Vocabulary is the "knowledge of words and word meanings in both oral and print language and in productive and receptive forms. More specifically, we use vocabulary to refer to the kinds of words that students must know to read increasingly demanding text with comprehension” (Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, 2004).
Why is it important?
There is ample research in the literature to conclude that vocabulary instruction is critical to reading comprehension (Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Baumann, Kame’enui, & Ash, 2003; Becker, 1977; National Reading Panel, 2000). If a student doesn’t have “word power”, accessing print in a meaningful way is a frustrating obstacle. Difficulty in implementing word-learning strategies and the subsequent slow growth in word recognition sets the stage for a lifetime of reading difficulties (Hart & Risley, 1995; Snow, Barnes, Chandler, Goodman & Hemphill, 2000; White, Graves, & Slater, 1990). This unremitting cycle sets in motion the “Matthew Effect”, a term coined by Stanovich (1986) to signify that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.
Guiding Principles for Vocabulary Instruction
Fortunately, we also have a significant fund of knowledge that informs our work in vocabulary instruction.
Recommendations of the National Reading Panel (2000):
- Direct instruction of vocabulary items is required for a specific text.
- Repetition and multiple exposures to vocabulary items are important.
- Learning in rich context with active engagement is valuable for vocabulary development.
- Computer technology can be used effectively to help teach vocabulary.
- Vocabulary can be acquired through incidental learning – and in fact much of it is. Repetition, richness of context, and motivation play an important role in this more subtle acquisition.
- A variety of instructional methods used effectively will result in optimal learning.
- Make word learning part of the daily routine through Read Aloud and talking about books.
- Engage students in wide reading.
- Teach certain words intentionally and explicitly. Beck et al. (2002) refers to these as Tier Two Words--that is, words that are characteristic of mature language users (Importance and Utility), words that can be worked with in a variety of ways (Instructional Potential), and words for which students understand the general concept but provide precision and specificity in describing the concept (Conceptual Understanding).