Summer of Strategies: Is Your Vocabulary Instruction Lit?

Summer of Strategies: Is Your Vocabulary Instruction Lit?

I often joke that one of the ways I realize I am getting older is that when I hear younger people use slang, I cringe. The cringe is not so much about them using slang but more about me not knowing what has been said. There is probably no greater separator of generational differences than the use of slang. Likewise being able to validate and affirm the current generation's use of slang is a great way to relate and connect with them. Unfortunately, many of us mistakenly see slang as completely representative of what a nonstandard language is, rather than recognizing that slang is simply part of the vocabulary of any language. In general, vocabulary or semantics is one of the six language dimensions that comprise any linguistic entity. Slang is evident in a myriad of languages including Spanish, French, German, and even Standard English. Slang is not to be confused with other jargons or technology talk, for example texting or legalese.

Whether we like it or not, slang, for the most part, is the language of young people. (Keep in mind, of course, that young is relative.) In broad terms, though, most teenagers and young adults are the primary users of slang terms, not older adults. In this context, I consider slang to be a part of youth culture (Rings of Culture); therefore, teachers must respond to it in validating and affirming ways so that the students’ use of these words can be bridged to academic use in the context of school. In order to do this, though, educators must see the words as positives to be expanded upon, not as negatives to be degraded or edited. If done skillfully, teachers can capitalize on students’ use of slang as another opportunity to expand their academic vocabulary.

I recommend the activity, Academization (my made up word). In this activity, the teacher or facilitator takes slang terms that the students are using, either in writing or speaking, and gives the students academic vocabulary that is synonymous with the slang terms. The fun part of the activity for students is when they "school" the teacher on the meaning of the slang. The learning outcome for the teacher is students are given different ways to communicate the conceptual meaning of the slang, which sometimes can be sophisticated.

Here is an example of how academization works. For examples on instructional strategies to use for academication refer to Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning: Strategies for all Students.




Academic Vocabulary


Something is amazing, fun, exciting

remarkable, entertaining, thrilling


Validating and affirming your students use of slang begins with your recognition that their use of the words is important linguistic capital in the context of youth culture.

Get jiggy with it! 

For more from Dr. Hollie on vocabulary strategies to support your culturally and linguistically responsive teaching, download this FREE PDF. Click Here to Download


Author bio

Sharroky Hollie, Ph.D.

Sharroky Hollie, Ph.D., Educational Leader

Sharroky Hollie, Ph.D., has spent nearly 25 years in education in varying roles such as a middle and high school teacher, central office program coordinator, assistant professor at California State University Dominguez Hills, and president/Chief Education Advocate for the Culture and Language Academy of Success, a K–8 independent charter school that espouses culturally responsive pedagogy as its primary approach.