Vocabulary (%)
Technology/ Geeks 83 17
Math Trek 88 12
Social Studies A Night to Remember 92.5 7.5
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass 93 7
Literature Adventures of Tom Sawyer 90 10
Dark is Rising 95 5
Text Complexity and English LearnersBuilding Vocabulary 3

Table 2
Categories Within Extended (Rare) Vocabulary of Two Exemplar Texts
A Night to Remember Geeks
Total Rare Words 180 (11 words per 100) 157 (17 words per 100)
Single Syllable 26% 48%
Multisyllabic Words: Proper Names 23% 8%
Multisyllabic: Picturable 26% 16%
Multisyllabic: Compound Words 16% 16%
Multisyllabic: Remaining 8% of rare words (1 word per 100 of 12% of rare words (2 words per 100 of
entire text) entire text)

to focus on general principles and These rare words, however, rep- and science (e.g., Geeks) and his-
strategies of word learning. They resent specific elements of stories. tory and political science (e.g., A
also need to conduct short lessons An author of a literary text chooses Night to Remember). English Learn-
and discussions about the vocabu- a word intentionally from the ex- ers need to become adept with such
laries of specific texts. tended vocabulary to communicate vocabulary for a variety of reasons,
This Text Matters focuses on the an action, a social relationship, the including the heavy presence of lit-
rare vocabulary of literary texts, not feature of a place or event, and the erary texts on assessments.
that of content-area texts. Content- feelings and attitudes of characters.
area standards are explicit about In Geeks, for example, Katz (2000) Instruction of General
the topics and the concepts under- could have used numerous words Principles and Strategies
lying those topics (Marzano, 2004). to describe the condition of the Analyses of two Grade 68 texts
In that concepts are represented by furniture within the apartment of from the CCSSs Appendix B ex-
vocabulary, the critical words in a his protagonists. However, by de- emplar listGeeks and A Night to
physics unit are clear within stan- scribing the beanbag chair as mold- Remember (NTR)demonstrate
dards and curricula (e.g., magnetic ering, readers get a clear idea of the the two types of vocabulary in-
attraction, repel, polarity). This vo- condition of the apartment. Just as struction needed for proficient
cabulary becomes part and parcel in mathematics where lessons build reading of literary texts: (a) general
of activities and discussion. Words understanding for future problem principles/strategies and (b) les-
such as magnetic attraction, for ex- solving, considerable time needs to sons with specific texts. Both texts
ample, are used repeatedly as stu- be spent in developing the linguis- typify the literary texts oered as
dents engage in inquiry with mag- tic foundation of English vocabu- CCSS exemplars. Both have higher
nets. lary for the future reading of com- levels of extended vocabulary than
Such clarity is not evident in plex literary texts. other Grade 68 exemplars (see
English/Language Arts standards This pattern of single-appearing, Table 1), which is why these texts
where literary texts are the focus rare vocabulary does not only ap- were selected for illustration in this
(Marzano, 2004). Literary texts pear in narratives, though. It also Text Matters. Analyses of these two
often present rare words that are appears in magazine articles on texts show that, even in these vo-
unique to a particular story. Each topics of science, history, and civics cabulary-dense texts, most words
text has its own rare words. Thus, to describe traits, features, interac- fall into particular groupsgroups
students cannot become proficient tions, and contexts. This style also that share underlying features.
in the meaning of these words extends to full-length texts with a Table 2 shows the types of words
through repetition. literary stance about technology in these two texts. Although there
4 Text Matters

are numerous monosyllabic words, Pictures that illustrate these words tion that words are connected to
students typically recognize these will support students recognition one another structurally (e.g., for-
less-complex words more readily much more eectively than extend- mality, formal, formalize, informal,
than they do multisyllabic words. ed discussions. Sources for images informally). Such lessons provide
Without instruction on multisyl- (with certain copyright restrictions students with opportunities to use
labic words, however, students can but free and downloadable) include words in meaningful ways, not sim-
develop dysfunctional word-rec- Flickr and Wikimedia Commons. ply to memorize the meanings of
ognition strategies. This is why, be- Compound words. Compound- suxes and prefixes.
ginning in the late primary grades, ing of two root words is a primary
multisyllabic words should receive way in which many new words are Vocabulary Related to Specific
the lions share of vocabulary in- added to English. Some compound Texts
struction. words in Geeks illustrate how new Even when students have been
The multisyllabic words in texts words are generated, especially with taught strategies to recognize a
such as Geeks or NTR are grist for inventions in fields such as digital high percentage of the words in
lessons on four types of words in technology: software, motherboard, complex texts, a group of words re-
literary texts. These types of vocab- network, upgrade, and playlist. mains to be learned (see Table 2).
ulary contribute to the meaning of Compound words typically have These words need individual study.
the text, but they are not necessarily a connection to the root words Lessons on the vocabulary of spe-
complex in content. Students who within them, but they often have cific texts have two dimensions: (a)
are not prepared to deal with this idiomatic meanings. As a conse- an overview of the task and (b) in-
vocabulary will find literary texts quence, compound words with the struction on specific words.
dicult. Following are the four same headword (e.g., up in upgrade, An overview of the task. The CCSS
types of words in literary texts and uproar, uptown, uptight, upkeep)
refers to the scaolding of complex
strategies for helping students un- cannot be taught in the same way texts for challenged readers, but the
derstand them. as words from the same morpho-
forms of this scaolding are not
Proper names. Stories and maga- logical family (e.g., suspicion, sus-
described. Frequently, scaolding
zine articles are typically replete piciously, unsuspicious). The upside
has been interpreted as reading a
with proper names, many of which of compound words is that most
text for students or leading stu-
are dicult to pronounce (e.g., headwords (and often the second
dents through a guided reading of
Boise in Geeks). Students need to word as well) belong to the core
the text. However, students need to
learn that capitalized words within vocabulary. Once students learn to
take responsibility for reading, in-
sentences often are proper names use the headword to predict mean-
cluding initial reads of texts, if they
and that accurate pronunciation of ings of compound words, their
are to improve their comprehen-
these words is not a priority. word-recognition vocabularies ex-
sion. But teachers also need to give
Picturable words. Research has pand considerably.
students a realistic view of the chal-
shown that concrete words that Morphological families. Becoming
lenges of texts by identifying core
can be represented in pictures are facile with inflected endings and af-
(in black) and extended (in gray)
learned more easily than abstract fixes is also a critical part of prepar-
vocabulary in samples of text, such
words (Strain, Patterson, & Seiden- ing students for reading complex
as the following:
berg, 2002). Using pictures to create text. Among the 300,000 words of
a context for a new concrete word the extended vocabulary, most be- He wasnt just a kid at a com-
(e.g., smelting) or to support Eng- long to morphological word fami- puter, but something more,
lish Learners in relating a known lies with an average of approxi- something new, an impresa-
concept with the English label (e.g., mately four members. Lessons on rio and an Information Age
necklace) are especially eective the relationships among members CEO, transfixed and concen-
ways to support the vocabulary of a morphological family are es- trated, almost part of the ma-
development of English Learners. sential to developing the expecta- chinery, conducting the digi-
Text Complexity and English LearnersBuilding Vocabulary 5

