Susan Riley | October 2012

4 Ways Vocabulary Creates Equity in All Contents

In the Common Core State Standards, vocabulary is a key connective element across all standards and processes.  That’s because vocabulary can be used in any classroom or content to raise rigor and provide authentic connections for our students.  It’s a big player in the new standards and an exciting piece of providing a lever for using the Arts in all content areas.  I’ve been a huge proponent of the parallels between the Arts processes and the practices involved in both the reading and the math core standards.  However, utilizing vocabulary well can have a major effect on integrating the Arts across all areas and embedding artistic values to ensure equity in learning.  Here’s how:

1. Vocabulary is the great equalizer.

The key here is to think broadly.  Think of terms in your content area that would be relevant in other subjects.  For instance, there’s texture, rhythm, composition, dynamic, tone, and so many more that could be used in a variety of settings.  Even if you think about those words in terms of artform to artform (music to visual art for instance), they can have very different meanings and interpretations.  By including these words as key terms in reading, math and science, we are creating a common thread for students to not only hold but also manipulate throughout their learning day.

2. Increasing understanding.

There’s a reason that people who do well at Scrabble also tend to do well in their work in their given field.  It’s not because they know a certain about of big words.  Rather, it’s the understanding of what those words mean and how they are used that can influence future success.  By providing a common vocabulary across content areas, we are building student capacity for understanding terminology and its implications globally.

3. Building analytical skills.

Part of the Common Core Standards are in developing skills and providing opportunities for student to engage with complex text that requires them to be analytic and critical thinkers.  We naturally do this in the Arts through performances, exhibitions, and group studio times.  By providing students with vocabulary that will enable them to critique their work and the works of others, and by providing them with opportunities to use this vocabulary to translate their own personalization of learning, we are contributing to building those much-needed analytical skills.

4. An integrated reality.

We do not live in silos in the world.  We are expected to connect with a variety of areas throughout our lives to truly thrive in today’s economy.  By providing a common vocabulary within our schools that spans all contents, we are providing relevant experiences for our students in an integrated reality that they are expected to participate in beyond the schoolhouse doors.

By combining these elements, creating a purposeful integrated vocabulary across all contents and then using these designed vocabulary toolkits across all contents within a school with integrity, we provide all students with an equitable opportunity to achieve their greatest potential.  Who would have thought that words could do all of that?

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan