Academic and Testing Vocabulary

What is an academic vocabulary?


Academic vocabulary consists of words that are not commonly used or frequently encountered in everyday conversation. These words include specialized content vocabulary for specific subjects such as reading/language art, science, social studies, or math. Academic vocabulary also includes terms found on standardized tests.  When students understand testing vocabulary, test scores go up. By teaching test vocabulary and how the words look in different forms on a test, students feel better prepared and more confident on test day.

When to Teach Words

When preparing units of study such as novel studies, add four to five academic vocabulary words in with the novel specific words. Select words based on the skills taught during the unit of study. 

Vocabulary Teaching Method

Select two or three vocabulary words a day. With a restrictive number of words, students can practice every word, every day during the unit. Students will hear the words over and over again which is essential for long-term memory. Also for regular vocabulary words, select a large number of synonyms for each vocabulary word to use in this daily study.

Regular Vocabulary Routine

Every day, students create vocabulary cards with these words, definitions, and/or word webs. 

On one side of the index card, have students write the vocabulary word in large letters so that it may be used as a response card. On the reverse side, students write word webs. For daily practice, students spread their index cards with the words facing up on their desktops. The teacher calls out definitions, synonyms, antonyms, or sentences with missing words, etc. Students locate the correct word and hold up the card. This is a great way for the teacher to check to determine if students need additional practice or if most know the words. Also, each student is participating with each teacher request – the every student, every time theory. Simply add academic vocabulary words in the mix. In place of word webs, students should write definitions and examples.

Free Editable Academic Vocabulary Matching ActivityThis download contains materials to aid in teaching academic vocabulary. You will find the following:

  • a set of 25 cards with essay question vocabulary
  • a second set of 25 cards with the meanings of the essay question vocabulary
  • a storage pocket for the essay question vocabulary and a separate pocket for the meanings
  • an answer key showing how to match the essay question vocabulary with the correct meanings


  • a blank card for you to create additional cards
  • a link to the editable versions of the cards in Google Slides
  • a page of links to great academic vocabulary lists
  • additional storage pockets for language arts, math, science, and social studies

Ways to Use the Materials

  • The cards may be printed on cardstock, laminated for repeated use, cut apart, and placed in a learning center or used for morning work. Students simply match each vocabulary word with its meaning.
  • If you have students who need a lot of practice, storage pockets for interactive notebooks are provided. Print a set of cards for each student. Have students cut the cards apart. After students practice matching the vocabulary words to the meanings, the cards can be stored in the pockets for easy access for additional use.

Gay Miller

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