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IES Grant

Title: Word Generation: An Efficacy Trial
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Snow, Catherine Awardee: Harvard University
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $2,853,512
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A090555

Purpose: Word Generation is a curricular intervention designed to promote adolescents’ knowledge and use of academic vocabulary by providing opportunities for students to read and comprehend brief academic texts on compelling and controversial topics, to discuss those texts, to hear the academic words highlighted in those texts in a variety of settings, and to write brief persuasive essays about the controversial topics focused on. Word Generation materials have been developed for use in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, and two years of pilot data on ease of implementation, teacher and student reactions, and student outcomes have been collected in a total of eight urban schools serving a high proportion of struggling readers. The findings from the pilot studies indicate that the program can be implemented in urban schools with both teacher and student enthusiasm. In addition, researchers found positive effects for word learning. Given these encouraging results, the research team will carry out test the efficacy of Word Generation in this project.

Project Activities: The efficacy of Word Generation will be tested using a cluster randomized study. In the study, middle schools in three districts (or middle grades in K-7 or K-8 schools) will be randomly assigned to receive the intervention either immediately or at a delay. The research team will gather evidence to determine both feasibility and fidelity of information.

Products: The products of this project will be evidence about the efficacy of Word Generation, whether fidelity of implementation moderates efficacy, and information about the feasibility of implementing this intervention at a larger scale. Peer-reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The districts that will participate in this study are Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Maryland, and San Francisco Unified, California.

Population: Approximately 8,000 middle grade students will participate in this study.

Intervention: The Word Generation program is a free school-wide vocabulary intervention delivered over twenty-four weeks. Each week focuses on a substantive controversy of interest to adolescents, and is grounded in a brief text that outlines arguments on both sides of the issue. The text presents five targeted words that are then incorporated into activities carried out by English, math, science, and social studies teachers on subsequent days of the week.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will use a cluster randomized trial to evaluate the effects of the Word Generation program on three major outcomes: a) individual students’ performance and motivation, b) the quality of classroom discussion, and c) fidelity of implementation and degree of teacher satisfaction with the program. Twenty-six middle schools across three districts will be randomly assigned to the treatment or control condition. For the purposes of assignment, schools will first be ranked within-district on school level covariates of percent minority, percent free and reduced lunch, percent English Language Learners, and prior mean achievement using the state accountability assessment. Then schools will be grouped into blocks of two based on their composite score and randomly assigned to treatment and control within each block to maximize comparability of treatment and control schools. Pre- and post-test data will be collected yearly from students in both intervention and control schools. Structured observations of instruction, with a special focus on attention to vocabulary and on the quality of classroom discussions, will be carried out in both experimental and control schools so that the relation of these factors to student growth in vocabulary, academic language use, and writing skill can be tested.

Control Condition: The schools serving as controls will participate only in student-level pre- and post-testing and in limited classroom observations, and will continue to deliver typical instruction. Control schools will be offered the treatment in the final year of the study.

Key Measures: The key measures include student outcomes in the domains of vocabulary and writing skill and student performance on district-administered and state assessments that involve reading and writing. The research team will also use qualitative measures, such as classroom observations, to measure teacher fidelity.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will conduct descriptive and exploratory analyses of the student assessment and program-implementation data using quantitative data. They will use multi-level modeling to model treatment effects with the pretest serving as a covariate at the student and school level and to analyze growth over all measurement points and evaluate the long-term impact of the intervention. Hierarchical linear modeling will be used to estimate the effects of the intervention while accounting for the nesting of students within schools.

Project Website:

Related IES Projects: Catalyzing Comprehension Through Discussion and Debate (R305F100026)


Donovan, M.S., and Snow, C. (2017). Sustaining Research–Practice Partnerships. In B. Bevan and W.R. Penuel (Eds.), Connecting Research and Practice for Educational Improvement: Ethical and Equitable Approaches. New York: Routledge.

Goldman, S.R., and Snow, C. E. (2015). Adolescent Literacy: Development and Instruction. The Oxford Handbook of Reading, 463–478.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Dobbs, C.L. (2014). Signaling Organization and Stance: Academic Language Use in Middle Grade Persuasive Writing. Reading and Writing, 27(8), 1327–1352.

Dobbs, C. L., and Kearns, D. (2016). Using New Vocabulary in Writing: Exploring How Word and Learner Characteristics Relate to the Likelihood That Writers use Newly Taught Vocabulary. Reading and Writing, 29(9), 1817–1843.

Hwang, J.K., Lawrence, J.F., and Snow, C.E. (2017). Defying Expectations: Vocabulary Growth Trajectories of High Performing Language Minority Students. Reading and Writing, 30(4), 829–856.

Hwang, J.K., Lawrence, J.F., Collins, P., and Snow, C. (2017). Vocabulary and Reading Performances of Redesignated Fluent English Proficient Students. TESOL Quarterly, 51(4), 757–786.

Hwang, J.K., Lawrence, J.F., Mo, E., and Snow, C.E. (2014). Differential Effects of a Systematic Vocabulary Intervention on Adolescent Language Minority Students With Varying Levels of English Proficiency. International Journal of Bilingualism, 19(3), 314–332.

Lawrence, J., Capotosto, L., Branum-Martin, L., White, C., and Snow, C. (2012). Language Proficiency, Home-Language Status, and English Vocabulary Development: A Longitudinal Follow-Up of the Word Generation Program. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15(3): 437–451.

Lawrence, J., Crosson, A., Pare-Blagoev, J., and Snow, C. (2015). Word Generation Randomized Trial: Discussion Mediates the Impact of Program Treatment on Academic Word Learning. American Educational Research Journal, 52(4): 750–786.

Lawrence, J.F., Francis, D., Paré-Blagoev, J., and Snow, C.E. (2017). The Poor get Richer: Heterogeneity in the Efficacy of a School-Level Intervention for Academic Language. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 10(4), 767–793.

Lawrence, J., Rolland, R.G., Branum-Martin, L., White, C., and Snow, C. (2014). Generating Vocabulary Knowledge for Struggling Middle-School Readers: Contrasting Program Effects and Growth Trajectories. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 19(2): 76–97.

Li, J., Snow, C., and White, C. (2015). Urban Adolescent Students and Technology: Access, Use and Interest in Learning Language and Literacy. Innovation in Language learning and teaching, 9(2), 143–162.

Li, J., Snow, C. and White, C. (2015). Teen Culture, Technology and Literacy Instruction: Urban Adolescent Students' Perspectives. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology / La Revue Canadienne de L'apprentissage et de La Technologie, 41(3).

Lin, A.R., Lawrence, J.F., Snow, C.E., and Taylor, K. (2016). Assessing Adolescents' Communicative Self-Efficacy to Discuss Controversial Issues: Findings From a Randomized Study of the Word Generation Program. Theory and Research in Social Education, 44 (3), 316–343.

Lin, A.R., Lawrence, J.F., and Snow, C. E. (2015). Teaching Urban Youth About Controversial Issues: Pathways to Becoming Active and Informed Citizens. Citizenship, Social and Economics Education.14 (2), 103–119.

Snow, C. E. (2014). Extended Discourse in First and Second Language Acquisition: A Challenge and an Opportunity. Journal of Japanese Linguistics, 30(1), 2–9.

Snow, C. E. (2015). 2014 Wallace Foundation Distinguished Lecture: Rigor and Realism: Doing Educational Science in the Real World. Educational Researcher, 44(9), 460–466.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Interventions for Struggling Adolescent and Adult Readers and Writers in FY 2009.