What components comprise high-quality reading instruction?
Page 7: Vocabulary
Vocabulary refers to a knowledge of words and what they mean. Students learn vocabulary through a variety of contexts such as talking, interacting, and playing with others; listening to stories; watching television; and attending school. There are two types of vocabulary:
- Oral vocabulary refers to the recognition of words that we hear and speak.
- Reading vocabulary refers to the recognition of words that we read and write.
Why Should I Teach It?
Though students can learn the basics of phonemic awareness and phonics without having a large vocabulary, research shows that beginning readers with a relatively extensive vocabulary will have an easier time recognizing printed words. Conversely, students who begin school with poor vocabularies are at a big disadvantage. These students tend to have a difficult time with fluency and comprehension, potentially leading to a dislike of reading. Subsequently, this dislike triggers an avoidance of reading, preventing students from learning new vocabulary and, thus, creates a negative cycle that results in poor academic achievement. In addition to affecting academic skills, a poor vocabulary impacts students in social situations.
- Students’ reading comprehension and overall success relates strongly to the extent of their vocabulary knowledge.
(Lehr et al., 2006)
- The relationship of vocabulary to reading comprehension gets stronger as reading material becomes more complex and the vocabulary becomes more extensive.
(Verhoeven and Snow, 2002)
How Do I Teach It?
When Should I Teach It?
Vocabulary instruction typically begins in kindergarten and continues through third grade and beyond.
Vocabulary instruction should occur in all grades because it benefits all students regardless of the students’ reading levels.
Students learn new vocabulary through indirect and direct methods:
- Indirect vocabulary instruction involves students’ learning words and their meanings through daily conversations and through independent reading. Teachers need to consistently use new and interesting words as part of classroom instruction. More important, teachers need to read out loud to students and encourage them to read independently.
- Direct vocabulary instruction involves the intentional focus on words and their meanings. Teachers need to use a variety of methods to help students learn new vocabulary words directly.
Direct instruction helps students to learn new vocabulary, especially words essential to understanding specific lessons; however, research has demonstrated that most students are able to learn only 8–10 new words per week through direct instruction. Research also shows that elementary students should learn approximately 3,000 new words each year. This means that if students are learning approximately 400 words per year through direct instruction then they must learn the remaining 2,600 words through indirect instruction. Therefore, teachers should provide opportunities for both direct and indirect vocabulary instruction.
Review the table below for an explanation of each type of direct and indirect instruction and for an example of each.
|What?||What It Is||How To Implement|
|Incidental teaching||New words are learned by happenstance or naturally through the context of the students’ environment.||
|Explicit vocabulary instruction||Teachers clearly demonstrate or explain what a word means.||
By demonstrating the usefulness of words, teachers use direct instruction to help students develop their vocabulary. For instance, teachers can show students how authors choose particular words to convey certain meanings. In this video, the teacher demonstrates to her class the use of word cards and a word web to develop vocabulary skills (time: 1:23).
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Here are some helpful hints on how teachers can incorporate vocabulary instruction in the classroom:
Tips for Teaching
- Be aware of factors that influence vocabulary instruction:
- Students’ learning strengths and weaknesses
- Complexity of the words
- Students’ familiarity with the concepts represented by new words
- Determine important vocabulary to teach before asking students to read about them in texts, and consider:
- How important the word is to the unit of study
- To what extent the word is useful outside the context of the lesson
- Whether there are words the students can learn on their own through the context of the lesson
- Whether there are words in the unit of study that may motivate students to learn other new words
- Provide repeated exposure to words.
- Develop activities that allow students to use words across different contexts.
- Engage students in discussions that include new vocabulary.
- Make available a number of good books (both narrative and expository) on a variety of topics.
- Encourage independent learning of new vocabulary from context.
- Teach meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and common root words.
- When teaching vocabulary directly, use a variety of strategies for teaching a word’s meaning (e.g., simple definition, synonyms, antonyms, good examples and bad examples, models, pictures, demos).
- During vocabulary instruction, words should be introduced in a context with which students are already familiar.
- When both the word and the concept are unknown, the word should be taught explicitly in order to increase comprehension.