Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Three Early Learning Routines That Develop Academic Language [K-1]

by Paula Dugger, M.Ed.

Routines play a very important part in our everyday lives. They give structure to our time and provide a sequence to our daily actions. Routines give a sense of security and stability, and they make one’s environment more predictable. As a result, providing instructional routines for young learners increases learning.

One of the single most important predictors of academic success is a child’s vocabulary. Closely aligned with intelligence and knowledge, vocabulary is important to success across all content areas. In order to enrich and increase vocabulary, teachers can establish routines can be established to guide students. This post is going to look at three routines that can be implemented in grades as low as PreK–1, as well as upper elementary grades, to facilitate the development of academic language.

Academic language is very different from the language used at home or in daily conversations. Building a vocabulary with academic words and phrases is important to a child’s success in the classroom. Academic words are found in daily lessons, tests, and assignments across all content areas.

Once you have determined a list of key academic words that are appropriate for your grade level, the three routines that follow can help unfamiliar words become a part of a student’s everyday vocabulary.

1) Introduce and explicitly teach each new word.

As noted at the beginning of this post, routines are beneficial to learning. Providing students with a routine that allows them to hear, see, say, clap, and sometimes write each new academic vocabulary word can be a powerful tool for introducing and teaching each word.

Below is an example of a routine for introducing a new word.

The teacher introduces the targeted word by saying/pronouncing it:

Our new word today is identify.” (write it so children can see it visually)

“Say the word with me, identify . Say it again.” (repeat multiple times)

“Say it again, and this time clap the word identify with me. I-den-ti-fy. How  many parts did you hear and clap?”

The teacher will explain/define, give examples and use the targeted word in context:

The word identify means to find or show.”

“Let’s identify all the students in our class who have blond hair.”

“Can you identify the teacher in our class?”

“Who can use the word identify to show me they understand?”

For older or more advanced students, having them learn to write or spell the word may be in order. It is not recommended to do this part for PreK–1 students unless the teacher thinks it is appropriate for a particular child.

Students have now heard the word with their ears , said the word with their mouth , seen the word with their eyes , and clapped the word (for some, also written the word) with their hands . Actively engaging students in learning by using multiple senses can be very powerful.


2) Provide multiple exposures to each word on a daily and weekly basis throughout the year until it becomes a part of the student’s vocabulary.   

                                                            Teachers should often model targeted words across all content areas. Incorporating academic vocabulary words into lessons throughout the day allows students to hear the words and become familiar with them. These repeated exposures and repetitions will make it easier for students to use, understand, and increase their own vocabulary. Placing each word on a word wall can also give students (and teachers) a visual reference and reminder for each word introduced throughout the school year.

Here are examples for incorporating and providing additional exposure to our targeted word identify throughout the day.

Identify the person you want to buddy-read with.”

“Can anyone identify this paper (or backpack or jacket , etc.) ?”

Identif y the correct answer for each question on your worksheet.”

                                                                                               For narrative stories, such as Hameray’s Little Rabbit’s Foot , from the Joy Cowley Early Birds   series, here are some examples:

Identify the characters in this story.”

“Can you identify the reason Little Rabbit’s friends ran back to see Doctor Duck?”






                                                                              For informational texts such as those found in Hameray’s Zoozoo Animal World  series, the following examples can provide additional exposure to targeted words:

Identify the habitat your animal lives in and share with the group.”               

Identify some animals that live in the water, from the books you have read."

“Can you identify the author of the book you are reading?”


3) Reinforce targeted words and have students demonstrate their understanding.

The teacher should inform parents about the importance of academic vocabulary. Providing parents with a list of introduced words can help parents reinforce vocabulary at home, and it also allows students to use these words in a different setting.

Giving students short home assignments to demonstrate and use their target words can help extend learning into the home. For instance, have students identify (target word) the author and/or illustrator of a book they are reading at home. Or, if the target word is compare , students could compare characters from assigned books to demonstrate their knowledge. Then, encourage parents to sign off on the assignment for “bonus points” or “class rewards.”

Teachers should continue to reinforce targeted words daily. Once the teacher is confident that students have grasped an understanding of the word, a new word can be introduced.

Teachers should ask themselves, “Can students...

1) recognize the word visually?”

2) say the word?”

3) use the word correctly in context?”

4) explain the word?”

5) and in some cases, write the word?”

Follow the same routines with new words. Establishing routines to teach academic language in the early years of a child’s development can have a significant impact on their future academic success.

Continue to visit the Hameray Literacy Blog for more instructional tips.


Paula Dugger has a B.S, M.Ed., and Reading Specialist Certification from The University of Texas at Austin and Reading Recovery training through Texas Woman’s University. A former first grade teacher, reading coordinator and Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Paula has served as an adjunct professor at Texas Woman’s University and Dallas Baptist University teaching reading classes for current and future teachers. She also does educational consulting and training through Dugger Educational Consulting, LLC, in addition to writing blogs and early literacy books for Hameray. 

Her longhorn cattle are featured in her first book published by Hameray Publishing group,   Longhorns . She has authored six additional titles in the   Kaleidoscope Collection Ben & Ruby ,   Buttons ,   Cowboy ,   Dinner ,   Going Up and Down ,   and   Round, Not Round .