Literacy Information and Communication System

Note: RR = "Research-related," designating a link to a reference or to more information about relevant papers, reports, or studies.


These words are variously called “academic words,” “general words,” or “Tier Two words” by Beck, I., et al. (2001) below. They are used across academic disciplines—in math, science, social studies, and literature. In the sentence Plants require abundant light for the process of photosynthesis, photosynthesis is a science content word that is usually explained in the text or by the teacher. Abundant is a general, academic, or Tier Two word that is usually not explained by the text or the teacher. But if the meaning of abundant is not known, the sentence cannot be understood.

Because ABE and ASE learners have not read enough in they content areas, their knowledge of many of these words tends to be fuzzy or non-existent.  However, these words are important building blocks of comprehension, so learners’ lack of familiarity with them seriously weakens their comprehension.

Examples of academic, general, or Tier Two words: unique, alternate, convenient, influence, minimum.
Here is a free download of academic word lists. Watch out for the British spellings of some words:


Beck, I. McKeown, M., and Kucan, L. (2001). Bringing words to life: robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford Press.
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