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"Bricks and Mortar" Vocabulary Strategy in Social Studies

A three-column chart reflects the use of terms as described in the video by Cairn.
Vocabulary grid from an Emerging America lesson plan on the Civil War.

A large, discipline-specific vocabulary is a distinct challenge for Students with Disabilities and other diverse learners in History and Social Science. Concepts like "citizen" or "rights" are complex, culturally fluid, and difficult to picture. While the vast number of specific or historical technical terms like "longitude," "veto," "cuneiform," and "carpetbagger" require depth of context and background experience. 

Emerging America lesson plans employ a "Bricks and Mortar" chart to help History and Social Science teachers prioritize the terms that are truly necessary for students to succeed with a content-rich lesson. "Bricks and Mortar" is used in a few related ways. 

Find strategies to teach these focus vocabulary terms in other Teaching Strategies in the library of Teaching Resources. 


Bricks and Mortar Vocabulary Grid

Rich Cairn, Director, Emerging America (3:12 mins) - Link to video

Cairn emphasizes teaching the terms that are most essential for a student to understand a lesson. He explains an example from an Emerging America exemplary lesson plan: Civil War Veterans & Disability in American History. In this case, "bricks" reflect the key words in the lesson's guiding question, "What is the responsibility of a society to care for people with disabilities?" The "mortar" term is "order," which is used in the lesson's central assignment, to put a primary source set into a logical, "order." The right-hand column allows the teacher to list less-important terms that students may use word banks or other aids to know in writing assignments or even on tests. The grid is part of every lesson in the Emerging America library of Teaching Resources. 


Vocabulary: Bricks and Mortar

Dr. Cynthia Lundgren, English Language Development Specialist, Hamline University (3:06 mins) - Link to video 

Dr. Lundgren uses the metaphor of building a structure of learning with many content-specific "bricks" and what she calls "signal" or "mortar" words. The latter are often small, connecting words. She explains an example, "Even though bats have wings, they are not birds." Which words in this sentence do you think she identifies as bricks and which words as mortar?


Sample Lesson Plan Using the Bricks and Mortar Vocabulary Grid

Link to Civil War Veterans & Disability in American History