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Knowledge From the Field

Word Generation in Boston Public Schools: Natural History of a Literacy Intervention

Published: April 2011

Publisher(s): Council of the Great City Schools

Author(s): Snow, Catherine; Joshua F. Lawrence

Funder(s): Carnegie Corporation of New York, Institute of Education Sciences

View Report (48 pages; 1.28MB; PDF)

Area of Focus: Reading/Literacy


The report describes a literacy intervention to teach middle school students high-frequency academic vocabulary used across content areas, as well as discourse skills. The 24-week curriculum is organized around weekly civic dilemmas that introduce target words, provide opportunities for discussion, and are reinforced by topic-related activities in math, science, and social studies. The report summarizes the program’s design, implementation, and evaluation.

Key Findings and/or Recommendations

+Students from Word Generation schools outperformed students in the comparison schools on vocabulary tests of words covered in the curriculum.

+Improvement from Word Generation pre- to post-test scores predicted performance on the state accountability assessment for Word Generation students, but not for students in comparison schools.

+Students from language-minority homes who participated in the program made particularly strong gains in word knowledge—gains that put their scores above those from English-only homes in comparison schools—and they maintained those gains even a year later.

=Students with limited English proficiency did not show comparative benefits from participation in the program.

=Optimal implementation of Word Generation involved school-wide professional development, strong leadership support and faculty collaboration, and the appointment of a school-based Word Generation facilitator.

Focus: Boston

Subjects/Keywords: English Language Learner; Literacy; Low-Income; Massachusetts Comprehension Assessment System; MCAS; Middle School; Professional Development; Urban; Vocabulary

+ Successful strategy
= Observation
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