One of the characteristics of effective vocabulary instruction as described in Chapter 4 is a focus on terms that are important to the content presented in school. By definition, this is a critical aspect of any program that seeks to develop academic background knowledge through direct vocabulary instruction. If we select terms that do not relate to specific academic subjects as the target for instruction, we cannot expect much of an effect on academic background.
As noted in Chapter 4, terms taken from lists of high-frequency words are probably not the best source of target words for direct instruction. How frequently words appear tells us little about their difficulty and nothing about their relevance to specific subject areas. This chapter describes the process that was used to identify the subject area terms in the Appendix and contrasts them with those from previous efforts.
Although Chapter 4 briefly discussed the problem with word-frequency lists, a more in-depth analysis is appropriate for one popular list that does attempt to identify subject-specific words—a positive feature not characteristic of the other commonly used lists. That list is Basic Elementary Reading Vocabularies (Harris & Jacobson, 1972). As its title implies, the list identifies basic vocabulary terms through grade 6. For each grade level, it provides a “core” list of words and an “additional” list. The core words appear in the majority of the basal readers that were analyzed in the study. Words on the additional list appear in some, but not a majority, of the basal readers that were analyzed. Finally, the lists include words specific to social studies, science, mathematics, and English—another feature that