tal ensemble that controlled passengers (e.g., bewildered, protest- References

his life. (Katz, 2000, p. 19) ed, suspicious) as well as on the part Common Core State Standards Initiative
of the crew (e.g., solicitous, reassur- (2010). Common Core State Standards for
Four days before, she had ing, adamant). English language arts & literacy in history/
playfully teased him for put- Short lessons on critical vocabu- social studies, science, and technical sub-
ting a life belt in her state- jects. Washington, DC: CCSSO & National
lary should also follow the initial Governors Association.
room, if the ship was meant to reading of a text. In addition, dis-
be so unsinkable. At the time Hiebert, E.H. (2013). Core vocabulary and
cussions of critical vocabulary are the challenge of complex text. In S. Neu-
he had laughed and assured an essential part of the close read- man & L. Gambrell (Eds.), Reading Re-
her it was a formality she ing of text. For example, in the seg- search in the Age of the Common Core State
would never have to wear it. ment from Geeks above, the au- Standards. Newark, DE: IRA. [Pre-publi-
(Lord, 1955, p. 22) cation version of the chapter is available
thors use of the phrase conducting
One of several text analysis schemes the digital ensemble merits discus- core-vocabulary-and-the-challenge-of-
can be used to distinguish between sion, as do words such as dispens- complex-text/]
core and extended vocabulary (e.g., able. Would the use of disposable, Hiebert, E.H. (2012). Core vocabulary:
Laurence Anthonys AntWordPro- superfluous, unnecessary, or useless The foundation for successful reading of
filer software). have served the same function as complex text, Text Matters 1.2. Santa Cruz,
dispensable? CA: TextProject. Retrieved from http://
Next, teachers should address the
words for which previously taught A final post-reading vocabulary ment/text-matters/core-vocabulary/
strategies should be applicable: activity asks students to record
Katz, J. (2000). Geeks: How Two Lost Boys
proper names, picturable words, critical words and their semantic
Rode the Internet out of Idaho. New York,
compound words, and morpholog- connections (e.g., the above-men- NY: Broadway Books.
ical families. Teachers cant review tioned synonyms of dispensable)
Lord, W. (1955). A night to remember. New
all of the words in these categories, and morphological derivatives. For York, NY: Bantam Books.
but they can give students examples English Learners, such records are
Marzano, R.J. (2004). Building background
of words of dierent types within important as references for writing knowledge for academic achievement: Re-
the text. and as records of what they have search on what works in schools. Alexan-
Instruction of specific words in learned. dria, VA: ASCD.
extended clusters. The remaining Strain, E., Patterson, K., & Seidenberg, M.S.
words become the grist for in- (2002). Theories of word naming interact
struction. In NTR, these remaining
Summary with spelling-sound consistency. Jour-
nal of Experimental Psychology: Learning,
words account for approximately A rich vocabulary and strategies
Memory, & Cognition, 28, 207215.
one rare multisyllabic word per 100 that permit students to read texts
words of text, including words such with new words are essential to
as adamant, formality, solicitous, and comprehending complex text. For
suspiciously. In Geeks, the number of English Learners, a rich vocabulary
rare multisyllabic words per 100 is and strong strategies result from
two, including words such as alum- intentional instruction on the part
nus, ensemble, impresario, transfixed, of their teachers. This intentional
and contemplated. instruction is not a one-shot occur-
A handful of the most critical rence but rather a sustained eort
wordsthose that are fundamen- that focuses on categories of words
tal to the meaning of the textcan (e.g., compound words, picturable
be introduced before students read words) and also on words within
the text. For example, the unsink- specific texts, especially words
able reputation of the Titanic led which are part of extended net-
to particular stances on the part of works of words. MT