By Thomas DeVere Wolsey
For many years, the Academic Word List helped teachers and researchers determine which words were academic in nature (Coxhead, 2000). Coxhead’s research resulted in the Academic Word List which comprises words roughly equivalent to Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s (2002) notion of tier two words; that is, words that are used in academic English but not specific to any one discipline. Coxhead created her list from a corpus, or collection, of academic texts from four disciplines at the university level mainly from New Zealand. The corpus included 3,500,000 words in total. Academic words were determined by eliminating the 2000 most common words in English and then eliminating words which were found only in a limited range of disciplines.
Now, a new Academic Vocabulary List (AVL) is available online, and it is based on 120 million words derived from a corpus of texts in American English. Linguists at Brigham Young University, Mark Davies and Dee Gardner, have made their work available as downloads you can use in your own research, or through an online interface. The online interface allows the user to search detailed information about any word in the AVL, and it also permits users to input an entire academic text to determine how it compares the words in the corpus.
This research directly informs instructional practices. An excellent article by Larson, Dixon, and Townsend in Voices from the Middle is a good place to start, and it is free on the National Council of English Teachers website (find the article How Can Teachers Increase Classroom Use of Academic Vocabulary? here and then scroll down the page : http://www.ncte.org/journals/vm/issues/v20-4)
Learn more about AVL on the List’s website at http://www.academicvocabulary.info/x.asp or visit the online interface by clicking the picture, above, or navigating to http://www.wordandphrase.info/academic/
Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford Press.
Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.
Gardner, D., & Davies, M. (2013). A new academic vocabulary list. Applied Linguistics, 1. Available: http://applij.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/3/305
Larson, L, Dixon, T., & Townsend, D. (2013). How can teachers increase classroom use of academic vocabulary? Voices from the Middle, 20(4), 16-21.